United Airlines will fly the Boeing 737 MAX from two of its largest hubs when it returns in 2021

Nov 30, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

United Airlines plans to resume Boeing 737 MAX flights at two of its largest hubs early in 2021, likely becoming the second U.S. carrier to return the beleaguered jet to service in the U.S. after its more than 20-month grounding.

The Chicago-based carrier plans to resume flights with its 737 MAX 9 jets at its Denver (DEN) and Houston Bush Intercontinental (IAH) hubs in the first quarter of 2021, United told staff in an update on its MAX plans earlier in November. The airline flew 14 MAXes prior to the March 2019 grounding.

American Airlines plans to reintroduce its 737 MAX 8s on passenger flights between Miami (MIA) and New York LaGuardia (LGA) on Dec. 29.

Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter!

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration re-certified the 737 MAX on Nov. 18 after the longest grounding of a commercial passenger aircraft since the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 in 1979. The regulator is requiring a number of software updates and new training for pilots before airlines can resume passenger flights.

Brazil’s regulator ANAC has also re-certified the jet with Canadian and European regulators expected to follow suit soon.

Flyer confidence in the MAX is one of the big questions airlines face as they prepare to return it to passenger service. A recent survey by Southwest Airlines found as many as 25% of travelers are uncomfortable flying on the jet even after the FAA’s review and required updates to the plane’s systems.

Some have suggested that Boeing and airlines embark on a confidence-boosting ad campaign for the jet to calm worried flyers. To date no such campaign — nor one to drop the “MAX” brand — has been unveiled.

Related: Southwest Airlines ‘proud’ of the Boeing 737 MAX, no plans for rebranding campaign

“I think people need to get on the plane and experience it,” Southwest president Tom Nealon said in response to media questions over traveler confidence during a MAX briefing on Nov. 19.

According to United’s website, it will “communicate in advance” that a flight is operated on a MAX to all flyers booked on the jet. In addition, it will change or refund all tickets on MAX flights with no fee at the request of travelers.

After American and United, Alaska Airlines plans to begin MAX flights in March following the delivery of its first jet in January. Southwest plans to resume MAX passenger flights in the second  quarter, or as early as April.

Related: Alaska Airlines swaps Airbus A320s for 13 new Boeing 737 MAX jets

The few available details of United’s MAX return-to-service plan suggest a focus on the airline’s coronavirus pandemic strengths. Both its Denver and Houston hubs have recovered faster than others on its route map. In addition, as some of United’s largest operations today, travelers uncomfortable flying on the Boeing jet will have additional flexibility if they decide to change their travel plans.

The carrier’s tentative plans to base the MAX in Denver and Houston breaks somewhat from its pre-grounding schedule. In March 2019, United flew the jets almost exclusively from Houston as well as on select flights to Hawaii from its Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO) hubs, according to Cirium schedules.

However, Denver and Houston are two points of strength for United during the crisis. In December, the carrier’s schedule will be nearly 72% of 2019 in Denver and more than 57% in Houston, Cirium shows. This is better than its system schedule of 53% of last year.

United will fly less than half of its 2019 schedules in Los Angeles and San Francisco in December.

Related: American Airlines plans 5 employee-only 737 MAX flights to nowhere

Featured image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on dining and 2x points on travel, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
Regular APR
16.24% - 23.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.