With Grounding Of Boeing 737 Max Fleet — Where Does That Leave Air Travelers?

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Many air travelers are breathing a sigh of relief now that the FAA has grounded all Boeing 737 Max airplanes after two of the aircraft crashed in recent months, but some airline passengers are finding their flights cancelled today as a result.

The flight tracking website flightaware.com shows more than 2,100 flights nationwide have been cancelled today, but the vast majority of those are due to the late winter storm moving from the Eastern Rockies through the Great Plains and into the Midwest today.

The tracking site shows only a handful of flights cancelled because they had been scheduled on Boeing 737 Max-8 or Max-9 planes, and those jets are now grounded.

An estimated 50,000 travelers could have been ticketed on 737 Max planes each day, but those Boeing jets — only 72 — represent a small portion of the overall U.S. passenger airline fleet.

The U.S. airlines that fly the 737 Max planes — Southwest, American and United — will either bring in other planes to fly those routes or they will rebook passengers onto other flights to the destinations.

"I think any disruptions will be very minor," says Paul Hudson of the travelers' advocacy group, FlyersRights.org.

Southwest, American, United and Air Canada

Southwest Airlines has the most Max 8 planes — 34 — used on about 160 of the airline's 4,000 daily flights, spread all across the country. The airlines says any customer booked on a cancelled Max 8 flight can rebook on alternative flights without any additional fees or fare differences within 14 day sof the original date of travel, between the original cities.

American Airlines has 24 Max 8 planes that are used on about 85 of the airline's 6,700 flights a day. The airline says they will rebook customers to their final destinations or, affected customers may rebook themselves on aa.com. "If a flight is canceled," the airline says, "customers may request a full refund by visiting our website."

United Airlines has 14 of the nearly identical but slightly longer 737 Max 9 planes used on about 40 flights a day. United says they do not anticipate a significant operational impact they will swap aircraft and automatically rebook passengers.

Air Canada is one of the few North American carriers expecting some problems because of the grounding of 737 Max planes, telling its passengers to expect some difficulties. "Given the magnitude of our 737 Max operations which on average carry nine to twelve thousand customers per day, customers can expect delays in rebooking and in reaching Air Canada call centres and we appreciate our customers' patience," the company said in a statement.

FAA under fire for delay

Air travelers' advocates had been critical of the FAA for not acting quickly to ground the troubled planes. On Monday, Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org told NPR that he believed the FAA was taking a big risk, "The FAA's wait-and-see attitude risks lives," he added.

Former Obama Administration Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was among those urging the FAA to ground Boeing's 737 Max planes.

"I think the flying public has questions about whether these planes are safe," LaHood told member station WBEZ in Chicago Wednesday, before the FAA's announcement. "And the way to really eliminate those concerns is to ground the planes."

Among those welcoming the peace of mind that came with the FAA's decision was traveler Sharon Barnes, passing through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

"I think it was the right decision given that the rest of the world is doing the same thing," Barnes told the Associated Press. "And it's a prudent thing to be doing until we know more about what's going on," she said.

Rafael Nendel-Flores was in mid-air on that same flight from L.A. to D.C., listening to MSNBC. "That's when I realized the plane I was on was being grounded," says Nendel-Flores. He says he was more concerned about how he would get back home than he was about his safety.

"We're supposed to be on a 737 going back on Friday. That is my oldest daughter's birthday, so I'm like, am I going to miss that?" Nendel-Flores wondered.

If any travelers are having trouble with an airline over a cancelled Boeing 737 Max flight, the travel consumer group FlyersRights.org has the following recommendations:

  • Ask for your ticket to be endorsed to be used on another flight or airline going to the same destination.
  • Demand an involuntary refund and book another flight or cancel your air travel.
  • Wait for another flight on the same airline and possibly receive hotel, meal and ground travel vouchers.
  • Seek delay compensation for international trips under Montreal Convention Article 19 or under EU rules.
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