a plane flying in the sky

Safest plane in the sky, or a machine built on shame, with reasons for fear? Whichever side of the spectrum you fall on, the 737-MAX is back in the skies.

If it wasn’t hard enough for airlines to sell tickets this year, things got far more difficult when they brought the beleaguered Boeing plane back.

The plane brings airlines significant fuel savings and new bells and whistles to the flying experience, but not everyone is sold. To allow flyers a chance to ease into the notion, many airlines adopted policies which gave “outs” for people who didn’t want to fly on one, for one reason or another, allowing them to swap for alternative options.

After a successful few months back in service in the United States, United is now the first airline to drop this courtesy policy, taking away flexibility for anyone who doesn’t want to fly on one. It’s expected others will too.

a plane flying in the sky

737-MAX Is Back, Flexibility Is Gone

American Airlines was one of the more generous airlines when the 737-MAX debuted for the airline on the New York-Miami route.

If a passenger wasn’t comfortable with the new aircraft on their ticket, American let people swap to a different flight operated by another type of aircraft, or if the MAX was the only plane serving their destination, to receive a full refund or switch to another “nearby” airport free of charge.

That policy still exists, and things haven’t exactly been faultless.

But United, in a way only United seems to know how to do, is now telling passengers if they book a Boeing 737-MAX, or even if they don’t and end up one, there’s no official policy offering flexibility to allow them to change for free. The change comes into effect on April 7th, 2021.

Until this point, United emailed passengers proactively to offer alternatives, and to inform them as a courtesy of what they’re scheduled to fly on. United will stop doing so from April 7th, and anyone who wishes to change may be subject to fare difference or any other fees to avoid the aircraft.

United, like most US airlines right now, does have a sweeping flexibility policy due to covid-19. The airline also dropped change fees permanently, so the main factor is that you may need to pay more for a different flight via fare difference.

This change could also impact travelers on a tight schedule, who may not find a suitable non-MAX flight alternative which fits their needs. Accepting a future travel voucher could be better than nothing, but someone in that situation would likely need to dig further into their pocket to book a fresh ticket, if the case.

a plane flying in the sky
The wing tips go both up and down on the 737 MAX.

Will Other Airlines Drop Flexibility?

It’s unclear at this point whether American Airlines will keep the policy in tact, or join United in dropping specific flexibility for those scheduled on the plane. Southwest just places a huge order for more 737-MAX aircraft and it won’t be long until many more are flying.

European and UK regulators have also cleared the 737-MAX to fly, and many airlines are eager to get the plane into service. The plane has many major customers in South America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa, The Middle East and beyond, so as deliveries are made, it’ll become harder and harder to avoid.

If you absolutely don’t want to end up on one, whatever the reason, this article offers quite a few ways to search out which flights will be operated by a 737-MAX, how to tell visually (even if they change the name) and the airlines which will operate the plane.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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