Airlines Extend 737 MAX Cancellations for Weeks, Thousands More Flights Axed

Mar 29, 2019

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On March 13, the Federal Aviation Administration grounded all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in US airspace. That included 72 aircraft operated by three US airlines: Southwest, American Airlines and United. Combined, those 72 aircraft were scheduled to fly over 350,000 seats per week, leaving a noticeable gap in airline schedules.

Now two weeks into the grounding with no firm end in sight, Southwest has ferried its 34 Boeing 737 MAX into the desert for storage. One of those planes notably had to perform an emergency landing due to engine issues as it was being flown to the California storage facility. American Airlines has ferried its 24 MAX aircraft to airports all across the US for temporary storage.

This week, both Southwest and American Airlines extended their 737 MAX cancellations through late April, leading to thousands more cancellations. TPG checked in with each airline to see how the 737 MAX grounding is affecting the airline.

In This Post


  • Approximately 2,800 flight cancellations are expected between March 13 and 31. That amounts to about 150 per day.
  • 34 aircraft grounded
  • 246 orders for 737 MAX aircraft
  • Southwest has canceled all of the 737 MAX flights in its schedule through April 20

Southwest just provided an update to its investors on Wednesday, noting the airline expects that it will cancel a total of 9,400 flights during a period stretching from mid-February through March 31. Of those “approximately 2,800 are due to the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX 8.” Between the MAX grounding, government shutdown, worse-than-expected winter weather and maintenance issues, the airline expects its revenue from the first quarter of this year to be $210 million less than previously forecast.

On Wednesday, the airline reduced its flight schedule through April 20 to factor in the lack of 737 MAX aircraft, likely leading to many passengers receiving cancellation notices. The airline says it’s “proactively managing cancellations, minimizing operational disruptions, reaccommodating customers, and minimizing the impact on its ontime performance.”

Despite the 737 MAX troubles, the airline has “reaffirmed our current order book” of more than 200 outstanding 737 MAX orders. As of January 31, Southwest had firm orders for a total of 280 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, making it the largest customer of the airplane.

The airline would not say whether aircraft retirements have been delayed or if previously-stored aircraft have been pressed into service to cover the grounding.

American Airlines

The world’s largest airline has the second-largest 737 MAX fleet in the world with 24 aircraft operating around 90 daily flights until the grounding. AA has averaged around 85 cancelled flights per day since the grounding. Due to a busier flight schedule, approximately 90 flights have been cancelled each day through April 24 — which is the date through which AA has extended MAX cancellations.

American Airlines has not delayed any aircraft retirements or activated any previously-stored aircraft to help with the grounding. But the airline says it is banking on having the MAX aircraft flying again soon.

For customers, American says it it is treating these cancellations as part of “our normal schedule change process — which can include a refund if the change is not satisfactory.” American Airlines has a landing page with frequently asked questions about the 737 MAX grounding. There it confirms the policy:

Question: My flight was canceled and I don’t want to rebook. Can I get a refund? Answer: Yes. If a flight is canceled and a customer chooses to not be rebooked, they may request a full refund by visiting

I’m personally being affected by the 737 MAX grounding. I had a flight booked on April 3 from Los Angeles (LAX) to Atlanta (ATL) on an American Airlines 737-800. The original flight was scheduled for 3:25 pm, but that flight was cancelled and I was rebooked on a flight departing at 9:50 am.

Since this was processed as a standard schedule change, no rebooking options were available through the app. So, I called the American Airlines Executive Platinum desk to check my options and was told that was my only nonstop option, but I had to option to connect through Miami or Dallas. ExpertFlyer showed that I had other options through Phoenix, Philadelphia, Chicago and Charlotte.

The agent didn’t offer this as an option, but after prodding I was able to get her to confirm that I could get a full refund for cancelling the trip.

I inquired if my cancellation was due to the 737 MAX grounding. The agent put me on hold for 45 minutes to check with different teams before coming back on the line to confirm that it was. So, it doesn’t seem that agents can easily see if a particular cancellation is related to the MAX grounding.


  • 0 cancelled flights per day since March 15
  • 14 aircraft grounded
  • 122 orders on hold
  • United’s flight schedule has cancelled 737 MAX flights through June 5

By all accounts, United has dealt with the 737 MAX grounding the best of any of the US-based airlines. A United spokesperson confirmed that the airline has “not canceled any flights due to the MAX grounding since March 15.”

In dealing with the grounding, the airline says its “large and diverse fleet enables us to respond quickly and minimize the impact to our customers.” Where possible, the airline is covering routes with an equivalent aircraft while deploying smaller aircraft on other routes in order to achieve “very minor customer impact at this time.”

The airline wouldn’t comment on whether aircraft retirements have been delayed or previously-stored aircraft have been pressed into service to cover the grounding.

While United didn’t confirm this date, United’s airline schedule doesn’t reflect any 737 MAX flights until June 6. Although more tweaks to the schedule are possible, most cancellations or adjustments to United’s flight schedule should be loaded through June 6 — providing certainty for travelers. There are at least 33 United flights scheduled to use the MAX on June 6. If the grounding is lifted, United could add the MAX back to the schedule sooner.

Featured image by Stephen Brashear via Getty Images

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