NATIONAL NEWS

What travelers need to know about the Boeing 737 Max 9 grounding

Jan 10, 2024, 1:34 PM

Investigators are looking closely at the failure of a mid-cabin door plug that detached during an A...

Investigators are looking closely at the failure of a mid-cabin door plug that detached during an Alaska Airlines flight on Friday, Jan. 5. (National Transportation Safety Board)

(National Transportation Safety Board)

(CNN) —  A terrifying Alaska Airlines incident on Friday that left a hole in the side of a Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft shortly after takeoff from Portland, Oregon, has raised safety questions and put many would-be air travelers on edge.

Investigators are looking closely at the failure of a mid-cabin door plug that detached during the flight, leading the Federal Aviation Administration to ground all US 737 Max 9 aircraft that have the door plug feature until the aircraft can be thoroughly inspected.

Here’s what we know so far about how the situation affects air travelers:

How long will the planes be grounded?

The timeline for a return to service is unclear. The FAA’s Emergency Airworthiness Directive prohibits flight by US airlines or in US territory of all Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft that have a mid-cabin door plug installed until they pass inspection.

Alaska Airlines acknowledged on Wednesday the Max 9 will not fly for at least several more days and canceled all flights scheduled on that plane through Saturday. The cancellations amount to between 110 and 150 flights per day.

“We hope this action provides guests with a little more certainty, and we are working around the clock to reaccommodate impacted guests on other flights,” the airline said in a statement.

The FAA said on Tuesday that Boeing is revising its instructions to operators for inspections and maintenance of the affected 737 Max 9 aircraft.

“Upon receiving the revised version of instructions from Boeing, the FAA will conduct a thorough review,” the FAA said. “The safety of the flying public, not speed, will determine the timeline for returning the Boeing 737-9 Max to service.”

Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, said Wednesday she thought it would be difficult to verify the planes were fixed and safe to fly without a better understanding of the issue.

The FAA order applies to the US. What about operations of this model elsewhere?

The FAA order grounded 171 of the world’s 737 Max 9 aircraft. There are 215 in service.

Some international carriers operate Max 9s that are not affected because they don’t have a mid-cabin door plug. Some other airlines, flying aircraft with the door plugs, have followed the FAA’s lead and grounded their planes.

Mexico’s Aeromexico and Copa Airlines in Panama are among the international carriers with the most 737 Max 9 aircraft in their fleets. Aeromexico said in a statement that it grounded its Max-9s over the weekend in accordance with the FAA’s directive. Copa Airlines said in an updated statement on Wednesday that operations of its 21 Max 9 aircraft remain suspended as the airline awaits further details on inspections.

Turkish Airlines, which has five Max 9 aircraft in its 400-plus plane fleet, said that it will withdraw the aircraft from its fleet “until the technical investigation process is completed and the measures requested by the authorities are implemented.”

While the FAA does not have authority over the operation of aircraft operated by some international carriers, those airlines often follow the agency’s lead.

“The world still looks to the FAA … as the gold standard,” according to Kathleen Bangs, an aviation expert and former commercial airline pilot.

How have flight operations been affected?

Hundreds of flights have been canceled since Friday on both United Airlines and Alaska Airlines, the two US carriers using 737 Max 9 aircraft.

The airlines have been able to shuffle equipment and accommodate some of those passengers on other aircraft, but the grounding was still affecting operations midweek.

Copa and Aeromexico have also logged numerous cancellations in recent days, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.

Airlines with larger fleets will generally have an easier time shuffling aircraft around to meet customer demand. Location can also play a role. Airports capable of supporting a larger number of aircraft are more likely to have spare planes to replace the grounded ones.

What do I do if my flight is canceled because of this grounding?

First off, you can get a refund.

“Under federal law, if an airline cancels or significantly changes your flight – no matter the cause – you’re entitled to a full cash refund if you choose not to travel,” said Scott Keyes, founder of travel site Going, in an email interview with CNN Travel on Tuesday.

“This is true across the board, even if you booked a nonrefundable fare (as most tickets are) and even if you’re in basic economy,” he said.

If you still want to make the trip, “the airline will reaccommodate you on a different flight,” Keyes said. “The simplest way to do this is self-service through the airline’s mobile app (which have gotten quite good in the past year or two), or you can call up the airline and an agent will rebook you free of charge.”

The two US carriers operating affected planes are offering limited-time refunds to some passengers.

“Alaska is currently allowing anyone scheduled to fly on a 737 MAX-9 through January 20 to get a full refund if they choose not to travel. United is currently offering the same but only through January 10,” Keyes said.

Is it still safe to fly?

David Soucie, an aviation safety analyst for CNN and former FAA safety inspector, is taking a wait-and-see approach on the Boeing 737 Max 9 while the investigation continues to pinpoint the exact source of the problem.

“I haven’t made the decision to not fly in this aircraft if it’s returned to service,” he said Monday in an interview on CNN.

Soucie said he has called on Boeing to offer more details about when the aircraft interior on the Alaska Airlines plane involved in the incident was installed, which could indicate whether Boeing or the airline last worked on the door plug in question.

