Travelers Exercise Caution: Aircraft Model Checks Increase Post Boeing Incident

Several travel operators have reported that an increasing number of travelers are verifying the model of an aircraft before booking flights. This comes in the wake of an incident where a midair cabin blowout forced a Boeing jet operated by Alaska Airlines to make an emergency landing, grounding over 170 planes. A section of the fuselage on the left side of the 737 MAX 9 jetliner operated by Alaska Airlines detached after takeoff, compelling the pilots to return and land safely with all 171 passengers and six crew members unharmed.


Following this incident, U.S. regulators grounded 171 737 MAX 9 planes for safety inspections. Alaska and United Airlines, which collectively own 70% of the 737 MAX 9 fleet, have had to cancel hundreds of flights this week. The crew of the Alaska Airlines flight has been commended for their quick response in landing the plane, with only minor injuries reported among those on board. However, images on social media showing deployed oxygen masks and a missing section of the aircraft's sidewall, along with preliminary checks revealing loose bolts in some grounded planes, have raised concerns about passenger confidence in Boeing planes. Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun acknowledged the company's mistakes on Tuesday and expressed to his staff that he and many customers were deeply affected. He emphasized that Boeing must work to regain their trust.


On Thursday, Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O'Leary stated that passengers had not expressed any concerns about flying on Boeing 737 aircraft since the grounding. Ryanair, Europe's largest airline by passenger numbers and one of Boeing's biggest customers, operates different variants of the 737 MAX from the type that has been grounded. O'Leary told Reuters that he saw no signs of passenger concern and added that the most significant threat to the MAX was when it was grounded for nearly two years in 2019 following two crashes. Despite this, Kayak, owned by Booking Holdings, reported an increase in the use of a filter on its website that allows customers to sort by plane model following Friday's incident. The filter has been made more prominent on the website, and the ability to specifically check for the 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 models has been added. MAX 8 aircraft are still in service.

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Internova Travel Group, representing over 100,000 travel advisors worldwide, has also seen an increase in inquiries about plane models. Peter Vlitas, an executive at the company, said that informed consumers are asking their agents if their plane is one of those affected. He added that when the MAX 9 jet resumes service, Internova agents will inform customers about the model of the plane they will be booked on to restore client confidence. The most significant issue for travelers this week has been rescheduling flights after cancellations by United and Alaska, according to Paul Charles, chief executive of the travel consultancy PC Agency. The UK's travel agent trade body ABTA stated that it has not received any calls from the public or travel agency members about the issue. Other travel companies like Tripadvisor said it was too early to detect a significant change in booking or travel habits. However, Kelly Sites, 37, said she had become cautious of Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft following the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airline crashes in 2018 and 2019 and now she will also be avoiding MAX 9 jets. "As someone who is not an aviation expert, I would personally rather be safe than sorry because you don’t really see this type of information coming out about any other aircraft," she said. Some travelers, like Washington DC-based travel content creator Chaitra Yangandul, have added plane models to their list of criteria along with price and amenities when booking a trip. "This incident has made us realize that there is another step that we need to add to our checklist while booking a flight," she said.

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