Here’s what the Boeing 737 MAX grounding means for your summer travel

Jan 20, 2020

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The Boeing 737 MAX won’t take to the skies over the U.S. before June.

That was guaranteed last week when Southwest, the largest operator of the jet in the country, joined American and United in announcing that its MAX jets would remain off the schedule through June 6.

With that, the jet’s grounding is now pushing into the busy summer travel season, when airlines operate at peak capacity and planes are even more likely than usual to be full. That means airlines will have even less slack to absorb further disruptions if the MAX grounding gets pushed further into the summer.

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For now, all three U.S. airlines with MAXes said they’re trying to mitigate the effects on customers.

“Based on continued uncertainty around the timing of MAX return to service, as well as Boeing’s recommendation for pilot simulator training, the company is proactively removing the MAX from its flight schedule through June 6, 2020,” Southwest said in a statement last week. “By proactively removing the MAX from scheduled service, we can reduce last-minute flight cancellations and unexpected disruptions to our customers’ travel plans.”

United and American issued similar statements.

Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and president of Atmosphere Research, said that if the current schedule holds, travelers should see minimal disruption, but that could change if airlines have to further delay the MAX’s return to service.

Related: Boeing’s deliveries slump amid 737 MAX crisis

“At this point, if you are flying on an airline that is supposed to operate the 737 MAX, and you already have travel booked — if you’re not booked on a MAX, you probably have nothing to worry about,” he said. “If you are booked on a MAX, keep an eye on your reservation in case the airline swaps the airplane or has to make any changes.”

Harteveldt noted that airlines have continually had to delay plans for getting the MAX flying again and said another delay is possible.

“I’m not confident that we’ll see the airplanes even flying in June,” he said.

Airlines have had to grapple with uncertainty, trying to anticipate when to start putting the jets back into their schedule plans with no clear guidance about when the Federal Aviation Administration might clear the jet to resume flying. So far, it’s been one delay after another as the MAX grounding has dragged on longer than anticipated.

“We can always make another schedule adjustment,” American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said. “It is up to the FAA decide when the aircraft is safe to return to service.”

Related:‘This is a crucial time for Boeing,’ new CEO says on first day

Boeing’s 737 MAX has been grounded since March 2019, following two crashes that together killed 346 people. An automated flight control system contributed to both disasters and the global fleet of the best-selling narrowbodies has been grounded as Boeing has worked with regulators, airlines and other industry stakeholders to address issues with the software.

A further delay in the MAX’s re-entry to service could have a much larger effect on travelers.

“If for some reason the return to service date gets pushed out substantially beyond the current days that they are, it’s going to affect a lot of people’s travel,” Harteveldt said. As summer approaches, there will likely be less excess capacity on non-MAX operated flights, he said. That limits airlines’ ability to rebook passengers if they wind up having to pull more MAX flights from the schedule.

The good news, though, is that only a limited number of airlines operate the MAX currently.

“Airlines that don’t have MAXes in their fleet aren’t affected by this at all. Passengers booked on those airlines don’t have to worry about it,” Harteveldt said.

Featured photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images.

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