Here’s what the 737 MAX groundings mean for your holiday travel

Oct 13, 2019

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With the plan to return the Boeing 737 MAX to global service on an uncertain timeline, U.S. operators (American, Southwest and United) have extended the plane’s absence from their schedules into January.

That means that the airplane will functionally be grounded on U.S. domestic flights through the busy holiday travel season. All three airlines have said that they expect disruptions to their schedules to be minimal — announcing the cancellation months in advance as they have, means that they should be able to reaccommodate most travelers whose flights will be affected.

Here’s what to expect if you were scheduled to fly over the river and (presumably) over the woods to grandmother’s house for Christmas:


American Airlines, which is keeping the MAX off its roster through Jan. 16, 2020, has posted a fairly comprehensive guide to the schedule changes that will result.

In sum: If you’re booked on a flight before Jan. 7 that was supposed to be operated by a MAX, another aircraft will simply take over the service. Most flights from Jan. 7 through the 15th will also use a substitute aircraft, though a few flights may be canceled. For those customers, the AA reservations team will start reaching out starting Sunday, Oct. 13.

After the 16th, American may continue making minor schedule tweaks as the MAX returns to service. Reservations agents will reach out to any affected customers.


Southwest Airlines is scheduled to return its MAXes to service on Jan. 6, but still expects an average of 200 cancellations on peak days in the meantime, when the airline operates around 4,000 flights.

The company said it has already been in touch with passengers whose itineraries are affected and has been able to rebook a majority of those passengers. It has also offered flexibility for passengers to alter their travel plans.


United Airlines is also planning to reintroduce its MAXes to service on Jan. 6. The airline said it expects to cancel about 75 flights per day in December and 56 flights per day for the affected portion of January. The airline said it is working to rebook the majority of affected passengers. For those it is unable to rebook, it is reaching out to discuss alternatives.

Bottom line

Though the overall odds of being affected by the latest update are small, customers booked to fly during the holidays would be wise to reconfirm their itineraries on the carrier’s app or website.

Once the MAX does return to service, United, American and Southwest have all indicated that they will allow passengers to switch to other flights if they are nervous about flying on the MAX.

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Featured photo by Jason Redmond/AFP/Getty Images.

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