As United Airlines and Alaska Airlines continue to preemptively cancel hundreds of flights while the Boeing 737 Max 9 remains grounded, travelers are grappling with the fallout.
In the coming days, affected passengers will either be rebooked on alternative aircraft or, in the case of a cancellation, provided a refund, according to policies from United and Alaska, the two U.S. airlines that operate the Max 9.
However, the longer-term outlook is less clear. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said safety alone will be what determines the Max 9 aircraft’s reentry into service. “All I am going to say is that the consideration for the timeline is safety,” he said at a news conference Wednesday in Washington.
Jorge López-Quintana, a traveler in New York City, says he canceled his Alaska flight on the Max 9 scheduled for late February. “I don’t care if they inspect and repair the entire fleet before then. I’m done with the Max.” Like López-Quintana, others may be apprehensive about flying – or even booking future flights – on the Max 9.
When the Boeing 737 Max was grounded in 2019 after two deadly crashes, some passengers vowed to avoid the aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration lifted the ban on all variants of the 737 Max 20 months later.
However, travelers didn’t avoid the aircraft en masse once it returned, as anticipated by some in the industry. The factor may have been timing. The ungrounding was in November 2020 at the height of the pandemic, when passenger volumes were a fraction of a typical travel period.
However, this latest 737 Max incident – specifically with the Max 9 model – comes at a time when travel, while not as busy as during the holiday season, is booming.
While it remains to be seen whether travelers will avoid the Max 9 in the long run, if you’re scheduled to fly on one when the plane reenters service – or plan to book a flight in the coming weeks – here are some options to get on a different aircraft.
Before booking your next flight
Before you book a flight online, check the aircraft type scheduled for your desired route. On search engines such as Google Flights, the grid of results usually displays the model along with the departure time, the flight number, any layover city and other details.
Travel booking site Kayak offers a specific aircraft filter on the left-hand side of its flight search results page. Travelers can include or exclude certain aircraft models from a flight search.
A Kayak spokesperson said usage of the 737 Max filter increased threefold in the days following Friday’s incident. On Wednesday, the company released an even more granular feature – the ability to distinguish between the Max 8 and Max 9 planes. Previously, both Max models were lumped together. (Max 8 aircraft are not affected by the grounding.)
Even if you have booked yourself on a different aircraft, the airline could swap out planes at the last minute because of an operations, mechanical or weather-related issue.
If you’re already booked on a 737 Max 9
Among U.S. carriers, Alaska Airlines and United Airlines are the only operators of the 737 Max 9. A total of 171 aircraft were taken out of operation with the FAA grounding order. International carriers Copa, Aeromexico and Turkish Airlines have pulled their Max 9 planes from service.
Alaska and United are currently offering change and cancel waivers for those booked on this aircraft type. Travelers can either change their flight without a fee or cancel their flight for a refund. However, it’s unclear when the Max 9 will be back in service. For now, the travel waiver window lasts until Jan. 20.
Travelers who are scheduled to fly on a 737 Max 9 aircraft through Jan. 20 can call Alaska’s reservation office at 1-800-252-7522 for free rebooking on a different aircraft, if available. No difference in fare will apply for new travel in the same cabin. Alaska will offer a full refund to passengers who are unable to be reaccommodated, the airline said.
United said customers who were scheduled on Max 9 flights and purchased tickets on or before Jan. 6 can reschedule their trip, and the airline will waive the change fee and fare difference. In addition, if you cancel or don’t take your trip, you can get a full refund for Max 9-operated flights through Jan. 15.