Southwest Airlines' image gets grounded by maintenance troubles

Most U.S. airlines have lousy reputations, and that's mostly deserved. Long known for surly service, the airlines' more recent skinflint policies of nickel-and-diming travelers for the modest conveniences have pushed consumers to look for alternatives wherever possible.

For some, that alternative was Southwest Airlines (LUV). The quirky Dallas-based carrier developed a loyal following for its down-home service and affable employees. But in this tough economic climate, even dear ol' Southwest's reputation is taking a hit, as questions arise about the maintenance of its aging fleet.