Southwest, American, United: No Boeing 737 Max flights until March even if plane returns sooner

Dawn Gilbertson


Published 12: 23 PM EST Nov 15, 2019

United Airlines on Friday removed the grounded Boeing 737 Max from its flight schedule until early March, joining Southwest and American in taking another round of proactive steps to reduce last-minute flight cancellations if the plane’s return continues to be delayed.

United is removing the plane until March 4. American last week took it out of its schedule until March 5, Southwest until March 6. All previously only had it out of the schedule through early February.

Travelers holding tickets for travel in February and early March will be notified if their flights have been changed and will have the option for rebooking or a refund, even if it’s a non-refundable ticket. 

Since the plane was grounded in March following two fatal crashes in five months that killed 346 people, airlines have had to repeatedly shuffle their schedules to make do with fewer planes. Southwest had 34 Max planes in its schedule at the time of the grounding, American, 24 and United, 14.

The impact on the airlines has grown as the grounding has lingered because each of the airlines planned to add more of the fuel-efficient planes to their fleets throughout the year. Those planes, of course, have not been delivered.

United said the latest Max-related schedule change will result in 1,600 advance flight cancellations in February and 168 in early March. American says the latest scrubbing of the Max from its schedule resulted in 140 daily flight cuts. 

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In a Max “progress report” on Monday, Boeing said it is still aiming for FAA certification of its proposed software fix for the Max and the plane’s ungrounding by the end of the year.

If that happens, the plane manufacturer said it could resume deliveries of new Max planes to airlines in December. 

Updated pilot training requirements will follow and should begin in January, Boeing said.

United, Southwest and American said they have no plans to resume commercial Max flights until early March even if the plane is ungrounded before then.

American said it will run “exhibition flights” prior to March 5 once the aircraft is recertified. The only passengers on those planes will be American employees and invited guests, spokesman Ross Feinstein said.

When it does put the plane back in commercial service, American plans to start slow, with five planes flying 20 daily departures in the first two weeks, he said.

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