One day after the FAA decided to temporarily ground Boeing’s 737 Max 8 aircrafts across the country, travelers have mixed feelings on the move. (March 14)
American Airlines Flight 1441, a 4:45 p.m. departure from Dallas to Tucson, Arizona, was canceled Thursday.
So is American Flight 337, a 7:24 a.m. departure from Chicago to New York on Friday.
Neither flight was scheduled on a Boeing 737 Max, but both were canceled in the wake of Wednesday’s grounding of the new plane by the Federal Aviation Administration following two fatal crashes in less than five months.
American and fellow Max operators Southwest and United Airlines are feverishly moving planes and passengers around behind the scenes to make up for a sudden shrinking of their fleet. It’s similar to what happens every time there’s a snowstorm or other weather disruption that grounds planes.
The number of grounded Boeing 737 Max planes isn’t huge relative to the airlines’ total fleets — American has 24 Boeing 737 Max 8s in its fleet of 950 mainline aircraft — and the number of daily flights is a small percentage, too.
But the trio of airlines flew nearly 300 daily flights between them on the Boeing 737 Max, and those passengers have to be accommodated somewhere, especially in the busy spring break travel season, when planes are packed.
Plenty of Max 8 flights have been canceled in the immediate aftermath of the grounding, of course, since the order was sudden and planes in the air had to land and not take off again.
But airlines don’t want to cancel just the Max flights, especially if they’re concentrated in one city or route and would disproportionately impact travelers there.
American’s Max 8s were used mostly on flights to and from its Miami hub, for example.
“We’re not going to cancel every single (Max 8) flight out of Miami,” spokesman Ross Feinstein said. “We do it very strategically to minimize the disruption to customers across our system.”
That’s where American’s other hubs, and the select cancellations of flights there, come in.
American has seven daily flights from Dallas to Tucson, for example. The passengers booked on the 4:45 p.m. flight were moved to other flights with open seats.
And there are more than 10 daily flights between Chicago and New York, meaning a couple cancellations won’t strand passengers.
The Boeing 737-800 used on those and other canceled flights are freed up for routes affected by the Max grounding. American did not have to cancel its three daily round-trip flights between Miami and Bridgetown, Barbados, Thursday, for example, Feinstein said.
“We are looking route by route,” he said.
United Airlines has been moving planes around, too, in the wake of the Max groundings. The airline has 14 Boeing 737 Max 9s in its fleet, the smallest number of the three U.S. carriers using the Max.
“As soon as the grounding order hit, our operations team came together to quickly see, ‘Where do we need cover; how can we protect those customers?’ ” spokeswoman Rachael Rivas said.
United used the Max 9s on a variety of routes, including flights from Los Angeles to Hawaii. In some cases those passengers are now flying on a Boeing 737-800.
In other cases, including United Flight 2826 from Los Angeles to Maui Thursday afternoon, they are traveling on a Boeing 777-200, a bigger, flashier plane with more perks, including United’s Polaris business class. United added the flight, which originated in San Francisco, to accommodate passengers affected by the Max grounding.
Southwest, which has the largest Max fleet among U.S. carriers at 34 planes, said it is using a combination of factors, including aircraft swaps and cancellation of certain legs of a flight, to accommodate travelers affected by the Max grounding. When the grounding was announced Wednesday, for example, the airline immediately substituted a Boeing 737-800 on a flight from Nashville to Los Angeles, causing only a delay.
“Operating an airline is a puzzle that’s put together every day and then reset when operational issues come into play,” spokesman Dan Landson said in a statement. “When a flight is canceled, our teams look for ways to minimize the impact to all customers including on the original canceled flight and then along the way where the aircraft/flight was scheduled to operate.”
Southwest said it only canceled 39 of its scheduled Max flights on Thursday, about a fourth of its daily total on the aircraft.
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