United and Southwest Will Allow Passengers to Opt-Out of 737 Flights

Photo: Stephen Brashear (Getty)

Even after Boeing’s beleaguered Boeing 737 Max jets return to the skies, some Stephen Brashearwary passengers won’t be expected to board them—at least if they’re flying United Airlines.

The policy is not new but reiterated this week by a United Airlines executive during an investor conference. CNN on Wednesday cited Boeing’s chief commercial officer Andrew Nocella as saying that if a United passenger arrives at a boarding gate “and it’s not an airplane you want to fly on for whatever reason, if it’s a Max, we’ll put you on another flight.”

United Airlines currently has 14 Max aircraft in its fleet. A spokesperson for the airline told Gizmodo by email that United Airlines will work with customers on rebooking their flight if customers don’t want to fly on a Max, but noted that it will work to inform customers ahead of their trip if they will be flying on one of the jets.

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A Southwest Airlines spokesperson confirmed to Gizmodo that after the Boeing aircraft are again cleared for commercial use, the carrier will also offer customers “flexibility to change their itinerary” if they do not feel comfortable flying on a Max jet. A spokesperson for American Airlines, which along with Southwest Airlines also has Max jets in its fleet, told Gizmodo in a statement by email that it has not made any official policy announcement for when the jets return to service.

“We will always work to ensure we have policies and procedures in place that take care of our customers and team members. Our customers can be assured that an American Airlines pilot would never operate an unsafe aircraft,” the spokesperson said. “However, once these policies are rolled out, they will assist our customers if they are still concerned flying on the MAX. Once the aircraft is cleared to fly again, American will continue to look at ways to reiterate to our customers that our pilots are the best in the business and would never fly an unsafe aircraft.”

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Southwest Airlines had 34 Max aircraft in its fleet at the time of the March grounding of the jets, while American Airlines has 24. Boeing declined to comment on the messaging by airlines to assuage any consumer fears about the jets.

Boeing faced a global grounding of its Max aircraft earlier this year after two separate crashes—one Lion Air and the other Ethiopian Airlines—killed a combined 346 people. At the time, Boeing said that it would release a software update for the 737 Max jets “no later” than April. In April, an updated Federal Aviation Administration timeline projected that it would be weeks more before a fix was delivered.

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Then, following a series of alarming discoveries uncovered during ongoing investigations, the FAA said in a statement in June that it is “following a thorough process, not a prescribed timeline, for returning the Boeing 737 Max to passenger service.” The message was reiterated again in a statement from the FAA last month.

Since then, airlines have scrambled to deal with the continued fallout resulting from halted service and ongoing delays. In July, for example, Southwest Airlines announced it was pulling service from Newark Liberty International Airport due to troubles relating to ongoing flight cancellations and other disruptions. But all three airlines have been severely impacted by the grounding; United and American have extended cancellations through December, while Southwest has said it is extending its flight schedule revisions through January.

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