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The Boeing 737 MAX was preparing to be a complete game changer in the airline industry. The aircraft can carry more passengers and has a longer range than its competitors… all while being 20% more fuel efficient. So it could cheaply transport more passengers longer distances. What’s not to love?
Here’s what’s not to love: airline crashes. After two crashes killing almost 350 people in early 2019, the Boing 737 MAX fleet was grounded indefinitely. Airlines had to shift their newly developed flights to smaller aircraft and had to cancel destinations. And this was all before the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the FAA released the news on November 18, 2020, that the 737 MAX is cleared to return to service after airlines complete the necessary repairs. While air travel has been sluggish during the pandemic, with two vaccines on the horizon, domestic air travel will surely pick up again in 2021. And airlines will want to again utilize these fuel efficient 737 MAX aircraft.
Below is a complete breakdown of what each airline has said thus far regarding the FAA approving the return of the Boeing 737 MAX.
737 MAX Return – American Airlines
On November 18, American Airlines announced a phased approach to reintroducing the Boeing 737 MAX back into its regular service.
American Airlines will start with one roundtrip flight from New York (LaGuardia) to Miami on December 29. After those initial roundtrips using the 737 MAX, American Airlines intends to expand service to “up to 36 departures” from Miami each day with the 737 MAX.
That’s a fairly aggressive expansion plan for a recently grounded aircraft, especially during a pandemic. But American Airlines is going an extra step to make sure people feel safe flying with the 737 MAX. Per the American Airlines press release, “If a customer prefers to not fly on this aircraft, we’ll provide flexibility to ensure they can be easily re-accommodated.”
This flexibility is a welcomed attempt by the airline to ensure passengers feel safe. The pandemic has certainly shaken up the travel industry, but airlines have adapted by making changes or cancellations to flight reservations more flexible. And American Airlines is extended this same flexibility to the 737 MAX, which is good to see.
737 MAX Return- Southwest Airlines
Another large U.S. airline with big plans for the Boeing 737 MAX is Southwest Airlines. The 737 MAX was an important factor is Southwest’s expansion into Hawaii, and the grounding of the global 737 MAX fleet in 2019 required the airline to quickly adapt.
Unlike American Airlines, Southwest doesn’t have a firm date for its 737 MAX aircraft to return to the air. Southwest Airlines points to the needed repairs and additional training required before the airline feels confident using the aircraft again. Per its statement, the airline’s resumption of service with the 737 MAX “will likely take place no sooner than the second quarter of 2021.”
It’s not too surprising to see a more cautious approach towards the 737 MAX from Southwest Airlines. The airline’s entire fleet of aircraft is comprised of Boeing 737s – they literally have over 700 737s. And Southwest sees the 737 MAX as the airline’s future as it expands service internationally; the airline has long rumored to seek destinations in Canada and even Europe. So another snafu or issue with the 737 MAX aircraft would arguably impact Southwest more than the other U.S. airlines.
Of course, since demand for air travel isn’t exactly at an all time high, that should also allow Southwest to triple check to make sure things are good to go when demands picks up in mid 2021 (fingers crossed).
737 MAX Return- United Airlines
United Airlines also uses the Boeing 737 MAX, and like American Airlines, it wants to start flying its new aircraft in early 2021.
Per United Airline’s recent statement, it doesn’t have any specific flights set yet, but it plans to fly the 737 MAX starting in the first quarter of next year. So United isn’t being as aggressive as American Airlines in its scheduling, but it is committing to an earlier reintroduction date than Southwest Airlines.
Also like American, United will offer to accommodate passengers who are booked on the 737 MAX but remain uncomfortable with flying the aircraft itself. Per United’s statement:
If you do not wish to fly on a MAX aircraft, we will rebook you at no charge or refund your ticket. This includes domestic ticket changes, Basic Economy tickets and international tickets if you move from one of our MAX flights to one of our non-MAX United or United Express flights
This is also a welcomed approach and mirrors the airlines generous change policies during the COVID 19 pandemic. The days of excessive change or cancellations fees are no longer.
737 MAX Return- Alaska Airlines
The last major U.S. airline with plans to play the Boeing 737 MAX is Alaska Airlines.
While the other airlines had previously flown the aircraft before the FAA grounded the fleet, Alaska Airlines will receive its very first 737 MAX airplane in early 2021. Per an Alaska Airlines statement, the airline intends to start flying the plane in March 2021.
Alaska Airlines also released a few of the initial routes for the aircraft. The 737 MAX will first start on the West Coast, with routes between Seattle-Los Angeles, Seattle-San Diego, Portland-Las Vegas, and Portland-Los Angeles. Per Alaska Airlines, “After several months of operation, we expect to begin flights with the MAX to the East Coast.”
What’s noteworthy with Alaska Airlines is that they join the Oneworld airline alliance in March 2021, the same month that they plan to fly the 737 MAX for the first time. Since American Airlines is also a Oneworld member and the two airlines have expressed a more formal partnership, it shouldn’t be too surprising that they are moving full steam ahead with its new 737 MAX aircraft.
NOTE: At this point, neither Delta nor JetBlue have ordered any Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. In other news, Air Canada will continue to ground its fleet unit further guidance by its Canadian authorities, and Copa Airlines intends to return two of the airline’s six 737 MAX aircraft by the end of the year.
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