The Grounding of Boeing's 737 Max Planes Is Likely Making Summer Travel More Expensive — but the Holidays Could Be Even Worse
There will be about 41 million fewer seats on airplanes available this summer as the grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX planes drags on, according to a new report.
The report, by flight-tracker OAG, found disruptions were widespread following the worldwide grounding of the once-popular planes. The report compared the flight schedules of several airlines from mid-February with flight schedules from this month.
And while this will likely result in a subtle price increase for passengers, the impact will be more heavily felt during peak times, like Christmas or Thanksgiving, when the supply of cheaper seats disappears quicker, Ben Mutzabaugh, the senior aviation editor for The Points Guy, told Travel + Leisure.
“We have seen fares creep up since the summer,” Mutzabaugh said. “An average traveler... may notice a slight increase. Where it will be most pronounced for most people is where they're booking flights with high demand, especially around the holidays.”
The Boeing 737 MAX planes have been grounded around the world since mid-March following two fatal crashes that killed 346 people. The first crash occurred in October when a Lion Air jet crashed into the Java Sea off Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board. That was followed by an Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed in March, killing 157 people.
In both crashes, investigators believe the plane’s automated flight control system was to blame, picking up an erroneous signal that sent the aircraft into a nosedive the pilots were unable to recover from.
“The grounding of the [Boeing 737 MAX] continues and the commercial damage for airline operators appears to be increasing as the loss of capacity is now at its highest during the peak summer season for many operators,” John Grant, a senior analyst with OGA, wrote in the company's report about the beleaguered planes. “Last minute schedule adjustments are we know challenging for any carrier, but the scale of the B737 Max grounding has been very disruptive for many.”
China Southern Airlines was the largest carrier impacted this summer, according to the report, with about 3.7 million fewer seats compared to February. That was followed by Air Canada, which saw about 3.3 million fewer seats in August than February.
Southwest Airlines lost just under 3 million seats this summer, the largest decrease of the U.S. airlines, according to the report.
In July, Boeing agreed to pay $4.9 billion to airlines that were forced to ground their 737 Max aircraft.
“We regret the impact the grounding has had on all of our airline customers and their passengers,” Peter P. Pedraza, a spokesman for Boeing told Travel + Leisure in an email. “Safety is our top priority as we work with global regulators and our customers on certification of the software update and return of the 737 MAX to service.”
While it’s unclear exactly when the 737 Max will return to the skies, passengers have said they would be wary of getting back on one. Southwest, American Airlines, and United have all grounded the planes until at least November.
Mutzabaugh said the good news is that airlines have been “proactively” scheduling around the grounding of the MAX.
“There aren’t waves of cancellations. No one is showing up at the airport stranded at this point,” he said.