I flew on Southwest and Alaska, the two airlines competing to be the best of the West Coast and the winner is abundantly clear

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

  • Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines are in competition to be the airline of the West Coast.
  • Both are similar but each has its strengths like Alaska has a greater West Coast route network.
  • Southwest is a great option for leisure travelers but Alaska has more perks for business flyers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The West Coast of the US stretches more than 1,000 miles with no shortage of major cities from San Diego to Seattle.

newport beach

All the major US airlines serve this important region of the country but two are battling for dominance, Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Alaska is based in Seattle, although its name suggests otherwise, and is a mid-tier US airline with the bulk of its operations on the West Coast.

alaska airlines

Southwest, on the other hand, is the country’s largest low-cost carrier with a nationwide presence. And while the West Coast is an important region for the airline, it’s just one of many Southwest serves.

Southwest Airlines

Both carriers have sought to grow market share on the West Coast during the pandemic. Southwest added Santa Barbara and Fresno to its California route network while Alaska has added routes from existing cities.

Golden Gate Bridge

I flew on both airlines this year to see which one was truly the airline of the West Coast. Here’s what I found.

Flying on Southwest Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Southwest Airlines during the pandemic.

West Coast connectivity: Alaska serves 29 cities up and down the coast, including smaller cities like Everett, Washington; Santa Rosa, California; and Medford, Oregon.

Paine Field in Everett, Washington
Paine Field in Everett, Washington.

Read More: I flew on Alaska for the first time since it stopped blocking middle seats and it was the closest to normal I’ve seen during the pandemic

Southwest serves 15 West Coast cities and plans to serve two more this summer. Bellingham, Washington flights will also open sometime this year.

Southwest Airlines
A Southwest Airlines aircraft departing from Los Angeles.

Winner: Alaska Airlines. The airline’s connectivity between West Coast cities large and small cannot be beaten by Southwest’s existing network.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

What comes with the ticket: Every Southwest ticket includes free seat selection anywhere on the plane after boarding, two checked bags, a carry-on bag, and all the onboard amenities.

Flying Southwest Airlines during pandemic
Flying Southwest Airlines during the pandemic.

Southwest has open seating so any open seat is available for passengers.

Flying on Southwest Airlines COVID-19

Alaska does allow free seat selection for economy but charges extra for seats close to the front and exit row seats.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

Alaska, like many full-service carriers, has also embraced restrictive basic economy fares that replaced its cheapest fares. The product is generous with and limited advanced seat assignments and a free carry-on bag but flyers will have to pay more for better seats and checked bags.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

Southwest doesn’t have change or cancel fees for any ticket.

Flying on Southwest Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Southwest Airlines during the pandemic.

Alaska has eliminated change fees but not for basic economy fares, known as “saver” fares.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

Winner: Southwest Airlines. The flexibility and free extras offered by Southwest put it well and above Alaska. It’s worth noting, however, that even Alaska’s basic economy fares are more generous than many of its competitors.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines.
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Boarding: Alaska boards its aircraft in groups that are assigned based on seat location and fare class. First class boards first, followed by elite status holders, those sitting in “premium class.” Economy then boards back to front, for the most part, and basic economy flyers board dead last.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

On Southwest, however, passengers are given a boarding number and group that’s determined by how early they check-in for the flight. Once on the plane, they can select any open seat.

Flying on Southwest Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Southwest Airlines during the pandemic.

Winner: Southwest Airlines. Alaska’s boarding process relegates basic economy passengers to the very last section while even the passenger with the cheapest ticket on Southwest has the opportunity to board earlier if they check-in at exactly 24 hours prior to departure.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines.
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Onboard amenities: Both airlines are in the process of modernizing their fleets but older aircraft remain. On Southwest, for example, I flew on the 737-700 fleet on my most recent trip and it was the furthest from modern.

Flying on Southwest Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Southwest Airlines during the pandemic.

But its updated aircraft have a great, modern look, as I found on flights from New York to Orlando in 2020.

