Alaska and United began to return some of their Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft to service on January 26 and 27, respectively, following an extensive Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved inspection and maintenance process.
The move comes after the FAA grounded Max 9s following a January 5 incident in which a plug door on a Max 9 detached on an Alaska flight.
An Alaska spokesperson told Kiplinger in an email that inspections are expected to be completed today (February 2) with nearly all of its Max 9 fleet back in service soon after. But, the spokesperson added, “this is a dynamic situation — could take through the weekend.”
At United, a spokesperson told Kiplinger that the airline has no date to share at this point on when its entire fleet will be back in service.
Both representatives said their respective airlines will allow customers who do not want to fly on a Max 9 to change flights at no charge. Customers can also see which type of aircraft they are scheduled to fly on by checking the flight details section of their airline’s website or app.
In addition, a spokesperson at travel booking site Kayak told Kiplinger that its existing airline filter has been enhanced since the January 5 incident to give users the ability to include or exclude certain aircraft models — including Max 8 and Max 9 — from their flights.
On January 24, the FAA prohibited Boeing from expanding production of the 737-Max line until the agency is satisfied with the company's quality-control process.
About 171 Max 9s were grounded within hours after the January 6 incident, which resulted in the cancellation of hundreds of flights by Alaska and United Airlines and contributed to travel disruptions.
In its inspection, the FAA moved to increase oversight of Boeing's production lines. On January 21, the agency recommended that, as an added layer of safety, airlines should visually inspect the 737-900ER mid-exit door plugs to ensure the door is properly secured. The 737-900ER is not part of the newer Max fleet but has the same door plug design, the agency said.
An exhaustive, enhanced review
“We grounded the Boeing 737-9 MAX within hours of the incident over Portland and made clear this aircraft would not go back into service until it was safe,” FAA administrator Mike Whitaker said in making the January 24 announcement. “The exhaustive, enhanced review our team completed after several weeks of information gathering gives me and the FAA confidence to proceed to the inspection and maintenance phase.”
The maintenance process requires an inspection of specific bolts, guide tracks and fittings, detailed visual inspections of mid-cabin exit door plugs, retorquing fasteners and correcting any damage or abnormal conditions, the FAA said. Upon completion, the aircraft can return to service.
“The quality-assurance issues we have seen are unacceptable,” Whitaker said. “That is why we will have more boots on the ground closely scrutinizing and monitoring production and manufacturing activities.”
How to get a refund if your flight is cancelled
There are several steps you can take if you're wondering how to get a refund if flight cancellations are ruining your travel plans, starting with obtaining details from the website on your airline's refund policies.
Alaska has directed travelers to visit AlaskaAir.com for self-service options. Alaska also said that its flexible travel policy is in place systemwide and that you can change or cancel flights to manage your reservation. United's site includes details on refunds and customer care.
Experts advise that if you have a flight booked with Alaska or United — or any airline — keep an eye on your flight tracker and email as most airlines will send notifications of delays and cancellations.
You can also visit the Department of Transportation Airline Customer Service Dashboard to compare refund and reimbursement policies of the 10 biggest U.S. airlines.
Joey Solitro is a freelance financial journalist at Kiplinger with more than a decade of experience. A longtime equity analyst, Joey has covered a range of industries for media outlets including The Motley Fool, Seeking Alpha, Market Realist, and TipRanks. Joey holds a bachelor's degree in business administration.
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