Boeing 737 Max 9 jets cleared to fly after January disaster; are travelers ready?

Jan 26, 2024, 4:07 PM | Updated: Jan 27, 2024, 8:17 pm

Boeing 737 MAX-9...

Alaska Airlines N704AL, a 737 MAX-9, which made an emergency landing at Portland International Airport on January 5 is parked at a maintenance hanger in Portland, Oregon on January 23, 2024. The missing emergency door is covered and taped. (Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Getty Images)

(Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Getty Images)

The first Boeing 737 Max 9 has been cleared to fly since the jets were grounded three weeks ago and will be used in an Alaska Airlines flight taking off from Seattle for San Diego.

On Jan. 24, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the 737 Max 9 to return to flying after completing a detailed inspection. This followed an incident earlier this month where a plug covering a spot left for an emergency door tore off a Boeing plane, causing a panel to be ripped from the plane’s frame during an Alaska Airlines flight as it flew 16,000 feet above Oregon.

More on the airplane disaster: Retired Navy admiral to lead probe of Boeing after blowout fiasco

The individual inspections are expected to take up to 12 hours per aircraft.

“We expect inspections on our 737 Max 9 to be completed by the end of next week, allowing us to operate our full flight schedule,” Alaska Air said in a prepared statement.

The first Max 9 flight for Alaska Airlines was set to depart Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac Airport) Friday at 2:20 p.m., but was delayed to 3:24 p.m. It eventually completed its trip without incident.

“With the first of our 737 Max 9 set to resume flying on Friday, we’ll add more planes back into service every day as inspections are completed and each aircraft is deemed airworthy,” Alaska Air stated.

Despite the West Coast flight being the first flight since the groundings, mass cancellations are far from over. Ninety-six cancellations were reported at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) Friday, with all but 10 of those being Alaska flights, according to tracking website FlightAware.

Do fliers feel good about getting back on a Max 9?

Some passengers have expressed lingering concern about boarding any 737 Max 9 jets in the future, despite the FAA clearing. Kayak, a travel resource, recently allowed its website users to filter 737 Max-8 and 737 Max-9 models out of their travel plans.

“Kayak makes it easy for concerned travelers to avoid 737 Max flights,” Kayak wrote on its website.

“I’m not one of these people whose anti-government,” Colleen Henry, a Sea-Tac Airport traveler flying to Mexico on Alaska Airlines with her dog, Besame Mucho, told MyNorthwest. “I think we need the government to keep us all safe and healthy. I’m not going to slam the FAA, but it’s a concern.”

But this ordeal has become a nuisance, as Henry stated the Max 9 groundings caused her to spend an extra night in Seattle

“It’s turned my whole flight into a two-day process as opposed to say a 10-hour thing,” Henry added.

Other travelers claimed they aren’t worried, considering the proportionally small number of flight incidents.

More from Sam Campbell: Number of passengers in class-action lawsuit against Alaska Air, Boeing grows

“I wouldn’t have any concerns,” Peter Donaldson, who’s flying Alaska Air to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, said. “I would trust that the systems in place would support travel safety.”

“I figure right now is probably the safest time to fly. I really, truly believe that,” Margaret, traveling to Vegas from Sea-Tac, said. Her flight is on a 737 plane, but not a Max 9. “My family and friends are all asking me if I’m OK to fly. And I said, ‘yeah, you know, whatever happens happens.’ I’m not in one of those window seats, so fingers crossed. The safest restaurant to eat at is the one that was just reopened after a health inspection, right?”

Alaska Airlines reported on Thursday that the grounding of its Boeing 737 Max 9 jetliners reduced profits by approximately $150 million.

Follow Sam Campbell on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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Boeing 737 Max 9 jets cleared to fly after January disaster; are travelers ready?