Flying on Southwest Airlines COVID-19

Read More: I flew on Southwest Airlines during the pandemic and came away impressed by how well the largest low-cost US airline handled social distancing

Alaska has the same issue. Its newer Max aircraft is a show-stopper but older aircraft seem tired.

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max Flight
Flying on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft.

Both airlines also offer paid in-flight WiFi and streaming content.

LAX Day Trip Alaska Airlines
Water onboard an Alaska Airlines flight from New York to Los Angeles.

Alaska does surpass Southwest, however, by offering in-seat power to keep devices charged.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

Winner: Alaska Airlines. Both airlines offer similar products but Alaska just eeks ahead with in-seat power.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines.
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

In-flight service: Both airlines have restored portions of their in-flight service since the pandemic began. Alaska, for example, serves soft drinks and snacks.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

Southwest just brought back Coke, Diet Coke, and 7UP, as well as more snacks.

Flying on Southwest Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Southwest Airlines during the pandemic.

Read More: Southwest is reverting to its normal boarding policy and bringing back fan-favorite in-flight amenities

Before the pandemic, however, Alaska sold meals and snack boxes while Southwest just stuck to drinks and small snacks.

LAX Day Trip Alaska Airlines
The contents of one of Alaska Airlines’ picnic packs.

Winner: Alaska Airlines.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines.
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

West Coast feel: Alaska has its roots in the West Coast and that shows in its branding. The colors are vibrant, there is a focus on West Coast brands in the in-flight service, and the airline is based in Seattle.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

Southwest has a generic appeal as it connects the US through bases across the country with no specific ties to the West Coast. There’s no West Coast feel.

Flying on Southwest Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Southwest Airlines during the pandemic.

Winner: Alaska Airlines: There’s an undeniable feeling when flying on Alaska that it’s more in tune with the West Coast vibe than Southwest.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines.
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

National connectivity: Alaska is highly concentrated on the West Coast while Southwest has bases across the US.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

Southwest doesn’t have the sprawling West Coast network that Alaska does but it does offer connections between most of the region’s major cities and connections to the rest of the country through its mid-continent bases in places like Phoenix, Denver, Las Vegas, and Dallas.

Flying on Southwest Airlines during pandemic
Southwest Airlines aircraft at Denver International Airport.

Alaska only has hubs in the West Coast cities of Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland, requiring a stop in one of those cities before heading east. The airline does partner with airlines like American to offer mixed-airline itineraries but that could be difficult if the airlines are in two different terminals.

LAX Day Trip Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines aircraft at Los Angeles International Airport.

Winner: Southwest Airlines. Having more mid-continent bases allows for more convenient journeys with lower travel times for customers.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines.
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Business traveler amenities: Corporate travelers have different priorities than most leisure travelers and will often spend more for seats in premium cabins and access lounges.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

Alaska has premium lounges in six airports, and partners with American and Qantas on lounge access for members. Southwest does not have any lounges.

Alaska Lounge Seattle
The Alaska Lounge at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Alaska’s jet aircraft also have first class cabins, the domain of the business traveling road warrior, while Southwest does not.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

A special section of economy is also available on Alaska. Called “premium class,” seats in the section offer additional legroom and come with complimentary alcoholic beverages.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

Alaska is also a member of the Oneworld airline alliance and Alaska’s elite status holders can use their benefits on other airlines like American and British Airways, and vice versa. Southwest is not a part of any airline alliance.

american airlines

Southwest does have a special fare for business travelers, called “Business Select,” that includes extras like priority boarding and free alcoholic drinks (suspended during the pandemic).

Flying on Southwest Airlines COVID-19

And Southwest does have better connectivity outside of the West Coast. A business traveler in St. Louis looking to fly to New York couldn’t even choose Alaska if they wanted to.

Flying on Southwest Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Southwest Airlines during the pandemic from Miami International Airport.

Winner: Alaska Airlines. Business travelers have more premium amenities at their disposal on Alaska, if the choice is between Alaska and Southwest.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines.
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Airline of the West Coast: Alaska Airlines. Both airlines are incredibly similar but Alaska has more West Coast-oriented amenities to help it pull ahead of Southwest.

