US airlines to allow free flight changes once 737 MAX returns
Boeing's 737 MAX has been grounded all around the world since March 2019, following two fatal crashes attributed to the aircraft's faulty MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System), which was intended to make the aircraft easier to fly.
Following modifications, this week, the FAA completed its recertification flights, paving the way for the MAX to return to service. The agency will still need to review data collected during those tests, however, so it could still be months before this latest version of the 737 flies passengers again.
While U.S. airlines had previously been eager to have the 737 MAX return, given that grounding the aircraft resulted in canceling flights, that certainly isn't the case at the moment, following the pandemic-prompted drop in demand.
Still, with the FAA's recertification process underway, the MAX could be ready to fly passengers once again beginning later this year, and airlines are planning to accommodate flyers who aren't yet comfortable taking a ride on Boeing's latest narrow-body jet.
As The New York Times reports, United reaffirmed its previous commitment to rebook passengers scheduled to fly the MAX free of charge, once it returns to service. “If people need any kind of adjustments, we will absolutely rebook them,” United's former CEO Oscar Munoz stated in 2019.
While Scott Kirby has since taken the reins as CEO, a United Airlines spokesperson confirmed the offer still stands, stating:
Nothing is more important to United than the safety of our customers and employees. Once regulators have reached an independent conclusion about the safety of the MAX, we’ll be prepared to explain to our customers and employees how our MAX fleet will be put back into service and why we have the highest confidence that it is safe to do so. As part of our ongoing commitment to our customers, we will be transparent – and communicate in advance – with our customers who are booked to fly on a MAX aircraft, will rebook those who do not want to fly on a MAX at no charge.
American Airlines, another large 737 MAX operator, confirmed similar intentions, with a spokesperson stating, "Even though we don't know when the MAX will reenter revenue service, we have always planned to offer flexibility to customers who are concerned about flying on the MAX."
A Southwest Airlines spokesperson confirmed that airline will also accommodate free changes for customers who don't feel comfortable flying the MAX, so uneasy passengers will have flexibility when flying all three U.S.-based 737 MAX operators, once the plane does eventually return to the skies.