The Boeing 737 MAX Will Replace Some Widebody Routes Once Operational Again

When the Boeing 737 MAX hit the skies, it was a revolutionary plane. It flew further than its predecessors, and with a lower fuel burn, enabling airlines to open new routes and be more flexible with their services. Some even substituted widebody services for the fuel-efficient narrowbody, and we can expect to see more of the same when it returns to service this time.

737 MAX
The 737 MAX could be used in the place of some widebody routes. Photo: Getty Images

The MAX will be back

The clock is ticking on the return to service of the Boeing 737 MAX. When the FAA finally gives the nod, Boeing can get to work on delivering the hundreds of aircraft it has built and stored since last year’s grounding.

For many airlines, these incoming next-generation aircraft will be used to retire some older models. Icelandair, for example, is hoping to replace its aging Boeing 757s with the more efficient MAX. For others, it adds capacity, such as is the case with Ryanair who is desperate to expand operations with the arrival of its MAX.

Ryanair, Boeing 737 MAX, October
Ryanair may not receive its first 737 MAX until October. Photo: Getty Images

But did you know that, for some airlines, it could even be used to replace some widebody routes? Yes, the age of long-haul narrowbody is upon us, and Boeing’s 737 MAX is poised to take the lead.


Going the distance

The huge increase in fuel efficiency brought by the MAX has enabled airlines to be more selective with the aircraft they place on routes. Longer routes, previously the preserve of the widebody aircraft, are able to be operated with the MAX, which makes a lot of sense for those that are lower in demand.

Prior to its grounding, the 737 MAX replaced the four times weekly service by Aerolineas Argentinas between Buenos Aries and Punta Cana. Its added efficiency meant the airline was able to operate the route daily. The route covers 3,252nmi.

Aerolineas Argentinas 737 MAX
Aerolineas Argentinas operated one of the world’s longest 737 MAX flights in place of a widebody. Photo: Aerolineas Argentinas

Norwegian Air used to operate another of the world’s longest 737 MAX routes; several in fact. Prior to grounding, the airline had transatlantic connections between Bergen, Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh, and Shannon to New York, with many of these routes coming close to 3,000nmi. Since the grounding, it has abandoned transatlantic flights from Ireland and has had to rely on widebody aircraft for other services.

In fact, of the worldwide routes spanning more than 2,500nmi and using a narrowbody aircraft, almost 80% were flown by the 737 MAX.

Replacing the widebodies

A blog by Boeing’s VP of Marketing, Randy Tinseth, published in 2018 said that flydubai had achieved a 15% fuel saving by using the MAX, as well as decreased disruption and maintenance. Hainan noted that there was significant fuel burn advantages to the aircraft, particularly on routes of more than three hours.

As such, we expect to see a number of airlines swap it in over widebody services for their thinner routes as it gradually returns to service. For some airlines, the increased efficiency will mean they can operate routes more often, choosing frequency over capacity. But the MAX is not alone in its long-haul narrowbody ambitions.

The XLR will compete with widebodies on some long routes. Photo: Airbus

On the Airbus side, the A320neo operates to a range of 3,400nmi while the A321neo, surprisingly, has a published maximum range of 4,000nmi. Then, there’s the gamechanging A321XLR which  will begin delivering in 2023. This modified A321 will offer a range of up to 4,700nmi, thanks to the addition of extra fuel tanks.

Although the MAX dominated the long-haul narrowbody routes two year ago, times have moved on. Going forward, it’s likely fewer widebodies will be used on routes of under six to seven hours. For the passengers, we just hope at least some take a leaf out of flydubai’s book and install options for lie flat seating on the aircraft destined to fly longer routes.

Are you looking forward to the return of the MAX? Let us know in the comments.


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I hope boeing develop a new plane, the engineers of the new plane won’t a monkeys


Revolutionary? No, not at all. It was supposed to be an evolution – and came out as an evolutionary dead end.


Hold my b**r

– Air Baltic (flies 6 hours with the A220 from Riga to Abu Dhabi)


This pathetic Boeing’s disastrous creation cannot not even complete a takeoff procedure, and suggesting long distance flight on the Bird is simply Suicidal..

Jeff H

After 4 hours, crammed shoulder to shoulder and knee to chest in a MAX, and having to hold my bladder because the bathrooms are too busy and too small to use, the thought of a long haul flight on this plane is enough to make me give up flying altogether. For that reason, I’m out.


