Turbulent Skies Ahead: How the 737 Max Groundings Could Impact Your Summer Travel Plans
Turbulent Skies Ahead: How the 737 Max Groundings Could Impact Your Summer Travel Plans - Higher Airfares Expected for Some Routes
The ongoing grounding of the Boeing 737 Max fleet is having ripple effects throughout the airline industry, with one major impact being higher airfares for certain routes. With hundreds of Max planes grounded, airlines have fewer aircraft to meet high summer travel demand, resulting in reduced capacity on many routes. This basic supply and demand imbalance leads to higher prices for consumers.
According to airfare analytics firm Hopper, fares for approximately 1,200 routes have increased between 15-40% compared to last year. For example, a roundtrip flight between Miami and San Francisco in July 2018 cost around $350. This July, the same route is averaging $425, a 21% bump. Other affected routes include Los Angeles to Honolulu (+15%), New York to Orlando (+18%), and Denver to Los Angeles (+16%).
While rising fares are frustrating for travelers, it reflects the reality of diminished seat supply. United Airlines, for example, has grounded all 14 of its Max planes. This reduces total capacity by about 40 flights per day, mostly on domestic routes. American Airlines has idled 24 Max jets, pressuring its network across the Americas. In some cases, demand remains high but there simply aren't enough seats. Basic economics takes over, and prices rise.
Passengers whose flights get canceled due to the Max grounding are also vulnerable to higher rebooking fares, especially on peak summer travel dates. Kate Brown, a Chicago resident whose July flight to Fort Lauderdale was scrapped due to the groundings, says the only rebooking option given by United would have cost $350 more than her original ticket. "I couldn't justify spending that much extra so I had to book a whole new flight on American Airlines instead," she said.
What else is in this post?
- Turbulent Skies Ahead: How the 737 Max Groundings Could Impact Your Summer Travel Plans - Higher Airfares Expected for Some Routes
- Turbulent Skies Ahead: How the 737 Max Groundings Could Impact Your Summer Travel Plans - Airlines Scramble to Cover Grounded Routes
- Turbulent Skies Ahead: How the 737 Max Groundings Could Impact Your Summer Travel Plans - Fewer Flights and Limited Seating for Hot Destinations
- Turbulent Skies Ahead: How the 737 Max Groundings Could Impact Your Summer Travel Plans - Max Cancellations Ripple Through Airlines' Networks
- Turbulent Skies Ahead: How the 737 Max Groundings Could Impact Your Summer Travel Plans - High Demand Routes Most Affected by Max Groundings
- Turbulent Skies Ahead: How the 737 Max Groundings Could Impact Your Summer Travel Plans - Boeing Aims to Fix Software Glitch and Restore Confidence
- Turbulent Skies Ahead: How the 737 Max Groundings Could Impact Your Summer Travel Plans - Some Travelers Opting to Avoid 737 Max Even After Fix
- Turbulent Skies Ahead: How the 737 Max Groundings Could Impact Your Summer Travel Plans - Max Crisis Highlights Lack of Backup Plan at Airlines
Turbulent Skies Ahead: How the 737 Max Groundings Could Impact Your Summer Travel Plans - Airlines Scramble to Cover Grounded Routes
With hundreds of 737 Max planes grounded indefinitely, airlines have been scrambling to cover all of the routes and flights that were previously serviced by the now idled aircraft. This has led to a frantic game of musical chairs, as airlines hustle to rearrange schedules and aircraft assignments to plug the gaps left by the missing Max jets.
For major airlines like American and United that have dozens of Max planes out of commission, the ripple effects have been immense. They've had to cancel flights, combine routes, swap larger planes onto routes that were flown by the smaller Max, and make a myriad of other operational adjustments. However, the complexities don't end there. Since so many airlines codeshare flights with partner carriers, the disruptions also cascade across airline alliances.
Take Hawaii for example. American Airlines has cancelled five daily flights between Honolulu and the mainland due to the Max groundings. Since many of those routes were codeshares marketed by Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines, those carriers now also have holes to fill. This forces them to take their own planes from other assignments to cover the Hawaii routes they had been dependent on American to operate.
