Prop gun kills one on set of Alec Baldwin movie iPod at 20: Inventor looks back Moderna booster approved Ryan Gosling could play Ken in upcoming Barbie movie Uncharted movie trailer PS5 restock tracker

US airlines detail plans for resuming Boeing 737 Max flights

If you don't want to fly on the Max, American, United and Southwest will let you change flights without penalty. Plus, how to tell when you're booked on a Max flight.

737 Max aircraft painted in American, Southwest and United liveries

737 Max aircraft painted in American, Southwest and United liveries sit outside Boeing's factory in Renton, Washington, on Nov. 18, 2020. 

Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Federal Aviation Administration lifted its 20-month-old grounding order on the Boeing 737 Max. Though the decision formally clears the airliner to return to passenger service in the United States, airlines still have to complete two steps before they can resume Max flights: They must retrain pilots in simulators and make the FAA-mandated updates to the MCAS flight control system blamed for two crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people.

Both of those steps will take time, but the three US airlines that currently operate the 737 Max have already announced when they intend to add the aircraft back into their fleets. With Max passenger flights scheduled before the year is out, American Airlines will be first, followed by United and Southwest in early 2021. (Alaska Airlines has ordered the plane, and will start to receive its aircraft next year.)

For now at least, American, United and Southwest will allow passengers who don't want to fly on the Max to change flights without penalty. If you're nervous about flying the Max, your aircraft type will be listed in the flight details as you book. Typically it will be listed under "Flight Details," which may require an extra click. Some airlines will spell out the full aircraft name as "737 Max," while other carriers may shorten it to "7M8." If you're not sure, contact a reservations agent to confirm. Just remember, though, that airlines can change the aircraft type for your flight at the last minute.

Outside of Brazil, which also has cleared the plane to fly again, non-US airlines that fly the Max will have to wait until grounding orders in their countries are lifted before they can resume passenger flights. But Canada and the European Union are likely to do so soon.

American

  • American will resume 737 Max service on Dec. 29 with one round-trip flight a day between New York LaGuardia and Miami. After Jan, 4, 2021, it will add more Max flights, "with up to 36 departures from our Miami hub depending on the day of the week."
  • Maintenance crews will inspect every airplane, and pilots will take every Max aircraft on a test flight.
  • Pilots will need to complete computer-based training, classroom briefings and simulator time.
  • Customers who don't want to fly on the 737 Max will be able to rebook on the next available flight without paying a fee. You also can change your itinerary and fly to another city within a 300-mile radius at no extra charge. 
  • If you cancel your trip, you'll receive a travel credit.

Southwest

  • The Max will return in the second quarter of 2021.
  • Southwest will perform maintenance checks on every Max aircraft, and its Flight Operations Team will conduct test flights with each plane multiple times.
  • All of the airline's pilots will undergo simulator training (Southwest says it now has nine 737 Max simulators) and complete computer-based sessions of Max procedures and operations.
  • If you don't want to fly on one of the airline's 737 Max 8 aircraft, you can rebook to a flight on a 737-700 or 737-800 (older 737 versions that do not use MCAS and were never affected by the grounding) without paying a fare difference (if the origin and destination cities are the same). Alternatively, customers can get a full refund or credit toward future travel depending on their ticket type.

United

  • The Max will return in the first quarter of next year with flights out of Houston and Denver.
  • Test pilots will conduct several test flights of each of the airline's 737 Max aircraft, and maintenance crews will perform end-to-end reviews that include system checks and data readouts.
  • Before they can resume passenger flights United 737 Max pilots will need to complete computer-based instruction, simulator and review a handbook with a systems briefing and a checklist.
  • If you don't want to fly on a Max aircraft, you'll be rebooked at no charge or get a refund.

See also: Airline cards vs. travel credit cards: The pros and cons -- and which one's better for you