Southwest Airlines vs Alaska Airlines.
Comparing Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Read the original article on Business Insider

America’s newest airline is launching in April with a focus on leisure routes and fares as low as $19: Meet Avelo Airlines

Avelo Airlines
A rendering of an Avelo Airlines Boeing 737-800.

  • Avelo Airlines just broke cover and plans to start flights on April 28 from Burbank, California.
  • Andrew Levy, former president of Allegiant Air, is at the helm with a focus on cheap flights and friendly service.
  • A total of 11 routes have already been announced to popular destinations across the American West.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It’s lights, cameras, action for America’s newest airline that’s planning its Hollywood debut later this month.

Avelo Airlines plans to launch flights on April 28 from Hollywood Burbank Airport near Los Angeles, giving travelers yet another option when planning pandemic getaways. The new ultra-low-cost airline is focused on cheap leisure flights and will fly to popular destinations in the American West from before expanding across the country.

“Avelo is a different and better kind of airline, built from scratch to offer an affordable, convenient and caring travel experience,” chief executive Andrew Levy said in a press release.

The initial slate of 11 routes from Burbank include flights to:

  • Santa Rosa, California from April 28;
  • Pasco, Washington from April 29;
  • Bozeman, Montana from April 30;
  • Phoenix, Arizona from May 3;
  • Ogden, Utah from May 4;
  • Grand Junction,
  • Colorado from May 9; Medford,
  • Oregon from May 9;
  • Eugene, Oregon from May 12;
  • Bend, Oregon from May 13;
  • Eureka, California from May 19; and
  • Redding, California from May 20.

Burbank, just north of downtown Los Angeles, offers a convenient alternative to Los Angeles International Airport that the company hopes will help spur bookings and encourage flyers to travel.

“A big part of our business model is not just offering every day, great fares,” Levy told Insider. “We’re a low-cost carrier. We’re built to offer low fares, but at the same time we’re going to offer a great level of convenience by utilizing Burbank, which we think is probably the best secondary airport in the country.”

An airport stuck in time, the one-story terminal building at Burbank resembles a scene from the 1950s. Passengers are required to board aircraft directly from the tarmac since there are no jetways. .

The Boeing 737-800, a tried and true narrow-body aircraft that can seat 189 people in the airline’s all-economy configuration, will be Avelo’s flagship aircraft. The plane is a staple of other well-known low-cost carriers like Southwest Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, and Ryanair thanks to its low operating costs and high availability on the market.

In true ultra-low-cost fashion, flyers won’t find seat-back entertainment screens – though WiFi may be coming within the next year. Avelo says it’s working with potential suppliers for the service.

In-flight snacks and drinks service won’t be offered in the airline’s initial run, either, due to the pandemic. Customers will instead receive a “convenience package” with hand sanitizer, a bottle of water, and a small snack.

The bulk of the aircraft’s seating are “slimline” seats, the term for thinner seats on airplanes, with only 29 inches of pitch across the 129 seats. The remaining 60 seats, however, will range in pitch from 31 to 38 inches, and reserving one will cost at least $18.

Fares as low as $19 are being offered on all of the airline’s initial routes from April into mid-June for some destinations, except for flights around Memorial Day Weekend. They’re just introductory fares but low ticket prices are part of Avelo’s overall strategy to stimulate demand in underserved markets and become a go-to for cheap flights.

“Quite honestly, I’d love to be able to do, over many years, what Southwest has done,” Levy said. “Where when people hear ‘Avelo,’ they just associate us with low fares.”

Offering low fares, however, means that Avelo will have to fill its planes as close to the brim as possible in order to turn a profit. “We’re looking to sell the flights very full, we’re defining full as 80-85%,” Levy said.

And unlike competitors, Avelo doesn’t have a robust system of extra fees to fall back on. Advanced seat assignments start at $5 and checking a bag will only cost $10, with the latter meant to open more space in the cabin during boarding and deplaning. There’s also no fee to make a flight change or make a reservation over the phone.

These extra charges, known as ancillary fees, have become the backbone of ultra-low-cost airlines’ strategy as they don’t incur taxes.

