United slates first commercial 737 MAX flight for Feb 2021

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It’s been nearly two years since the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft was grounded back in March 2019. The FAA recertified the aircraft to fly again on Nov. 18, 2020, and airlines have begun making plans for returning the aircraft to service.

United will be among the U.S. airlines returning the MAX to the skies with its first commercial flight scheduled for Feb. 11, 2021. The full schedule for February will be announced Jan. 6.

While plans are in place for United to start flying the 737 MAX again, that doesn’t mean there isn’t still work to be done.

United Airlines outlined next steps and a promise for full transparency in a recent statement:

“Nothing is more important to United than the safety of our customers and employees, so United’s MAX fleet won’t return to service until we have completed more than 1,000 hours of work on every aircraft, including FAA-mandated changes to the flight software, additional pilot training, multiple test flights and meticulous technical analysis to ensure the planes are ready to fly. We will be fully transparent with our customers and will communicate in advance when they are booked to fly on a MAX aircraft.” 

As previously reported, United Airlines has plans to reintroduce the 737 MAX at its Denver (DEN) and Houston Bush Intercontinental (IAH) hubs in 2021.

The road ahead for the 737 MAx

Mulitple U.S. airlines are now making plans to reintroduce the aircraft to service. American Airlines has slated its first commercial MAX flight for Dec. 29, 2020, Southwest estimates a return to service in March 2021, and many others have plans to replace soon-to-be-retired aircraft with new 737 MAX orders.

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Related: A pilot and mechanic explain what’s needed to bring the 737 MAX back

However, there is a significant roadblock for airlines to consider as the aircraft is reintroduced to service — passenger trust. A recent survey by Southwest Airlines found that almost a quarter of travelers are uncomfortable flying on the jet even after the FAA’s review and required updates to the plane’s systems.

While the MAX has now passed all of the FAA’s safety requirements to return to the skies, it will take time for travelers to become fully confident in the aircraft following the two fatal flights that prompted its grounding in the first place.

But airlines are optimistic that this trust will return. For example, Alaska Airlines will be replacing some of its Airbus A320s with 737 MAX jets. And Southwest Airlines has no plans for a rebranding campaign, saying it’s “proud of the 737 MAX 8” and that “people need to get on the plane and experience it” for flyer confidence to return.

Related: How to tell if you’re booking a Boeing 737 MAX

Bottom line

It’s been a long road for the Boeing 737 MAX to be recertified and returned to service. As Boeing’s bread and butter jet, the news of its reintegration into multiple airline flight plans is a big step forward for the aircraft manufacturer.

While the work isn’t entirely finished, many airlines — United among them — are looking ahead at the ways the newly recertified 737 MAX can play a part in the industry’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Featured image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images. 

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