Will Boeing 737 Max 8 Groundings Cause Flight Cancellations or Delays? Here's What You Should Know

Mahita Gajanan

As the number of countries grounding the Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes grows following the deadly Ethiopian Airlines crash, some flights that have a connection to the aircraft have been cancelled or delayed — and the list of impacted flights could grow.

China, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Australia, Argentina, the European Union and others have all grounded the planes after an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed on Sunday, killing all 157 people aboard. The crash marks the 737 MAX 8’s second deadly incident in less than five months — in October, a Lion Air jet crashed in Indonesia soon after taking off, killing all 189 people onboard.

In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Monday that it had confidence in the 737 MAX 8 aircrafts, and said the MAX 8 was still “airworthy.” Boeing said in its own statement that “safety is a core value for everyone at Boeing and the safety of our airplanes, our customers’ passengers and their crews is always our top priority.”

While Southwest Airlines and American Airlines — two U.S.-based carriers that operate MAX 8 planes — have said they will continue to fly the aircrafts, flights across the world have been grounded from at least 27 airlines. Carriers like China Southern Airlines and Norwegian Air took their MAX 8 flights out of service as of Tuesday. Because the U.S.-based carriers are not changing their policies, many passengers booked to fly on Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircrafts are unlikely to be able to cancel or rebook their flights without paying a penalty fee. Southwest does not charge a change fee for rebooked flights, though customers are required to pay the cost in fare difference if they schedule a new itinerary.

How the global efforts to ground the MAX 8 aircrafts will affect passengers whose flights are cancelled and delayed will depend on the number of these jetliners each airline has in its fleet, according to Ahmed Abdelghany, a professor of operations management at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Airlines that primarily depend on MAX 8 planes to transport passengers will be more affected than ones that only operate a small number of the aircrafts.

“Some airlines will get a big hit,” he says. “Some will not.”

A shortage in aircraft capacity is likely, according to Abdelghany. It’s also unclear how long certain airlines can afford to keep MAX 8 aircrafts grounded.

“For every 50, 60 aircrafts, you might have one that’s coming out of maintenance,” he says. “Most airlines don’t have spare aircrafts.”

Abdelghany says he expects that most passengers scheduled to fly on a MAX 8 plane that might be cancelled will be kept up to date on their airlines’ plans in advance — which should help to quell crowding in airports. What will happen next is largely up to the airline in question. Some may be able to accommodate passengers on a later flight or different aircraft, while others can work with other airlines or airports to find new itineraries for passengers.

China, the world’s biggest market for the aircraft, has grounded 97 jets so far, according to industry publication Flightglobal. China Southern Airlines, which operates at least 22 737 MAX 8 aircrafts, has grounded all flights with these planes. FlightAware, which tracks flight cancellations and delays, finds that 30 China Southern Airlines flights have been cancelled as of Tuesday. Most of the cancelled flights are Boeing 737-800 or Boeing 737-700 jets, according to FlightAware.

Norwegian, which has 18 MAX 8s in its fleet, said it would stop flying the aircrafts until further notice in a statement. The airline acknowledged that its customers will face cancellations and delays due to grounding the MAX 8 flights. The airline also operates more than 110 Boeing 737-800 aircrafts, which were not affected by the temporary grounding.

“We would like to apologize to customers who will be affected by temporary cancellations and delays, but the safety and security of our customers and colleagues will never be compromised, and once authorities advise to cease operations we will of course comply,” read a statement from Norwegian.

Silk Air, which operates out of Singapore, announced that it was withdrawing its fleet of six MAX 8s until further notice. The grounding led to the cancellation of six flights between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, according to the airline.

The U.K.’s decision to ground MAX 8s also impacted the TUI Group, a holiday airline that flies to different destinations in Europe from Britain. TUI decided to ground all of its Boeing 737 MAX 8 flights across all airlines used by the group.

“TUI will inform customers booked from tomorrow on respective flights about alternative transportation,” the group said in a statement.

Passengers unsure about their aircraft type or flight status should check in with their airlines to see if there are any changes in their itineraries, Abdelghany advises.