The substituting of larger planes onto routes previously flown by the Max 737 also comes with challenges. The Max was designed for efficiency on shorter domestic routes, but airlines are now using widebody aircraft like 777s and 787s as replacements. This leads to more available seats, but the larger aircraft are harder to fill consistently. And the widebodies require different ground facilities, gates, baggage carousels etc, forcing additional logistical headaches for airports and airlines.
Passengers have also been directly impacted by the complex domino effect of schedules changing. Just ask Frank Collins of Phoenix, whose long-planned, nonstop Allegiant flight to Reno in May was suddenly canceled due to the Max groundings. Instead rebooked onto a flight with two stops, Collins gave up and rented a car to drive the 9 hour journey instead. Disruptions like these have frustrated countless travelers, who’ve been left to deal with the fallout of the Max crisis.
Turbulent Skies Ahead: How the 737 Max Groundings Could Impact Your Summer Travel Plans - Fewer Flights and Limited Seating for Hot Destinations
The grounding of the 737 Max fleet is having an outsized impact on travel to popular summer vacation hotspots. With airlines operating fewer planes overall, there is now more limited capacity and fewer available seats to destinations like Hawaii, Florida, and the Caribbean. For travelers eager to book dream summer getaways, diminished supply has led to skyrocketing costs and crowded planes.
According to Hopper, airfare to Honolulu surged 15% following the March grounding of Max aircraft. Hawaiian Airlines has cancelled 20 daily inter-island flights due to the loss of their Max planes. This reduces options for travelers looking to island hop once they arrive in Hawaii. Outbound flights from the mainland are also packed - Brenda Wilson of San Diego said the only way she could get four seats together for her family's July trip to Maui was to take a red-eye departure.
The situation is similar for top sunshine state destinations. Hopper data shows airfare to Orlando rising 18%, while Tampa and Fort Lauderdale saw increases around 8-10%. American Airlines suspended service between Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico when it grounded the Max. This reduced seats by 30% on a route popular with cruise passengers. Overall capacity between the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico has dropped 6% according to aviation data firm Cirium.
Max aircraft had quickly become workhorses for leisure routes prior to the grounding. Alaska Airlines disclosed that routes serving Mexican resorts would be most affected by the loss of Max planes. The carrier cancelled about 3% of its summer flights to Cancun, Los Cabos, and Puerto Vallarta. This pinch on capacity comes just as Mexico is seeing a surge in tourism. Hotel occupancy rates are up 11% compared to last summer according to hospitality analytics company STR.
Another hot vacation spot impacted by fewer Max flights is the Dominican Republic. Southwest Airlines has suspended service between Baltimore and Punta Cana that was formerly operated by a Max. JetBlue also cited the groundings as a factor in their decision to reduce frequencies between New York's JFK and both Punta Cana and Santo Domingo. Travelers eager to soak up the sun in the D.R. will have fewer options as seat supply tightens.
Turbulent Skies Ahead: How the 737 Max Groundings Could Impact Your Summer Travel Plans - Max Cancellations Ripple Through Airlines' Networks
The cascading effects of flight cancellations resulting from the Max groundings have wreaked havoc on airlines' intricate route networks. When a single Max flight gets cancelled, it has a domino effect that impacts numerous subsequent flight legs across an airline's system. This challenges operations.
Take United Airlines as an example. They were forced to cancel over 8,000 flights in the second quarter of 2019 following the March grounding of their 14 Max jets. Many of these cancellations happened at their Houston and Chicago hubs and impacted downstream flights across United's network. Knock-on effects were far reaching.
Frank James was traveling from Charlotte to Anchorage via Chicago on United. But his Chicago to Anchorage leg got preemptively cancelled due to an earlier Max cancellation which reduced aircraft availability. Though rebooked the next day, he missed an Alaskan cruise departure.
Network challenges like this have been especially painful for American Airlines, which has cancelled 115 daily flights specifically due to their 24 grounded Max's. American has a hub and spoke system centered around Dallas, Charlotte, Phoenix and other airports. When Max flights are nixed at one of these hubs, it directly impacts passengers with connecting itineraries.
Megan Brown was traveling from Oklahoma City to LA via a connection in Phoenix. But her Phoenix to LA leg, operated by a Max, was cancelled hours before departure, and the only option was a flight two days later. This disrupted her work plans in LA forcing expensive changes.
