United, Alaska schedule first 737 MAX routes since ungrounding

Dec 27, 2020

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Boeing’s beleaguered 737 MAX will be flying on two more domestic carriers come early 2021.

Both Alaska Airlines and United Airlines recently scheduled their first MAX routes since the jet’s nearly two-year grounding.

Chicago-based United intends to restart MAX flights on Feb. 11, as previously reported. However, the plane’s first routes were still up in the air. Now, according to schedule data from Cirium, United plans to deploy the MAX on select frequencies on the following routes:

  • Houston (IAH) to/from
    • Los Angeles (LAX)
    • Orlando (MCO)
    • San Diego (SAN)
    • Tampa (TPA)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to/from Orlando (MCO)

Interestingly, United had previously announced that, in addition to Houston, the Denver hub would also see MAX flights. However, the carrier hasn’t yet added any MAX flights to the Mile High City, though schedules could still change in the coming weeks.

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As for Alaska Airlines, the Seattle-based carrier will follow closely after United with the launch of MAX flights on March 1. Alaska first plans to fly the jet on select frequencies on the following routes, according to Cirium schedules:

  • Los Angeles (LAX) to/from:
    • Portland (PDX)
    • Seattle (SEA)
  • Seattle (SEA) to/from:
    • San Diego (SAN)

Note that plans are subject to change, especially during the pandemic.

Alaska’s launch will come just a few weeks after it takes delivery of its first 737 MAX 9 in early 2021. On Dec. 22, the carrier announced that it will add 23 additional MAX 9s to its Boeing order, for a total of 68 MAX 9s to be delivered by 2024.

Both United and Alaska will allow nervous flyers to make free changes for flights booked on the MAX. Building customer confidence in the jet will take time, something that executives aren’t taking lightly. In a recent statement, United noted that “we will be fully transparent with our customers and will communicate in advance when they are booked to fly on a MAX aircraft.”

More: How to tell if you’re booking on a Boeing 737 MAX

On Nov. 18, 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration ungrounded the Boeing 737 MAX following its two fatal crashes that took 346 lives combined. All recertified jets must receive software updates to the flight control systems, which takes just four hours, according to one of American Airlines’ top mechanics.

Pilots must also undergo new required training before they fly the plane once again. In a recent media tour, Capt. Alan Johnson, American’s senior manager for flight standards, said that recertifying the MAX “has been a pilot-led initiative, and we’re trying to honor the sacrifice of the 346 souls moving forward.”

American Airlines became the first U.S.-based carrier to fly a commercial MAX flight, just about two weeks after the ungrounding order. The Fort Worth-based carrier invited members of the media on a demonstration flight, which included a two-hour stop at the airline’s Tulsa maintenance facility to learn more about the updates being made to the beleaguered jet.

American’s 737 MAX 8 preparing for its first demo flight (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

In the weeks leading up to AA’s first revenue MAX flight on Tuesday, Dec. 29, the carrier has been flying employee-only flights, in a bid to “ensure our employees are comfortable.”

More: A pilot and mechanic explain what’s needed to bring the 737 MAX back

Brazil-based GOL Airlines operated the first revenue MAX flight worldwide on Dec. 9. GOL (like American) touted the plane’s efficiency as one of the top reasons to bring it back so fast, especially during the demand downturn due to the pandemic.

Domestically, Southwest Airlines is the sole carrier without a firm date for reintroducing the MAX to its schedules, though it has stated that the plane will be back in March 2021.

Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest, recently flew on one of the carrier’s readiness flights, remarking on Twitter that “my flight today only reaffirmed my supreme confidence in the airworthiness of the MAX.”

Featured photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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