Keeping calm during a crippling pandemic for airlines

Avelo, one of two low-cost airlines launching operations during the pandemic, has the benefit of an experienced founder. Levy formerly served as the co-founder and president of Allegiant Air and chief financial officer of United Airlines.

“I think probably during the pandemic, maybe the hardest thing was just to keep everybody calm and to recognize that there’s a lot of good that’s going to come from the end of the business cycle,” Levy said.

The industry veteran was actually optimistic instead of pessimistic when the pandemic hit the US in March 2020. Leveling the playing field for airlines made it easier for a new entrant to compete with established players.

Congress ultimately saved many airlines from possible bankruptcy, but the pandemic’s outcome still favors leisure airlines like Avelo, analysts say. More Americans are willing to get back in the air after an extended pandemic and ultra-low-cost airlines are allowing them to do it without breaking the bank.

Read More: Spirit Airlines’ low-cost model puts it in the perfect spot to be the big winner of the pandemic, a Deutsche Bank analyst says

“I think all of our investors realize that this will have been a pretty strong opportunity for us to get into markets we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get into, take advantage of materially lower costs for things like airplanes, office leases, IT contracts, parts agreements, etc.,” Levy said.

Avelo currently has three planes and more than 200 crew members but plans to have six Boeing 737s and 400 crew members by the end of the year.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Southwest Airlines just announced 3 brand-new destinations in a continued low-cost leisure route expansion

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737
A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737.

  • Southwest Airlines is adding three new destinations to its route map in 2021.
  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Bellingham, Washington; and Eugene, Oregon are slated to see new flights.
  • Routes from each airport are still unknown but the first flights plan to launch by the summer. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Southwest Airlines on Monday announced plans to serve three new destinations across the US later this year.

The low-cost carrier will soon serve Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Bellingham, Washington; and Eugene, Oregon in yet another pandemic-era expansion that follows the addition of Bozeman, Montana and Destin, Florida announced last month. 

Myrtle Beach will be the first city to see new flights, with CEO Gary Kelly saying in a statement that the destination aims to serve summer travelers and golfers, in particular. Golf bags count as one of the two complimentary bags that Southwest flyers can check, with the airline coining “golf bags fly free” as a play on one of its classic slogans, “bags fly free.”

The coastal Carolinian city adds to Southwest’s existing chain of destinations on the southeast Atlantic shoreline. Savannah, Georgia and Miami were was added to Southwest’s network in 2020 and the Myrtle Beach addition gives the carrier coverage at nearly every major airport on the Atlantic coast from South Carolina to south Florida. 

Bellingham, closer to Vancouver, Canada than Seattle, will then see flight in the second half of 2021 as it serves a cross-border market. Canadians frequently drive across the US border to catch flights to save on the taxes levied on international flights by the US and Canadian governments. 

“Following the reopening of the Canadian border, we expect a return of the value-minded travelers who already drive to this alternative airport to escape high fares and taxes-and that’s very, very typical for Southwest destinations,” Kelly said.

The US-Canada border is currently closed for non-essential travel, a pandemic-era policy nearing its one-year anniversary, but it may be reopened by the time Southwest starts service. US and Canadian officials renew the policy on a monthly basis and the accelerated vaccine rollout in the US may encourage reopening talks. 

Southwest joins the likes of Washington state’s hometown airline Alaska Airlines and ultra-low-cost carrier Allegiant Air in serving Bellingham. 

Eugene will only be Southwest’s second destination in the Beaver State behind Portland, surrounded by national forests and within driving distance from Oregon’s Pacific coast and Crater Lake National Park. Southwest won’t be alone in the city as American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Alaska, and Allegiant serve Eugene from cities around the US. 

Flights to Eugene are also slated for the second half of 2021. 

Routes have not yet been announced to any of the new cities but Southwest will likely offer service to nearby bases that offer connections across the country. For Bellingham and Eugene, that likely means flights to Denver, Dallas, Las Vegas, or Phoenix while Myrtle Beach might see service to Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore, or Nashville, Tennessee. 