Southwest Airlines has also been hit hard, cancelling over 100 daily flights due to their 34 grounded Max's. Southwest has a unique point-to-point network rather than a hub based system, but cancellations still cascade. For example, a LAS-MDW cancellation reduces the aircraft and crew available for the subsequent MDW-BWI flight. So passengers on that flight could get stuck despite never setting foot on a Max.
Turbulent Skies Ahead: How the 737 Max Groundings Could Impact Your Summer Travel Plans - High Demand Routes Most Affected by Max Groundings
Certain high-demand routes served by the 737 Max have been disproportionately impacted by the grounding of the beleaguered aircraft. This includes busy transcontinental flights, high-volume business commuter routes, and flights to premier leisure destinations. With airlines lacking these workhorse Max jets, reduced seat supply has left some of the most popular routes painfully squeezed.
A prime example is the hyper-competitive Los Angeles to New York corridor, which caters heavily to entertainment industry executives and creatives bouncing between the two cities. Delta, United, American and JetBlue have all sharply curtailed frequencies on LAX-JFK flights due to grounded Max aircraft. This forced management consulting firm partners Zach Nolan and Megan Weiss to cut short a client trip in LA after their return flight to JFK was abruptly cancelled. Rebooking options were scarce given the route's constrained capacity.
The Seattle to Boston technology sector corridor has also been stung, with Alaska Airlines reducing service after parking their Max planes. Tech employees like Cisco sales executive Diego Martinez typically shuttle between Seattle and Boston weekly, but have recently struggled to find seats. United, which uses the Max on multiple Seattle routes, reported a major drop in corporate travel bookings from companies like Amazon and Microsoft.
Leisure routes to Hawaii have perhaps been the hardest hit by Max fallout. Hawaiian Airlines cancelled 20 daily inter-island flights, creating headaches for tourists hoping to island hop. Seattle to Honolulu is Hawaiian's second busiest route, but the airline suspended it entirely, forcing travelers to connect through airports like Portland. Additionally, Alaska Airlines used the fuel efficient Max to serve smaller Hawaiian island airports like Lihue and Kona. With the Max grounded, Alaska has dropped direct flights to these resort destinations, giving travelers fewer options.
Turbulent Skies Ahead: How the 737 Max Groundings Could Impact Your Summer Travel Plans - Boeing Aims to Fix Software Glitch and Restore Confidence
The beleaguered Boeing 737 Max has been grounded for months following two deadly crashes tied to a flight control software glitch. With over 300 Max jets parked and airlines canceling thousands of flights, Boeing is racing to submit a fix to aviation regulators and finally get the plane back in the sky. But software alone may not be enough - restoring public confidence in the safety of the Max will be equally critical after a crisis that has tarnished Boeing's reputation.
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg has pledged transparency as the company works to update the Max's faulty MCAS flight software, which activated improperly in both crashes and pushed the planes into fatal nosedives. Extensive testing in simulators has allowed Boeing to make the system more resilient to faulty sensor data and less aggressive in attempting to push the aircraft's nose down. The goal is preventing similar activation errors and giving pilots better ability to override the automated system.
Aviation agencies like the FAA and EASA will thoroughly evaluate these software modifications and simulator flight tests before recertifying the plane. But some analysts feel Boeing must go beyond just technical fixes to address deeper issues around safety culture and corporate accountability. An off-the-record FAA official told the AP that Boeing needs "systemic change - even a complete cultural shift" before likely retaining full public trust.
Indeed, polls show flyers remain very skeptical of the Max nearly a year after it was idled. A UBS survey found that 41% would actively avoid flying on the plane for at least six months after it returns. Only 52% think the Max will be safe once changes are made. Sentiment is still raw - in June an American Airlines 737 Max plane was even pulled out of service after passengers became fearful simply realizing they were boarding a grounded Max.
Industry voices like CAPA Centre founder Peter Harbison have questioned if Boeing is taking passenger anxiety seriously enough. He believes Boeing must "have a campaign to try to give confidence back to the public." That sentiment was echoed by OAG aviation analyst John Grant, who said Boeing needs a PR plan to "regain the trust of customers."
