It may take some time for things to return to normal for Alaska Airlines and its passengers.
carrier has landed one-fifth of its fleet A fuselage panel of one of the Boeing 737 Max 9 jets burst on Friday night, leaving a hole in the side of the plane.
The airline announced Wednesday it would keep its Max 9 jets grounded until at least Saturday while it awaits instructions from Boeing on how to conduct safety inspections.
United Airlines, with 79 aircraft, and Alaska, with 65 aircraft, are the largest users of the Max 9 in the United States. But the jet model makes up less than 10 percent of United’s fleet, allowing it to more easily fill gaps on planned routes than Alaska.
The grounding of the Max 9 caused Alaska to cancel more than 150 flights a day. About 20 percent of its flights were canceled on Wednesday. According to FlightAwareWhich tracks flight data.
“This has been extremely disruptive,” said Brett Payton, director of operations for Alaska Airlines.
It’s unclear when those jets will be back in the air.
The day after the incident, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered all 171 Max 9 jets in the United States to be grounded and inspected. Boeing gave instructions to airlines to inspect the jets, but the aviation agency said Tuesday that those instructions need to be revised.
While it is unclear how Boeing fell short of its initial inspection directive, the FAA said it would prioritize “the safety of the flying public, not speed” in returning the planes to service.
“It’s a waiting game at the FAA,” said Kathleen Bangs, aviation expert at FlightAware. “You can rest assured that those airlines, especially Alaska, are in close contact with them.”
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the manufacturing and installation of the panel, known as the door plug, that flew off. Alaska and United said they had found loose parts during initial inspection of the panels.
As Alaska grounded the Max 9, it looked to see if other aircraft, albeit of different sizes, could complete similar routes. For example, if a flight was going somewhere in difficult weather and was in danger of being canceled anyway, canceling it early might free up the plane.
“It’s a really complex set of ideas that we’ve come up with,” Mr. Peyton said.
Ms Bangs said different jet models could be used interchangeably on routes on the ground, so specific routes would not necessarily be disproportionately affected by the grounding.
He said Alaska, whose primary hub is Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, also may face additional delays related to the winter storm in the Pacific Northwest.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that the chief executives of Alaska and United “have reaffirmed their commitment to taking care of passengers” whose flights were canceled as part of the Max 9 grounding.
Mr Buttigieg said that unlike weather-related cancellations, this situation should be considered “controllable”, meaning customers are entitled to compensation.
January is typically a slow time for airlines. Had the disruption occurred a few weeks earlier during the holiday season, “it would have been a disaster,” said Helen Baker, airline analyst at TD Cowen.
“It’s unfortunate that it happened, but the fact that it happened now is better than if it happened during rush hour,” Ms Baker said.
mark walker And -Neeraj Choksi Contributed to the reporting.