United Airlines Extends Boeing 737 MAX Suspension Until June 2020

United Airlines has reportedly extended the removal of the Boeing 737 MAX from its schedules until June 2020. This is the longest grounding we’ve seen so far and takes the aircraft off United’s books for well over a year.

737 MAX Getty
Boeing is halting production of the 737 MAX until it is cleared by the FAA. Photo: Getty

United grounds the MAX until June

Up until today, United Airlines had taken the 737 MAX off its schedules until March 2020. This was largely in line with other airlines. Only Icelandair had pushed the removal of the type into the summer 2020 schedule, stating that it did not expect to see the type in service before May next year.

Now, however, United have taken pole position in grounding the planes for the longest time. The airline is reported by Reuters to have removed the 737 MAX from schedules until June 4th 2020, the longest any carrier has so far taken the type from its operations. United spokesman Frank Benenati said in a statement to USA Today,

“With the MAX return to service date still unknown, pushing our timeline back to early June is what is best for our customers and our operation. With this new date now further in the future, we will better help our customers by reducing the number of our passengers we need to reassign to a new aircraft or rebook on a different flight. This also helps our network team better plan for the year.”

MAX 9
United only has the 737 MAX 9 in its fleet. Photo: United

This latest schedule change by United will remove some 80 daily flight from its network during April, and 108 in May and early June.  This suggests that, at least for the start of the summer season, United will not have this latest generation narrowbody in operation, even if it is cleared to fly by then.

This comes on the back of the news that the FAA has no intention of certifying the aircraft before 2020, and warnings that it could take until February to complete the necessary steps. As a result, Boeing recently made the decision to halt production of the aircraft until after the FAA clearance is given.

What are other operators doing?

Both American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have taken the MAX out of their plans until early April 2020. This would indicate that they expected to have the aircraft in service in time for the summer season. However, as we’ve seen before, it may be that these two airlines follow United and push the cancellation of the beleaguered narrowbody even further.

United 737 MAX
United will not fly the MAX until June, even if it’s certified sooner. Photo: United Airlines

The move by United is a well thought out plan. After all, it’s easier to manage customer expectations several months ahead of time in terms of available flights than it would be to deal with the fallout from last-minute cancellations.

All operators of the 737 MAX are expecting to receive compensation from Boeing for the losses incurred while unable to use the aircraft. With the grounding now stretching into its second year, Boeing’s bill is going to be sizeable.

Right now, it’s a case of damage limitation from the carriers. We wouldn’t be at all surprised to see other US airlines moving to take the 737 MAX off their schedules for similar periods over the next few weeks.

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