It’s more bad news for the Boeing 737 Max. Though America’s major airlines anticipated that the problematic planes would return to the skies in 2019, one by one they’ve rolled back their plans, cancelling flights and keeping the jets grounded until next year – at the earliest.
On Friday, United Airlines reportedly pushed its reintroduction of the Max to 6 January, striking hundreds of flights from its schedule in the process – the latest in a series of setbacks for the beleaguered jet. In July, Southwest announced that it wouldn’t be flying the planes until 5 January, and last week, American Airlines followed suit, announcing on Wednesday that the planes were expected to return to service on 16 January, though passengers would be rebooked on a different plane in lieu of mass cancellations. (Delta doesn’t count any 737 Maxes in its fleet, opting for the Airbus A321 instead, according to CEO Ed Bastian, while Alaska Airlines’s first Max is reportedly due to arrive this year.)
The Federal Aviation Administration took the planes out of commission in March, with crash investigators implicating flight-control software after the crashes of Ethiopian Air 302 earlier that month and Lion Air back in October – two tragedies that together cost 346 people their lives.
As such, getting the Max airborne again is only part of the challenge facing Boeing and its corporate clients: they also have to convince passengers to travel on them – and according to a report from the Los Angeles Times, that looks to be an uphill battle. Per writer Hugo Martin, “at least 20% of U.S. travelers say they will definitely avoid the plane in the first six months after flights resume, according to a study led by consultant Henry Harteveldt. More than 40% said they’d be willing to take pricier or less convenient flights to stay off the 737 Max. A separate UBS Group survey found that 70% would hesitate to book a flight on Boeing’s bestselling jet.”
In response to customer inquiries, Southwest has added a page to its site to help customers figure out which type of aircraft they’re flying on, and United will allow Boeing 737 Max passengers to rebook flights free of charge if they prefer a different plane, while other major carriers are making plane information clear at the time of booking. But it remains to be seen whether frequent flyers will line up once the FAA clears the Max for takeoff. As United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz told CNBC in September, “all the people in the world have to be assured and made confident that this is an aircraft that's safe.”