Southwest, United, and American Airlines have a combined total of about 72 Boeing 737 Max aircraft, all of which are grounded as of the government's order earlier this week.
And while that represents a very small percentage of the airlines' overall fleets, taking this many aircraft out of service immediately and unexpectedly has left the airlines "feverishly moving planes and passengers around behind the scenes," according to a report in USA Today.
The operational issue now is twofold really:
- Grounded flights can't take off of course (hence the term "grounded"). But the order this week also meant that airlines had to wait to move other types of aircraft to cities in which 737 Max aircraft were stranded. That in turn meant canceling other flight and rerouting passengers to make up for the replacement flights.
- Some of the airlines focused much or all of their entire 737 Max fleet on particular routes and cities. For example, all of the American Airlines 737 Max aircraft are based in Miami. But, airline officials didn't want to have one hub be so disproportionately affected, so it meant diverting airplanes from other cities to pick up the slack.
As a recap, President Trump ordered all 737 Max aircraft grounded in the United States this week, after almost every other country's airline safety administration had ordered it grounded in their countries. The move comes after two separate fatal crashes -- one in October in Indonesia and one Sunday in Ethiopia.
I talked with all three of the big U.S. airlines that fly the 737 Max on Friday afternoon to try to get a picture of how the grounding continues to affect their operations. Delta Air Lines isn't included among them because it's the only one among the big four U.S. airlines that doesn't actually fly 737 Max aircraft.
The aircraft were also hampered additionally because of a giant winter storm that affected the Rockies, Midwest, and Great Plains this week, and caused more cancelations. Here's where they said things stand, along with the best way to get information on affected flights.
United has 14 737 Max 9s reportedly, and it canceled five flights on Friday between places like Newark and Chicago. But, it rebooked all its passengers on other departures.
They also added new sections to cover for four canceled flights between cities in California and Hawaii.
"United's large and diverse fleet enables us to respond quickly and protect customers," a spokeswoman told me via email. "We keep some aircraft type available to address irregular operations or maintenance issues."
The airline's phone number is 1-800-864-8331, or of course you can check out your flight status at united.com.
American Airlines has only 24 737 Max aircraft out of 950 in its fleet, and it runs about 85 737 Max flights per day normally, out of roughly 6,700 American departures daily.
Officials referred me to their online statement, updated most recently on Thursday afternoon, but reiterated that "our Max operation was based out of MIA, but we have rerouted aircraft so that the cancellations aren't all out of MIA."
American is at 1-800-433-7300, or aa.com.
My colleague Chris Matysczyk wrote earlier this week about the fact that Southwest is hardest hit -- both because it has the most 737 Max aircraft in its fleet, and also because Southwest is in the middle of a bitter dispute with its mechanics.
Southwest has only ever flown 737s, although the vast majority of its fleet, about 95 percent, consists of other 737 models, not the 737 MAX. And it's facing the same type of issues as United and American.
"As you know, operating an airline is a puzzle that's put together every day and then reset when operational issues come into play," Southwest spokesman Dan Landson said in an email, adding, "Once these changes go into place, we reset the puzzle and shift things around to ensure we're operating as efficiently as we can."
If you want to check a specific flight, the phone number is 1-800-435-9792, or go to southwest.com.