United and Alaska are canceling hundreds of flights daily for a second consecutive week as the Federal Aviation Administration has yet to lift a temporary grounding of certain Boeing 737 Max planes following a troubling mid-flight blowout earlier this month. And with no concrete timeline to return those planes to the skies, disruptions are bound to continue.
The FAA ordered airlines to temporarily ground select Boeing 737 Max 9 planes after a plugged exit door blew out mid-flight onboard an Alaska Airlines plane on Jan. 5. In its latest update last Friday, the FAA confirmed it has yet to approve an inspection and maintenance process required for Boeing before the 737 Max 9 planes can be put back into service. Alaska and United are continually canceling days worth of flights at a time.
So what should you do if you have an upcoming flight with Alaska, United, or another carrier on a Boeing 737 Max 9 in the next few days or weeks? Read on.
Determine Whether Your Flight is on a Boeing 737 Max 9
First things first: You need to determine whether your upcoming flight is actually on a Boeing 737 Max 9.
Start by firing up Google Flights. Search for your exact flights. Once selected, you can expand the details to see which aircraft you'll be flying on.
You might see that your flight is operating on a Boeing 737 … or even a Boeing 737-900. But these aren't the same thing: Only select 737 Max 9 jets – those with a plugged exit door – are subjected to this grounding. Unless it says specifically you're flying on a Boeing 737 Max 9, you should be in the clear.
You'd also be wise to double-check directly with your airline, as carriers are routinely swapping in different planes to stem the tide of cancellations. For example, a quick United flight status check shows the airline scheduled a different plane on this flight from Denver (DEN) to Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP).
Among the major U.S. airlines, only Alaska and United fly Boeing 737 Max 9 planes. While United has 79 Max 9s in its fleet – the most of any airline – the toll has been greatest for Alaska: The airline's 65 737 Max 9s comprise nearly 30% of its fleet.
However, there are a handful of international carriers that also fly these planes to and from the States. Here are all the carriers that fly the now-grounded Max 9 planes – just keep in mind that several may not fly these jets to and from the U.S.
- Alaska Airlines
- Copa Airlines
- Turkish Airlines
- United Airlines
Monitor Your Flight Now … But Wait to Cancel
If you're scheduled to fly on a Boeing 737 Max 9 in the next few days or weeks, start keeping tabs on it.
Airlines have typically been canceling Max 9 flights just one to three days in advance. But, both Alaska and United are offering waivers for travelers with flights booked over the next few days to rebook their flights for later in January for free.
For example, United is allowing travelers with flights all the way through Jan. 22 to reschedule their trip for any time between now and Jan. 28. That means you could rebook your original flight to be on a United flight that is not on a Max 9 aircraft without paying any change fees or fare differences.
If you're flying on Alaska, flights through Jan. 18 can be rebooked for as far out as Jan. 24 without paying change fees or fare differences, as of publication. So long as the FAA keeps these planes on the grounds, we expect these waivers to be extended.
But you may be better off just monitoring your flight and waiting.
If you proactively cancel your flight before the airline does, you'll only get a refund in the form of a voucher or travel credit, not your original form of payment. If the airline cancels, though, that'ss the key to getting a full refund.
Under federal rulemaking, if an airline cancels or significantly delays your flight and you cancel your reservation as a result, you're entitled to a full refund – not just a voucher. And that includes these 737 Max 9-related cancellations.
It's one of the few protections for flyers enshrined in U.S. law. Here's a snippet from Department of Transportation regulations:
If your flight is canceled and you choose to cancel your trip as a result, you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation – even for non-refundable tickets. You are also entitled to a refund for any bag fee that you paid, and any extras you may have purchased, such as a seat assignment.
Get Instant Notifications If Your Flight is Canceled
At the very least, be sure to download your airline's app so you can get notified if there's been a change in your upcoming flight. Your airline app should alert you if your flight has been canceled or changed, and whether or not you've been rebooked.
But airlines don't always do the best job of letting customers know when they've made a change. That's where Flighty comes in.
Flighty tracks the status of your upcoming flights better than even your airline will. Our team has lost track of how many times we've gotten alerts from Flighty about a schedule change or cancellation 30 minutes, if not hours, before getting the heads up from the airline … if the carrier even notified us at all. It's the most powerful tool we've found to keep tabs on your flights, bar none.
Our editor Kyle recently got a notification from Flighty that his flight home from Denver this weekend – scheduled on a 737 Max 9 – had been canceled. He never heard directly from the airline.
With Flighty, you'll get instant push alerts about any schedule changes, delays, or cancellations to any flights in your queue. When it comes to air travel, information is power … and no app gives you more information than Flighty.
Flighty starts out free, giving you some useful but limited information about your upcoming flights. But the real power comes with Flighty Pro, which gives you by-the-second updates on changes to your flights.
At $5.99 a month or $49.99 a year, it's not exactly cheap … but potentially invaluable for anxious travelers who want to stay informed. And if you're a frequent traveler, we think you'll find this subscription is well worth it.
Book a Backup Flight Just in Case
If you really want to make sure you can get to where you need to go, use your points and miles to book a backup flight just in case.
Most major U.S. airlines allow you to change or cancel award bookings for free. That means you can book a flight now and cancel it later to get all your miles back as well as any taxes and fees you paid if your original flight goes ahead as scheduled.
Don't have miles to spare? Consider booking a backup flight on Southwest.
The airline never charges a fee to change or cancel a flight, whether you book with cash or Rapid Rewards points. And Southwest flight credits never expire, so there'll be no issue putting them to use later if your current flight takes off as planned.
The FAA's temporary grounding of the Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft has led to flight disruptions over the last few weeks. But with no sign of when that grounding will be lifted, delays and cancellations will continue for the foreseeable future.
If you're scheduled to fly on Alaska, United, or another airline with Max 9 planes in their fleet, be proactive and check your flights. You may be able to rebook your trip for free, book a backup flight, or cancel your reservation for a full refund.
Lead photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines