- Alaska Airlines began passenger flights with the Boeing 737 Max on Monday.
- The first day of flights saw two round-trips, the first from Seattle to San Diego, California.
- United Airlines just placed an order for an additional 25 Boeing 737 Max aircraft.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Boeing’s most notorious aircraft is having a great start to March with two milestones to kick off the month.
Alaska Airlines began passenger service with the Boeing 737 Max on Monday after a long-delayed start. Flight AS482 departed to San Diego from the airline’s hub in Seattle in the early morning hours of the day and arrived without issue before departing back for Seattle.
The first flight was the culmination of more than 19,000 miles and 50 hours of proving flights performed in the weeks since the aircraft’s delivery to Alaska. The airline’s sole Boeing 737 Max 9 was flown as far from Seattle as Charleston, South Carolina; Kailua-Kona, Hawaii; and Juneau, Alaska throughout February, FlightAware data shows.
Alaska is the fourth US airline to fly the Max and initially planned to start service during the summer of 2019 until the March 2019 grounding delayed those planes. The first Max delivery to Alaska only occurred in January, just two months following the Federal Aviation Administration’s ungrounding order that was quickly echoed by countless regulators around the world.
Executives were confident in the aircraft and its cost-saving abilities even before the first model arrived at Alaska’s Seattle-Tacoma International Airport hub. Boeing’s loyal customer ended 2020 with firm orders for 68 aircraft, up from an initial 32-aircraft order, and options for 52 more before the first proving flight was even flown.
More airlines have also relaunched Max service following the ungrounding as countries and regions like Canada, the EU, and Brazil have approved the aircraft to return to the skies. Boeing said in late January that more than 2,700 flights had already been by the Max since the ungrounding.
Alaska has only four daily departures are planned with the aircraft until March 18 when its second Max enters passenger service. Los Angeles and San Diego are currently the only cities receiving Max visits on flights from Seattle, according to Cirium data, and eventually from Portland, Oregon.
The aircraft will primarily stay on the West Coast until more aircraft are added but the proving flights reveal the airline likely has plans for East Coast and Hawaii Max flights. Alaska will be able to take the Max south of the border to Mexico, the airline’s largest international destination region, and Costa Rica as both countries have given the aircraft a green light to fly in their airspace.
United places more Max orders
United Airlines is also pressing forward with the Max on the heels of a successful relaunch. Andrew Nocella, the airline’s chief commercial officer, told staff in a memo that 25 new Boeing 737 Max aircraft were just ordered and deliveries of 45 previously ordered aircraft have been moved up.
“These new aircraft represent the best the industry has to offer in terms of customer amenities, experience and comfort,” Nocella said in the memo, which United shared with Insider. “In fact, flights on our MAX aircraft in 2018 and 2019 had the highest average customer satisfaction score of any large narrowbody aircraft.”
The relaunch of United’s Max aircraft kicked off on February 11 with the first flight uneventfully journeying from Denver to Houston, Texas, with Insider onboard. United has steadily increased the number of Max flights and is on track to go from 24 daily departures on February 11 to 96 by the end of March, according to Cirium.
Jonathan Roitman, United’s chief operating officer, told Insider after the first flight that the Max name hasn’t driven too many passengers away from the aircraft. Many on the first flight didn’t even know they were flying on a Max, despite United’s warnings when booking a flight on the Max and the aircraft’s name on airport signage and onboard safety cards.
Both United and Alaska are the only two US airlines flying the Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft, the largest variant in commercial service.
Southwest Airlines is the only US airline to fly that Max that hasn’t relaunched operations, with its Max relaunch expected in March.