At an “all-hands” Boeing safety meeting on Tuesday in the wake of the Alaska Airlines incident, a company source suggested that “the mistake in question is clearly the assembly that was built up through the supply chain getting to the customer that contributed to the incident,” referencing the mechanism meant to hold a door plug in place that ultimately separated from the plane.

Bangs, the former airline pilot, said she understands “why people are frustrated – and nervous – about this,” noting that it’s just been a couple of years since another member of the Max family of aircraft, the Boeing 737 Max 8, was returned to service after being grounded for nearly two years. That followed two fatal crashes attributed to problems with the aircraft’s automated Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.

Bangs said she was impressed with the FAA’s “right decision” to quickly ground the Max 9 on Saturday, a move it was slow in making for the Max 8. She said that industry members were hoping that the issue with the Alaska Airlines plane was a one-off involving a single occurrence that somehow weakened its structure.

But United and Alaska Airlines both reported additional jets with loose hardware upon inspection Monday.

“And so now we know we have a quality control problem because these are airplanes produced at different times, you know, different deliveries and at different airlines,” Bangs said.

But Bangs believes that authorities will ensure that all of the door plugs are secure, “but I certainly understand, when you add that to the problems of the Max 8, why people are getting nervous about flying on this particular version of the 737.”

Bangs said she’s not nervous because most of the pilots she’s talked to who fly this model like the planes. And she added that she’s confident that once an issue has been identified and addressed, it is safe.

NTSB Chair Homendy personally inspected the Boeing aircraft with the damage and told CNN on Monday that “our focus right now is on this aircraft to determine what happened, how it happened and to prevent it from happening again. And once we determine that, we can see if there’s a greater concern that we want to issue an urgent safety recommendation for.”

But is it safe for anyone to fly on these Boeing Max jets right now?

“Our aviation system Is the safest in the world. We are the gold standard for safety in our air space, but we need to maintain that,” Homendy said. “And when an event occurs like this, it is up to us to take a close look at what happened to make sure we maintain safety in the air.”

How can passengers figure out what type of plane they’ll be on?

Bangs pointed out potential passengers can see what kind of equipment the flight is operating on in the “details” section when they book flights.

Keyes explained that “when you purchase a flight, it will say on your receipt what aircraft you’re scheduled to fly (typically near the flight number).” People can also also use the website ismyplanea737max.com, he said.

But be prepared for last-minute changes, Keyes warned. “Do note that aircraft swaps happen occasionally; what you were originally scheduled to fly is usually but not always the same model you ultimately fly.”

In that case, Bangs said passengers can use the tail number of the plane at the gate to double-check the type of aircraft.

KSL 5 TV Live

National News

Boeing's Starliner spacecraft...

Jackie Wattles, CNN

Two astronauts wait to come home as Boeing races to understand spacecraft issues. Here’s what’s at stake

Two test pilots helming the inaugural crewed flight of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft are in a tentative position — and so is Boeing’s reputation in spaceflight.

12 hours ago

Matera, Italy, has been a UNESCO World Heritage site for more than 30 years.
Mandatory Credit:	Poik...

Angelica Chiara Yazbeck and Louis Mian, CNN

Historic building in Italy damaged by parkour tourists

Jumping from building to building in an ancient city might seem like a dream for those who practice parkour — a sport that involves making it past obstacles — but it can cause damage to historic buildings.

12 hours ago

Community members in Denver's Central Park neighborhood have a lot of questions after discovering a...

Karen Morfitt, KCNC

Registered sex offender found operating ice cream truck in Denver

Community members in Denver's Central Park neighborhood have a lot of questions after discovering a registered sex offender was operating the neighborhood ice cream truck.

12 hours ago

Tuesday February 9, 2006. Photo by Scott G. Winterton / Deseret Morning News.The Ten Commandments m...

Sara Cline, Associated Press

New Louisiana law requires that The Ten Commandments must be displayed classrooms

Louisiana has become the first state to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in every public school classroom.

12 hours ago

Tropical Storm Alberto has formed in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico, the first named storm of what...

Jaime stengle and Mariana Martinez Barba

Tropical Storm Alberto forms in southwest Gulf, 1st named storm of the hurricane season

Tropical Storm Alberto has formed in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico, the first named storm of what is forecast to be a busy hurricane season.

15 hours ago

An air tanker soars through a large plume of smoke over and around wildfire-affected areas in the v...

MORGAN LEE Associated Press

At least 1 dead in New Mexico wildfire that forced thousands to flee, governor’s office says

Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled a mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings.

17 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Photo courtesy of Artists of Ballet West...

Ballet West

The rising demand for ballet tickets: why they’re harder to get

Ballet West’s box office is experiencing demand they’ve never seen before, leaving many interested patrons unable to secure tickets they want.

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 internet safety tips for kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why printer security should be top of mind for your business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light up your home with these top lighting trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for hassle-free computer repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

What travelers need to know about the Boeing 737 Max 9 grounding