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A rough storm turned a bumpy Southwest flight into a dangerous situation on Saturday afternoon.

Southwest Flight 3461 from Fort Lauderdale, Florida (FLL) to New Orleans (MSY) was forced to make an emergency landing in Panama City, Florida (ECP) after attempting to land at MSY in severe weather.

Meteorologists had been predicting severe weather on Saturday in New Orleans for days, but the Southwest pilot told passengers on the plane’s PA system that he thought they could beat the storm and land before it was an issue, Lauren Bale, a passenger on the flight, told TPG. But as the Boeing 737-700 — registration N968WN — approached the New Orleans airport, severe weather rocked the plane.

“I wouldn’t even describe it as turbulence,” Bale said. “The plane was going everywhere. Up and down, going on the sides. People were screaming, people were crying, people were throwing up.”

Bale said the flight attendants “seemed pretty stressed out” and were yelling instructions to the passengers over the PA system. “They were saying ‘fasten your seatbelts as tightly as possible; if you don’t then you’re putting other passengers at risk,'” Bale recalled. “They were telling parents with babies to hold on to them as tightly as they could. I’ve never heard anything like that before.”

In fact, the experience was so frightening Bale wanted to tell her family goodbye. “I bought the Southwest Wi-Fi so I could text my parents because I thought we were going to crash,” she said.


Bale said that after a while, the plane began circling over a swampy area, and the pilot came on the loudspeaker and said it was too dangerous to try to land again in New Orleans, and they would be diverting to Panama City (ECP) to refuel.

The plane landed safely at ECP, and passengers were let off the aircraft while ground crew refueled it. Eventually, the aircraft took off for New Orleans (MSY) and landed safely.

Southwest emailed passengers an apology and a $250 voucher for their trouble. “I apologize for any discomfort you experienced earlier today when Flight #3461 encountered turbulence during the initial approach into New Orleans (MSY),” the email from Southwest’s Proactive Customer Communications Representative Gary Reyes said. “Please know there is nothing we value more than the Safety and Security of our Passengers, and our Pilots are trained to navigate through a variety of weather related conditions.”

Bale said she is still a bit shaken up. “I fly a lot, and this was the scariest thing I’ve experienced,” she said.

Featured image by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images.

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