All routes will be flown by the airline’s Boeing 737 aircraft and will likely see the Boeing 737 Max. Southwest plans to resume flying the Max on March 11, the last airline in the US to do so behind American Airlines, United Airlines, and Alaska Airlines.

Two existing destinations – Steamboat Springs and Telluride in Colorado – will also have their seasonal flights extended through the summer. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

An airline in Afghanistan says it just flew the country’s first flight with an all-female crew – here’s what it was like onboard

Kam Air First All-Female Flight
Afghanistan’s first all-female flight on Kam Air.

  • Afghanistan’s Kam Air says it performed the first all-female crewed flight in the country’s history.
  • The Boeing 737-500 flew from Kabul to Herat with two female pilots and four female cabin crew.
  • YouTuber Josh Cahill was onboard to capture the flight as part of an International Women’s Day documentary. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

A routine 90-minute flight in Afghanistan just made history.

The country’s only private airline, Kam Air, is celebrating its first flight with an all-female crew, which it says is the first in the South Asian country’s history. 

Kam Air’s first female Afghan pilot, 22-year-old Mohadese Mirzaee, joined Captain Veronica Borysova in piloting the Boeing 737 from the capital city of Kabul to Herat in western Afghanistan on Wednesday. And while they were at work in the cockpit, four female cabin crew serviced passengers for the routine 350-nautical mile flight while it journeyed across the country. 

Josh Cahill, a leading airline reviewer and travel YouTuber, was invited onboard the flight to document the endeavor during a recent trip to the Middle East and South Asia. Aside from the flight’s historic nature, Cahill said the flight was as smooth running as any that he’s in his extensive global journeys, telling Insider that the flight crew consisted of “highly trained pilots.”

Kam Air First All-Female Flight
Kam Air pilots preparing for the flight from Kabul to Herat.

“The crew has been very professional, just as you would expect from any other airline around the world,” Cahill told Insider. “I have joined a few crews at the flight deck around the globe and I couldn’t notice any difference.”

The historic flight was kept largely under wraps, besides inviting Cahill, as is the norm in the country. Airlines typically do not miss the opportunity to spread the word about their accomplishments but Afghanistan’s heightened security discourages high-profile events.

“For security and safety purposes, gatherings or celebrations aren’t very common in Afghanistan,” Cahill said. 

South Asian and Middle Eastern countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran are a constant source of fascination for aviation enthusiasts like Cahill as their airlines boast some of the most unique and oldest aircraft still flying. 

The 23-year-old Boeing 737-500 performing the flight was originally delivered to Continental Airlines in 1998, according to Planespotters.net, and delivered to Kam Air in April. It isn’t the oldest aircraft in Afghanistan but the type has long been retired by US airlines. 

Cahill is no stranger to the country and has witnessed Kam Air’s development first-hand over the years.

“I have been frequently visiting Afghanistan for the past 6 years and it is nice to see how Kam Air is developing given the difficult circumstances,” Cahill said. The airline had recently lost nine staff members in a 2018 Taliban attack at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul.

Kam Air is currently banned from European Union airspace but plans to start flights to Frankfurt, Germany soon, citing its certification under the International Air Transport Association Operational Safety Audit as a step towards being taken off of the Union’s blacklist. 

Kam Air First All-Female Flight
YouTuber Josh Cahill with Kam Air’s first all-female flight crew.

Cahill frequently travels the globe as part of his job to review the latest airline products but doesn’t encounter female pilots all that often, let alone all-female flight crews, something he hopes will change as the industry progresses. 

“Unfortunately, it is still rather rare to see female pilots around the world, especially in male-dominated societies such as the Middle East, but I really hope that my documentary on Kam Air will change this and inspire more women to join our industry,” Cahill said, having flown on the world’s best and worst airlines during his travels in the furthest reaches of the world from America to Afghanistan. 

Cahill’s documentary on the flight will air on International Women’s Day on March 8.

Read the original article on Business Insider

I flew on the first Boeing 737 Max passenger flight in the US since its grounding. Here’s what it was like.

