Airlines

Southwest Airlines removes Boeing 737 Max from schedule until February

Key Points
  • The Boeing 737 Max has been grounded worldwide since mid-March after the second of two deadly crashes.
  • Over the summer, Southwest had delayed the date of the planes' expected return until Jan. 5.
  • The airline has now removed the aircraft from its schedule through Feb. 8.
Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are parked on the tarmac after being grounded, at the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California on March 28, 2019.
Mark Ralston | AFP | Getty Images

Southwest Airlines on Thursday took the Boeing 737 Max out of its schedules until Feb. 8, later than any U.S. airline, as the low-cost carrier called the timeline for the plane's return to service "still uncertain."

That's a month later than it previously expected.

The lack of clarity on when regulators will allow airlines to operate the planes, grounded since mid-March after the second of two fatal crashes that killed a total of 346 people, have forced airlines to repeatedly change their schedules.

Southwest's pilots said last week they didn't expect the Max to return until February at the earliest.

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American and United last week said they don't expect to fly the planes until January, about a month later than they previously forecast. Airline executives say it is easier to cancel 737 Max flights ahead of time than scramble at the last minute to rebook passengers and crews. Air Canada on Wednesday said it would take the plane off its schedule until Feb. 14, citing "regulatory uncertainty about the timing of the aircraft returning to service."

Pressure is mounting on Boeing to get approval for the return of the aircraft to commercial service, but aviation officials say they have no firm timeline to do so. Crash investigators implicated flight control software that misfired, repeatedly pushing the nose of the planes down on both doomed flights. Boeing has developed a fix but hasn't yet handed it over to regulators for final review.

Airlines with the Max in their fleets say they have lost out on hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue due to the grounding.

Boeing in July took a nearly after-tax $5 billion charge to compensate airlines, but a total is still unknown as the grounding passes the seven-month mark.