Airlines are selling thousands of flights on the Boeing 737 Max, even though it’s still grounded

Family and friends of victims of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash look at the crash site in March 2019.

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Family and friends of victims of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash look at the crash site in March 2019.
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REUTERS/Baz Ratner

  • Airlines including American Airlines, United, and Air Canada are selling thousands of flights on Boeing 737 Max planes this year, even as the planes remain grounded, the UK’s The Sunday Times newspaper reported.
  • The planes have been grounded since March, far longer than the industry expected, with some airlines now estimating that the flights will return in November, while others are hedging their bets on January.
  • One American Airlines passenger who booked a December flight told the Sunday Times he didn’t “want to be a guinea pig” when he found out it was on a Max plane.
  • Airlines have said they will accommodate passengers who don’t want to fly on Maxes, but many are struggling as they cancel flights and new planes aren’t delivered.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Airlines are currently selling thousands of flights on Boeing’s 737 Max planes, though it remains grounded and regulators have not said when it can return to service after two fatal crashes.

Airlines including American, United, Southwest, Norwegian, and TUI are selling thousands of flights in November and December of this year using the plane, the UK’s The Sunday Times newspaper reported. These flights are just after when the airlines think that the plane will be allowed to fly again – a date that the airlines keep pushing back.

The 737 Max has been grounded around the world since March after two deadly crashes in October 2018 and March 2019, which killed a total of 346 people.

The US Federal Aviation Administration and its equivalent regulators around the world have not given a timeline for when the plane will return to the air. As a result, airlines are continually delaying flights involving the plane, some until the start of 2020, as its return is pushed back later than the industry had expected.

Read more: The FAA told Congress that it hopes the world’s aviation regulators will simultaneously allow the 737 Max to resume flying

But booking a flight today could mean that passengers book a seat on one of the planes for November or December of this year.

Grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft parked at Boeing Field in Seattle as the plane remains grounded.

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Grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft parked at Boeing Field in Seattle as the plane remains grounded.
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REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

According to The Sunday Times, reporting data from UK travel intelligence firm OAG Aviation, around 17,512 flights have been booked with the planes for November, and 15,114 in December.

On Monday, Business Insider found flights for sale on the 737 Max in early December on American Airlines’ website:

An American Airlines flight scheduled for December 2019 uses the Boeing 737 Max.

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An American Airlines flight scheduled for December 2019 uses the Boeing 737 Max.
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American Airlines/Business Insider

And Air Canada’s site is offering flights using the plane in early January:

Air Canada is using the 737 Max for flights in January.

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Air Canada is using the 737 Max for flights in January.
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Air Canada/Business Insider

These dates represent a quick turnaround from when the airlines currently expect the planes to return.

American Airlines announced in July that it would cancel flights until early November, and Air Canada said it would cancel them until January.

Airlines have been making multiple announcements that push back the expected return dates by a few weeks at the time, and so these dates could change again.

Read more: Photos show how Boeing’s grounded 737 Max planes are piling up at the company’s Seattle plant

Stephen Dickson, the head of the FAA, said in August that it is not imposing a timeline for the plane’s return, and will only let it fly once Boeing’s changes to the plane have been approved.

United Nations workers hold a portrait photograph as they mourn their colleagues during a commemoration ceremony for the victims at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town Bishoftu, in March 2019.

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United Nations workers hold a portrait photograph as they mourn their colleagues during a commemoration ceremony for the victims at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town Bishoftu, in March 2019.
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REUTERS/Tiksa NegerI/File Photo

Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s CEO, said in July that he thought the plane would be back in service by early October. But airlines don’t appear to want to take any chances, with Ryanair estimating that the plane would return “probably January at the earliest.”

The airlines hope for the plane to return as soon as possible, but many have said that they will accommodate customers who don’t want to fly on it despite advocating for its safety.

Read more: ‘There was no way that they could’ve survived’: A Boeing 737 Max victim’s mom and brother are demanding justice from the FAA

Southwest said that passengers can switch planes for free, and United Airlines said it would offer free re-bookings for passengers who didn’t want to fly on the Max planes.

Grounded Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in California.

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Grounded Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in California.
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Reuters

American Airlines’ also said that the airline would rebook passengers who don’t want to fly on the planes, but one passenger told The Sunday Times that the airline had refused him a refund for a flight in December.

“The thought of the holiday now sends a shiver down my spine,” Chuni Kahan said. “I don’t want to be a guinea pig”.

Kahan said that American contacted him to tell him about the plane model. An American Airlines spokesperson told Business Insider that the airline “not made any announcement regarding specific rebooking policies once the MAX comes back into service.”

“However, we will always work to ensure we have policies and procedures in place that take care of our customers and team members. Mr. Kahan, along with all of our customs, can be assured that an American Airlines pilot would never operate an unsafe aircraft.

“However, once these policies are rolled out, they will assist our customers if they are still concerned flying on the MAX.”

Many people seem reluctant to trust the plane even after it is cleared to fly. An early June poll by investment bank UBS found 41% of Americans said they wouldn’t consider flying on a Max plane until it had been back in service for six months.

The effects of the grounding on airlines have already materialized.

Norwegian is cancelling some trans-Atlantic routes, while Southwest will stop flying to Newark airport, and Ryanair is cutting jobs as the Max issues compound other problems.

David Slotnick contributed to this report.