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Passengers may feel wary about flying on a Boeing 737 Max 9, but incidents like the Alaska one are quite rare.

After three weeks of being grounded, the Boeing 737 Max 9 is returning to service. 

The first Max 9 flight scheduled to take off in the U.S. is an Alaska Airlines one, set to depart on Friday from Seattle at 2:20 p.m. PT to San Diego. 

The Federal Aviation Administration has grounded the Max 9 since January 5 after a door panel blew out from an Alaska jet just minutes after takeoff. The grounding forced United and Alaska — the only two U.S. carriers that operate the plane — to cancel thousands of flights in January.

United said it expects to officially return the Max 9 back to service on Sunday, but may use the plane “as a spare either today or Saturday if needed.”

Alaska CEO Ben Minicucci said in a call with analysts on Thursday that he expected travelers to “have some questions and anxiety” about flying on the Max 9.

Alaska Airlines said Thursday the Boeing 737 Max 9 grounding will cost it $150 million and that it expects Boeing to reimburse it for the loss. “We fully expect to be made whole for the profit impact of the grounding,” Alaska CFO Shane Tackett said.

The Max 9 may be back in service, but the fallout is not over for Boeing. Major U.S. airline CEOs have publicly criticized the company and lawmakers in Washington are looking to investigate the planemaker’s quality lapses.

Which Airlines Fly Boeing’s Max 9?

In the U.S., only Alaska and United operate the aircraft. However, the grounding also affected international carriers like Aeromexico, Copa Airlines and Turkish Airlines because they all fly the Max 9 on routes to the U.S.

After the FAA cleared the way for airlines to return the Max 9 to service, Copa became the first airline to resume flying the plane on Thursday. The Panama flag carrier operated a Max 9 flight from Panama City to Sao Paulo, according to Reuters

The Max 9 is not the most commonly flown aircraft among the best-selling 737 family because the plane is not much larger than the Max 8. There are around 215 Max 9s in service, with Alaska and United making up nearly 70% of the plane’s usage, according to data from Cirium’s Fleet Analyzer. 

United operates the most of any carrier in the world, with 79 Max 9s in its fleet. Alaska flies 65 Max 9s, the second-most in the world. 

The aircraft type for a flight is always subject to change and such changes can happen for reasons ranging from scheduled maintenance to delays. 

Alaska and United Offering Fee Waivers

Alaska is offering fee waivers until February 9 for passengers affected by the Max 9 grounding and for those who don’t want to fly on the plane. Passengers who purchased nonrefundable tickets across all fare classes can either change or cancel their trip without paying a fare difference or a fee. 

United allows passengers to reschedule or cancel flights until February 3, but any rescheduled flights must be the same cabin and same cities. For flights departing after February 3, United said it would waive change fees, but passengers may be subject to a fare difference depending on the flight. 

It’s worth noting that flying is perhaps one of the safest modes of transportation and incidents like the Alaska one are rare. 


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Tags: alaska airlines, boeing 737 max 9, united airlines

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