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Southwest Airlines has officially made history as the first US carrier to operate a Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. The low-cost carrier that’s known for its entire fleet consisting of Boeing 737 aircraft is the first US carrier to operate the latest rendition of the 737 family, and on its inaugural flight, passengers could not only feel the excitement from the airline and its staff, but also more comfort from the hard product.

However, unfortunately that excitement didn’t last long, as a mechanical issue hindered and ultimately brought the airline’s day-long inaugural service to an early and abrupt end.

IMG-Southwest-737-max8-3

To launch the new aircraft into service, Southwest chose to make scheduled Flights 1, 2 and 3 its very first flights — the “Texas Triangle” route that the carrier operated when it first began service in 1971. Southwest Flight 1 took us from Dallas Love Field (DAL) to Houston Hobby (HOU). Southwest Flight 2 then was scheduled to transport us from Houston Hobby to San Antonio (SAT). And as the last leg, Southwest Flight 3 was planned to return from San Antonio back to Dallas Love Field.

IMG-texas-triangle-gcmap
The Southwest “Texas Triangle.” Image courtesy of gcmap.com.

While it didn’t quite work out that way, the day started off well. On Sunday, Southwest Flight 1 departed from its base at Dallas Love Field for Houston Hobby with little issue. When we arrived at HOU, passengers were required to deplane before boarding once again. That process didn’t take much time and before we knew it, we were back on board, ready for our departure at 8:55am.

However, once everyone had gotten a seat, the captain came on the PA system to alert passengers that a spoiler indicator light had illuminated in the cockpit. It needed to be solved before we could take off.

Not too long thereafter around 9:40am, the issue was corrected. A round of applause followed the captain’s announcement and we thought we were on our way. But the spoiler indicator had other plans. After we had pulled away from the gate and begun taxiing to the runway, the indicator illuminated again and we were forced to turn around and head back to the gate.

Mechanics boarded the plane once more to try and fix the issue for good. This time, flight attendants told passengers they could deplane and either go into the terminal or try to get rebooked on an alternative flight.

The “fix” didn’t take long — no more than 15 minutes. However, the crew was then tasked with corralling everyone in the terminal who’d deplaned. It took an additional 15-20 minutes before everyone was seated and the crew was able to close the door. Once the door had been closed, we continued sitting at the gate — strange.

About 10 minutes later, a flight attendant came over the PA system alerting the crew to cross check and prepare for arrival. Not a good sign at all. After the door opened, the captain came on the PA once again to let us know that the light came back on again. At this point, passengers — even those who were in great spirits after WN1 — appeared to grow frustrated and disappointed.

Roughly 20 minutes into this third and final delay, the crew informed us that the carrier would be swapping aircraft. Passengers were asked to deplane and wait in the terminal. Disappointing, but something that was out of the control of many of those on board.

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly, who had been along for the duration of the day’s activities until that point, remained on board and talked to passengers throughout the delays. After we’d returned to the gate on the second go-around, I asked him if he planned on staying on board. He said it depended on the aircraft and whether it was operable. He added that the issues were likely due to the fact that crew and maintenance are getting used to the new plane.

While disappointing in the sense that the MAX couldn’t complete its Texas Triangle routing, the crew handled the situation very well. You could tell the flight attendants were as bummed as the customers who were on board. Passengers were kept well-informed about the status of the aircraft and what was going on. The only thing I wish would have been handled differently was the delay in letting us know that the aircraft would be swapped. Once the crew made the announcement that the MAX would not be flying to San Antonio, I abandoned the routing altogether and hopped on the next flight back to New York.

Even though WN2 didn’t go according to plan, my experience on WN1 — the airline’s first revenue flight from Dallas Love Field to Houston — was great. Stay tuned for a post about the full experience on board WN1 and what passengers have to look forward to when flying the MAX 8 with Southwest.

Know before you go.

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