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SCOTT SIMON, host:

I'm Scott Simon.

If you're flying somewhere this weekend, oh we're sorry. Delays and cancellations are making travel a walking nightmare all this week, and the problems could last a couple of months.

Ms. MARY FRANCIS FAGAN (Spokesperson, American Airlines, O'Hare Airport): I hate to use the word grounded. Temporarily not in service is the vernacular I choose to use.

SIMON: That's Mary Francis Fagan, who's American Airlines spokesperson at O'Hare. American cancelled more than 3,000 flights this week because of safety inspections ordered by the Federal Aviation Administration, which ordered Delta, Southwest and Alaska Airlines to conduct last-minute maintenance checks. The FAA says passengers can expect delays through June.

Meanwhile, Frontier Airlines filed for bankruptcy on Friday. They are the fourth airline to do so just in recent weeks.

Jerry Chandler writes a travel blog for Cheapflights.com. He joins us from member-station WBHN in Birmingham, Alabama. Mr. Chandler, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. JERRY CHANDLER (Travel Blogger, Cheapflights.com): Thank you, sir, for having me. I appreciate it.

SIMON: How ruinous to the airlines are these cancellations? American Airlines says they'll lose tens of millions.

Mr. CHANDLER: Absolutely. I mean, the Business Travel Coalition did a survey amidst all of this, and they found among heavy-hitter frequent flyers, 40 percent say they are less willing to fly because of recent maintenance revelations. You put together rising costs, fewer seats with a public reluctance to fly, and there's a problem.

SIMON: It certainly has been my impression that a lot of airlines have been outsourcing maintenance to save costs over the last few years.

Mr. CHANDLER: They did.

SIMON: Has this at all been an issue with these…?

Mr. CHANDLER: I think it's a red herring. The issue is whether this is done by the mechanic in-house at a major U.S. airline or it's done in Guajo(ph), or it's done in San Salvador, to whom do they hold their allegiance?

Do they hold it to the lady who's got a child in hand back in seat 21-E or, as we found out with Southwest Airlines, is the allegiance of the inspectors more toward the airline itself? That's what got all out of skew, and what happened, Scott, is that FAA seems to have overreacted somewhat, especially in the case of American Airlines.

SIMON: I think a lot of people who fly frequently are left with the impression that the airlines must have no place to cut back now. I mean, you know, you get three midget pretzels and a pygmy soft drink on an eight-hour flight now. What's left to cut?

Mr. CHANDLER: Nothing. The airlines right now are in the process of trying to get people to pay not via credit card but by other payment methods so they can avoid the credit card fees. They've cut down on personnel and put in kiosks. They have cut down on food. Now they are beginning to charge, most of them, for a second bag. You're down to the bone.

But what you can't afford to cut into is the margin of safety, and understand I've lost two relatives on commercial airline flights, so this is more than an academic observation on my part. I don't think they are cutting into the safety.

SIMON: Why do U.S. airlines operate some of the oldest jets?

Mr. CHANDLER: That's a very good question. You go overseas right now, and more of the orders for the new Boeing and Airbus aircraft, aside from some of the low-cost carriers like Virgin America over here and AirTran and Southwest, the major airlines in this country, for the most part, have not been ordering new aircraft.

That's because they really haven't recovered since 9/11. The airline industry was just beginning to recover when fuel prices absolutely went like Godzilla through downtown Tokyo. That's what the airline industry has got to get a handle on.

SIMON: Jerry Chandler, who writes the travel blog Cheapflights.com and is a professor at Jacksonville State University in Alabama, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. CHANDLER: Thank you, Scott.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: Buckle your seatbelts. This is NPR News.

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