Southwest Airlines passengers should brace for flight cancellations through May as the fallout from the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max 8 continues.
The airline, which has more Max 8s than any U.S. carrier, has decided to keep its 34 Max 8s out of its flight schedule through at least May, according to a memo sent to the airline's pilots late Friday.
Southwest had removed the planes from its schedule through April 20 but warned earlier this week that it was evaluating "future schedule restrictions.''
The Max 8s make up just a fraction of Southwest's fleet of 750 aircraft, but 34 fewer planes — which seat 175 passengers and make multiple flights a day — mean fewer flights. Southwest said earlier this week that, through March 31, it has already canceled 2,800 flights due to the Max 8 grounding on March 13.
Those cancellations are in addition to an additional 6,600 in the past six weeks due to winter weather and a labor dispute, all creating a mess for travelers.
Southwest said extending the schedule changes through May will reduce last-minute flight cancellations, which disrupt the plans of Southwest passengers and crew members. The airline's social media accounts have been filled with passengers complaining about last minute cancellations since the plane was grounded by the FAA March 13.
"We’re publishing a revised schedule for April and May that is built around the currently available Southwest fleet and intends to reduce drastically last-minute trip disruptions and same-day cancellations which have affected our customers and employees since the grounding of the Max,'' the airline said in a statement.
It added, "Independent of the timeline for a return of service of Max aircraft, the flight schedule revision is about returning to a normal operation and restoring a reliability that our customers our crews deserve and expect from Southwest.''
Southwest passengers traveling through May should now get more notice about flight changes because the airline can better match its available planes with the volume of travelers.
The memo to pilots, from Southwest Pilots Association President Jon Weaks and Southwest's vice president of flight operations, Alan Kasher, acknowledged the impact of the cancellations on passengers and pilots.
"Now that the decision has been made, we can construct our schedule without those (Max 8) flights well in advance in hopes to minimize the daily disruptions,'' the memo said.
American Airlines earlier this week extended its flight cancellations through April 24 due to the Max 8. It has 24 of the planes in its fleet. The airline said the move translates to about 90 daily flight cancellations.
The decision has now been made to pull MAX flying from the schedule
through May. This will impact the lines in May, but, now that the decision has been made, we can
construct our schedule without those flights well in advance in hopes to minimize the daily
Thanks again for everything you are doing for each other and our Customers out there.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Southwest flight cancellations to drag into May due to Boeing Max 8 grounding