Following yesterday’s decision to ground the Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 in the United States, airlines are changing their operations to help passengers on affected flights. Here’s what travelers need to know.
Southwest Airlines, which operates 34 Max 8 aircraft, will rebook affected customers on alternate flights without any additional fees or fare differences through March 31 between the original city pairs. If customers no longer want to fly, tickets cancelled prior to the date of travel are eligible for a refund, or the funds will be available for future use. Customers affected by the grounding will be notified via the method they selected during booking – phone, email or text.
Southwest particularly noted that the order would not affect its new flights to Hawaii, as those are operated on 737-800s, a different aircraft type.
American Airlines reports that it operates 85 of its flight per day on the Max 8, and that it is working to reroute the aircraft throughout the system to cover as much of the airline’s schedule as it can. Affected customers can rebook by contacting the reservations team; and, if their flight is cancelled, they can request a full refund via American’s website.
United Airlines says that it does not expect the grounding to have a significant impact on its operations, and that it will communicate with customers directly on affected flights.
Air Canada reports that, following Transport Canada's safety notice closing Canada's airspace to the Max 8, its cancellation and rebooking policies are in place, with a full fee waiver for affected customers. On average, the airline's Max aircraft carry 9,000 to 12,000 customers per day, so travelers should expect delays in rebooking. Customers are further advised to check the status of their flight before going to the airport.
In Europe, where European Union (EU) aviation authorities grounded the aircraft earlier this week, Air Italy reports that it has arranged a replacement aircraft through its strategic partner, Bulgaria Air. The two airlines had begun a codeshare relationship two weeks ago. Now, Bulgaria Air will lease an A319 to Air Italy for an unspecified time as that airline’s 737 Max fleet remains grounded.
The announcement follows earlier moves by European airlines, particularly low-cost transatlantic carrier Norwegian, to rework flights affected by the EU order.
Also in Latin America, a spokesperson for Panama-based Copa Airlines tells Travel Agent that, along with the Civil Aviation Authority of Panama, it will temporarily suspend operations of its six Max 9 airplanes until the cause of the accident is known. The airline said that it will cover the flights that had been planned to operate using the aircraft on other aircraft in its fleet, and that it will do everything it can to minimize the impact on passengers’ itineraries.
In the Caribbean, the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands has released an update on flights to the destination affected by the FAA’s decision. Two American Airlines flights between St. Croix and Miami, and one of the two flights between St. Thomas and Miami, are currently serviced by the 737 Max. Flights to and from the islands on other carriers and from other cities are not affected, and the governor said that it is not yet clear if American will replace the aircraft on these routes.
The FAA issued its order grounding the Max late Wednesday, citing new evidence collected at the site of the latest crash, as well as newly refined satellite data. The order also follows additional reports by U.S. pilots of the plane briefly going into a nose-dive, which closely resembles the issues that affected the pilots on Indonesia’s Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines before those planes crashed.
“The grounding will remain in effect pending further investigation, including examination of information from the aircraft’s flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders,” the FAA said in its latest statement. “An FAA team is in Ethiopia assisting the NTSB as parties to the investigation of the Flight 302 accident. The agency will continue to investigate.”
Authorities in multiple countries, as well as the EU, grounded the Max 8 and 9 following a deadly crash involving a Max 8 operated by Ethiopian Airlines. The crash, which killed all 157 onboard, is the second such incident involving this aircraft type in recent months.