Author Chris Sloan
Author Chris Sloan waiting to board the Boeing 737 Max in Miami on Tuesday.

  • On Tuesday, American Airlines became the first US airline to fly the Boeing 737 Max since it was grounded in March 2019 following two crashes in a five-month span.
  • Writer Chris Sloan was onboard the three-hour flight from Miami to New York with 95 other people made up of press, bloggers, airline employees, and regular passengers.
  • Sloan says he felt completely safe and comfortable on the Max, and that the flight went smoothly save minor bumps during the descent into windy New York.
  • Some staffers on the flight were so comfortable with the Max’s return they brought family members along for the memorable event.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

On Tuesday, American Airlines became the first US airline to fly the Boeing 737 Max on route from Miami to New York, launching a new saga for the storied aircraft.

The 737 Max was once Boeing’s bestselling commercial aircraft of all time, peaking at over 5,000 orders and a runaway success for its 79 operators, according to data provided by Cirium. The Max made nearly 250,000 flights worldwide since it began flying passengers in May 2017. Then, the Max was grounded by the FAA in March 2019 following two ill-fated flights that crashed within five months of each other and took 346 lives. The aircraft hasn’t flown passengers in the US since, until Tuesday. 

After months of strenuous work to fix the quality control, cultural, and design flaws, Boeing has now readied the Max for passenger flights. American Airlines and other operators have also been working at warp speed to safely return the Max to flying. According to a statement from American Airlines, their tech operations team in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has put more than 64,000 hours of work into maintaining and upgrading the Max fleet over the past 20 months.

For years, I flew the Boeing 737 Max twice a month on one of American Airlines’ most profitable and well-traveled milk runs between Miami and New York. Flying doesn’t get much more routine than this route, and it became pedestrian for me as it did for many others.

Tuesday’s flight was the first step in rebuilding the trust that Boeing and the Max once commanded among its airline customers and the traveling public. (AA conducted a demo flight December 3.)

Here’s what it was like to be a passenger onboard the first Boeing 737 Max passenger flight.

American worked closely with Boeing on recertification and rewriting of new training protocols, with 1,400 of the company’s pilots undergoing required simulator training before flying the Max.

The Boeing 737 Max.
The Boeing 737 Max.

Source: American Airlines President Robert Isom.

As of the end of this year, American will have reactivated all 24 of its delivered Max airplanes and taken delivery of 10 more, according to American President Robert Isom, who was also onboard the flight.

American Airlines President Robert Isom speaking to the press in Miami before takeoff on Tuesday.
American Airlines President Robert Isom speaking to the press in Miami before takeoff on Tuesday.

Though Gol Linhas Aereas of Brazil and Aeromexico were first to return the Max to service, American became the first US carrier to bring the aircraft back with flight 718 from Miami to New York.

The Boeing 737 Max awaiting boarding in Miami
The Boeing 737 Max awaiting boarding in Miami.

American safely operated 18,962 Max flights from its launch in November 2017, but is restarting Max service with just one daily round trip per day – a far cry from the over 2,500 flights the Max operated for AA in its last month before the grounding.

Part of American Airlines' new routes for the Boeing Max.
Part of American Airlines’ new routes for the Boeing Max.

Source: Cirium

American safely flew more than 2.5 million passengers over 46,400 operating hours on more than 18,000 flights before the grounding.

Checking boarding passes before the flight.
Checking boarding passes before the flight.

Source: American Airlines

Read more: The FAA has cleared Boeing’s 737 Max to fly passengers again — here’s when and where each US airline will be flying it

American President Robert Isom said he’s “confident” the Max is “ready to go.” He and other AA employees and executives have been flying “flights to nowhere” designed to build confidence in the Max.

American Airlines President Robert Isom speaking to the press in Miami before takeoff on Tuesday.
American Airlines President Robert Isom speaking to the press in Miami before takeoff on Tuesday.

For all operators, the key is winning confidence, and customers haven’t shunned the Max as expected. “We haven’t seen any evidence that people are booking away from the Max,” Isom said.

AA President Robert Isom and airport staff.
AA President Robert Isom and airport staff.