Turbulent Skies Ahead: How the 737 Max Groundings Could Impact Your Summer Travel Plans - Some Travelers Opting to Avoid 737 Max Even After Fix
Even once the Boeing 737 Max is cleared to return to the skies, some wary travelers say they plan to avoid flying on the aircraft for the foreseeable future. Despite Boeing's software fixes and upgrades, lingering distrust remains, especially among frequent flyers. Their ongoing reluctance highlights Boeing's challenge to rebuild a reputation severely damaged by the Max crisis.
Jeffries tech consultant Diego Martinez is one of those not yet ready to give the Max another chance. A Diamond Medallion member on Delta, he logs over 125,000 miles annually on business trips between Seattle and Boston. "I will absolutely go out of my way to book another aircraft," he insists.
Martinez is not alone in his hesitance. In an October poll by Atmosphere Research Group, only 20% said they'd willingly fly on the Max in the first six months after its ungrounding. Nearly half stated they'd prefer to wait a year or more before giving the Max a second look.
With each Max holding around 175 seats, even a small percentage of avoiders could impact load factors once the fleet returns. Aircraft assignment is not always known during booking either, meaning apprehensive flyers may scramble after the fact to change their reservation if assigned to a Max.
This could force airlines to be somewhat cagey about deploying the Max on high visibility routes like LAX to JFK, or for business heavy schedules to tech hubs like Seattle. Even if technically cleared as safe, the Max still needs a perception overhaul.
Seeking to understand anxious attitudes, American Airlines surveyed regular travelers after Boeing's fixes were announced. The results showed safety concerns persisting, with 17% strongly resisting the Max. American has since vowed to allow rebooking if a passenger feels uncomfortable with their assigned aircraft type.
Other carriers may follow suit, allowing flexible switching if the dreaded MAX label pops up. Policies like this could assuage nervous flyers, while also discouraging mass rebookings that disrupt schedules. Airlines realize some wariness will remain until the Max proves itself incident-free over time.
Turbulent Skies Ahead: How the 737 Max Groundings Could Impact Your Summer Travel Plans - Max Crisis Highlights Lack of Backup Plan at Airlines
The ongoing Boeing 737 Max crisis has exposed a concerning vulnerability for major airlines - an alarming lack of backup options when a core aircraft in their fleet is suddenly grounded indefinitely. This overdependence on the Max has left carriers scrambling to plug gaps in schedules, crews, and capacity.
When the Max was idled worldwide in March 2019 following two deadly crashes, airlines lacked any contingency plans to deal with losing such a critical chunk of their operations so abruptly. At Southwest Airlines, the 34 grounded Max jets accounted for approximately 5% of their entire fleet. But those planes powered a much larger share of Southwest's flight capacity and revenue, especially on busy routes between hubs like Chicago Midway and Baltimore.
"We didn't have a Plan B for a worldwide regulatory grounding of an aircraft type we operate in large numbers," conceded Southwest CEO Gary Kelly. This sent the airline into crisis mode, as they cancelled over 100 daily flights and struggled to cover crucial Max routes with spare planes.
American Airlines was similarly broadsided, with 24 grounded Max's comprising about 2% of their mainline fleet. But American leaned heavily on the Max specifically for East Coast-West Coast nonstop routes catering to premium travelers. With those key planes yanked, American's network was immediately stressed.
"No one has ever had to leave this kind of asset on the ground before," said American Airlines VP Robert Isom. He acknowledged they were caught flat-footed without backup options ready, as the airline scrambled to replace over 100 daily flights.
This overdependence on the Max has been especially pronounced for low-cost carriers like Southwest, Sun Country, and Ryanair. These airlines strategically built business plans around the Max and its cost efficiency. "We went all in on the Max," Sun Country execs have admitted. When the Max was pulled, they lacked spare aircraft to fall back on, forcing emergency leases of old Delta 737-800s just to preserve routes.
Industry analysts say this crisis highlights how carriers became too reliant on the Max, without adequate contingency plans in the event of long-term groundings. Airlines enjoyed big savings from high-density Max seating and fuel efficiency. But in aggressively expanding Max fleets, they left themselves extremely vulnerable if problems arose.