On Friday, Alaska Airlines lost an auxiliary emergency door, also known as a plug door, shortly after taking off from Portland, Oregon (PDX). As you can imagine, it was a very frightening experience for both passengers and crew to see a huge opening on the side of the plane, wind howling through the cabin and oxygen masks dropping from overhead. By the grace of God, nobody was sitting in the window seat but a boy in the middle lost his t-shirt before a brave flight attendant reseated him. Nobody was seriously injured and the aircraft safely returned to PDX.

Image courtesy of Boeing

According to Bloomberg, “Alaska Airlines has since voluntarily grounded its fleet of 65 Max 9, and regulators in the US, Europe and China are considering their formal response to the incident.” If you recall, when the 737 MAX first came into service in 2019, it was taken out of service after two horrific crashes. Boeing and this particular aircraft took a huge hit in the public relations department as no one wanted to fly them after it was revealed that executives had, unforgivably, cut corners.

I was one of those people who had no desire to fly this aircraft and now the airlines who have this new model of the 737 MAX 9 are offering waivers again. This morning, United sent out a travel waiver instruction to travel agents (I’m on the list, even though, I’m not an agent) which states: “Boeing 737 MAX 9 operated flight. Travel dates: January 6-18, 2024. This travel waiver allows for voluntary changes for flights operated on a Boeing 737 MAX 9. Change fee and fare difference waived for new flights departing on or before January 6 – 18, 2024 for originally ticketed cabin (any fare class) and cities.”

United is the largest U.S. customer for this model as they have 78 737 MAX 9s in operation. But the ones the FAA are worried about are the brand new ones, of which United has five. According to Bloomberg, “the move hasn’t resulted in any additional cancellations for the Chicago-based airline, which is also dealing with a winter storm in the Northeastern US.”

However, that’s not to say there won’t be any delays or cancellations. My friend and travel industry analyst from Atmosphere Research Group, Henry Harteveldt, gave some valuable advice to his friends on Facebook for those flying Alaska and United in the next couple of days or, possibly, weeks.

“Right now, the airlines affected by this grounding are scrambling to adjust their schedules. If you’re traveling during the next week or two, especially if on Alaska or United, check your reservation. If your original flight has been affected, you will be rebooked by the airline. Because the changes may be made incrementally, you may want to check your reservation a few times during the next couple of days. Your new flights may be at different times and possibly different routings. You may be able to further adjust your reservations on the airline’s website or mobile app, if you booked directly.”

Henry is absolutely right and I’ve used these schedule changes to my advantage in the past. Often, I will book tickets months (sometimes as many as nine) in advance. I will book the cheapest ticket even if it requires a stop or two because I know the airline is most likely going to change their schedule and if they do, I can then ask to be put on a different, often more expensive and direct flight, at no extra cost.

So, if Alaska Airlines or United Airlines has changed your flight to something you don’t like, call them up, or log on to their app and try to change it to something you prefer. If you didn’t book direct, then as Henry says, “If you booked through a company travel portal, travel agency, or online travel company, you may need to modify your booking with them.” This is why I almost always book direct since it cuts out the middle man unless it’s a travel agent or agency with great customer service.

Fortunately, I’m not booked on a 737 MAX 9 in the near future so I don’t have to scramble but for those who are, I wanted to get these options out to you ASAP.

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