The airline is being very transparent when passengers are booking and flying on the Max. Currently, they’re offering free rebooking or cancellations for AA travel credits, at no cost if passengers are uncomfortable flying on the Max.

Tuesday's flight from Miami to New York.
Tuesday’s flight from Miami to New York.

American also pledges to alert passengers via text and app notification should there be an equipment swap for a Max.

The Max preparing for takeoff.
The Max preparing for takeoff.

Read more: US airlines are allowing passengers to avoid the Boeing 737 Max as it returns to the skies in the coming months

When we were boarding, the gate agent announced we were flying the 737 Max aircraft.

At the American Airlines' gate before boarding.
At the American Airlines gate before boarding.

No passengers I spoke to were uncomfortable flying the Max: “I trust the plane. It will be much better now that it’s been revised,” said Vilma Maldonado, who was traveling to see her daughter.

Vilma Maldonado.
Passenger Vilma Maldonado.

My seatmate, Eduardo Fernandes, flies every week. “It’s been tested and looked at now more than any other plane in history, so I feel completely safe,” he said.

Passenger Eduardo Fernandes.
Passenger Eduardo Fernandes.

As to be expected, others I spoke to had no idea what aircraft they were flying, nor did they care. “As long as it gets me there safely,” one passenger said.

Boarding the Max.
Boarding the Max.

The boarding was routine, with only 96 passengers made up of press, bloggers, airline employees, and regular passengers. Other than the presence of the airline’s president on the flight and news crews, nothing was unusual.

Passengers on board the Max.
Passengers onboard the Max.

The light load had more to do with flying in a pandemic to a cold, quarantined New York than it did with the aircraft. The return leg back to sunny Miami is oversold.

Onboard the Max.
Onboard the Max.

Once onboard, the Max felt like any normal flight, as normal as flying can be during a pandemic.

The author in his seat on the Max.
The author in his seat on the Max.

Our Captain Sean Roskey, a 29-year veteran, thanked his American and Boeing colleagues for their hard work in bringing the Max back to service, adding, “I feel so confident about the plane that I bought my mother along for the trip.”

The pilots posing with a flight attendant.
Captain Sean Roskey (left) and copilot posing with a flight attendant.

Adding to the family affair, First Officer Moraima Maldonado had her mom aboard, too. The cabin erupted into applause with these sentimental announcements.

The pilots of the American Airlines flight.
The pilots of the American Airlines flight.

As we pushed back six minutes early, the ground crew stopped, took selfies, and waved us off. We taxied quickly to the runway. I could sense no real anticipation or celebration that normally accompanies special flights.

The Miami ground crew before takeoff.
The Miami ground crew before takeoff.

The Boeing 737 Max’s quiet GE Leap engine take-off noise was interrupted by a short, “golf clap”-style burst of applause.

Passengers onboard the American Airlines flight
Passengers onboard the American Airlines flight.

Boeing and its Max operators hope no news is good news. In other words, Boeing’s longtime affectionate slogan became, “If it’s Boring, I’m Going.”

During the flight to New York.
During the flight to New York.

The flight itself was very smooth and uneventful, with only minor bumps into a gusty LaGuardia on the descent.

A view of the left wing of the Max.
A view of the left wing of the Max.

Read more: American Airlines just completed the Boeing 737 Max’s first passenger flight in the US since March 2019

All stakeholders can hope is the Max’s re-entry into service mirrors this first flight, especially as the relaunch kicks into high gear in the new year.

Landing in New York.
Landing in New York.

Brett Snyder of the Cranky Flier says all eyes will remain on the Max. “The media will make front page news of even the smallest incident like a medical diversion and plaster the headlines about it being a Max … but as the airplane quietly performs well flight after flight, the concerns will melt away and people will forget about this,” he said. “It just takes time.”

Pulling up to the gate in LaGuardia.
Pulling up to the gate in LaGuardia.

“We’re not going to build trust just sitting on the ground,” said David Seymour, AA chief operations officer.

The Max after landing in New York.
The Max after landing in New York.

Read the original article on Business Insider