What a lazy restate of a Boeing publicity blurb. Certainly not revolutionary but a technology dead end. This a dog of an aircraft and Boeing s****d the operators in with glib promises of easy transition, no simulator training, mislead reagarding the flight control software on a 1960’s stick and wire system. And Boeing new about it internally! Great aircraft for its time but literally dead in the water.
Travelled recently on a 5 hour flight on a 737-800; truly awful particularly compared to an A330-200 on same route. Only the compelled would choose this option, like travelling with Ryanair in the back of an overcrowded bus
A once mighty engineering company obsessed with share buyback rather than investing in a new aircraft for this market segment. Airbus are far from perfect but it’s hard to see them this deep down into the barrel bottom.

Gerry S

Airlines will utilize the MAX for longer flights and be happy with them. Who cares what says the naysayers?

Marlon Vaughn

No. And the MAX won’t “take the lead”. The A321xlr has already left it in the dust. This article is delusional.


All of this presumes that traveller’s will be willing to board the flying death trap Max. This is one traveller that will not.

Hey Boeing executives and Boeing Bots how’s that cost cutting thing workin’ out for ya’?

Gerry S

………….and the beat goes on…..and on!


Let’s hope everything that Boeing has learnt from the “quick fix” 737 Max and the development work on the NMA as well as the 787 can make a brilliant new single aisle plane – the engineers know what to do! That way the 737 Max can be the shortest production possible.


Yes I am, Boeing is a wonderful company.


Revolutionary? Stunning. About as Revolutionary as a rock.


Yes. I still thinks a great aircraft..


Thank you Joanna for bringing up this topic. However please allow me to provide more context to the examples you are using in your article.

It is true that Icelandair was flying both the 757 and the MAX. But the MAX is not not able to replace the 757. Before the grounding the MAX was primarily serving Europe. It was not able to serve the full US network. I guess the persistent rumor of Icelandair looking into acquiring the A321LR/XLR despite being a full Boeing operator really silverlines the MAX inability to replace the 757. Another example is the United order for A321XLR to replace the 757. If the MAX was a 757 replacement they would not have needed the XLR…
In the case of Argentina Aerolinas to Punta Cana, if you check, you’ll notice that ARG had to pull out the MAX before the grounding. I’m not sure of the cause for it (not economically viable or due to an aircraft performance shortfall -> that would be a good question to ask ARG).
As for the transatlantic ability of the MAX, it only flew out on a few routes with Primera Air -bankrupt- and Norwegian which decided to stop most of it MAX transatlantic flights (before the MAX was grounded).

So in the same way the A319ceo was flying long routes in the past (NB the MAX 8and 9 have less range than the A319), we might see the MAX flying some niche long range routes. But unlike what we see with the A321LR and XLR who are starting a real new trend, the MAX series will mostly end up focusing on workhorse short range sectors.

I will not be flying on ANY Max before at least 2 more full seasons of reliable service and proper training and experience. The engines are too big and too high for this very old chassis. It has a design shortfall corrected by code rather than tooling for this millenium. Shame on Boeing.

Dan Pemble

As an ex-McDonnell Douglas (MDC) and Boeing Customer Support in-house and Field Service Representative supporting our world-wide airline Customers for over 40 years, it is enlightening that Joanna’s article has a measure of positivity related to the 737 MAX! However, some of the other comments on the thread by obviously less-knowledgeable and experienced individuals are in my estimation a bit out of line! Although it is an entirely different scenario, as the DC-10 on-site MDC Representative with British Airways at London- Heathrow during the DC-10 grounding in 1979, the DC-10 did indeed return to service and was accepted by the flying public – just as the 737 MAX will eventually enjoy its re-entry into service and re-establish itself as a safe, reliable, and dependable airplane!


You would think that Boeing has learned a dear lesson that caused many deaths and even more heartbreaks. All the money in the world won’t get those people we lost back. But corporate greed plays a big role in decision making.
The Boeing 737 is a wonderful plane. putting over sized engines on it is just not right if it affects the planes aerodynamics. Personally the Max will be doomed! It takes a pure instant to get a bad reputation and will take way longer to get it back. Boeing should look at a redesign if it intends to compete with Airbus. Good luck to Boeing as I do like their planes.

Peter Lindvall

Passengers will not fly the 737-max even if it gets the goverment approval to fly again.
Boeings tarnished reputation and failing culture will have to change first.

Michael Sheargold

If you replace B737 Max with Boeing’s new single isle (that doesn’t exist yet) then this article is on the money. The Max is grounded it’s not a small problem it’s a BIG problem. Long haul how about no haul!