Southwest Airlines just resumed Boeing 737 Max flights and may go all-in with a reported order for 'dozens' of new jets

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Southwest Airlines just resumed Boeing 737 Max flights and may go all-in with a reported order for 'dozens' of new jets
Southwest Airlines' grounded Boeing 737 Max fleet.REUTERS/Mike Blake
  • Southwest Airlines resumed flights with the Boeing 737 Max on Thursday.
  • The day has 32 departures planned to 15 different cities in the strongest Max resumption of any US airline.
  • Southwest is reportedly nearing a deal for "dozens" of new Boeing 737 Max 7 jets, Reuters reported.

Southwest Airlines is all in on the Boeing 737 Max.

Passenger flights on the aircraft for the Dallas-based carrier resumed on Thursday in the latest milestone for Boeing's infamous jet. The first four flights departed from cities across the US at 8 a.m. Dallas time, just two days short of the two-year anniversary of the Federal Aviation Administration's order to ground the aircraft on the heels of a fatal Max crash in Ethiopia.

Southwest started the day strong with 32 flights planned to 15 cities in an opening salvo unrivaled by any of its competitors in their Max debuts. American Airlines, for example, started with just two daily departures and United Airlines started with 24. Alaska Airlines, with only one aircraft in its fleet, started with four departures on its first day.

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But Southwest has also waited the longest to get the Max back in the air, a surprising choice considering the low-cost carrier had the largest pre-grounding fleet of 34-strong Max aircraft.

The first flights are the culmination of over 200 proving flights that the airline has performed with the Max since its November ungrounding as part of its return to service. Southwest pilots flying the Max are also now required to undergo training in a 737 Max simulator and classroom setting, which was not required before the grounding.

"To be clear, I have the utmost confidence in our ability to safely operate the Boeing 737 MAX 8," CEO Gary Kelly said in a letter to customers. Kelly was aboard one of the proving flights, describing it as "quiet and smooth."

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The same 15 cities are slated to see the Max in March, per current Cirium data, including Atlanta; Fort Myers, Florida; Baltimore; New Orleans; Columbus, Ohio; Phoenix; Denver; Orlando, Florida; Chicago; Houston, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; Salt Lake City; Las Vegas; San Antonio, Texas; and Portland, Oregon. After a month, however, the Max will quickly grow in the US with Southwest planning 252 daily departures starting April 12, according to Cirium.

Hawaii is a likely destination for the Max in the future as travelers flock to the islands for a tropical reprieve amid the pandemic. Southwest's pre-grounding schedule shows that the airline considers the Max to be truly interchangeable with its current fleet and will fly both the longest and shortest flights in the airline's route map.

Travelers still uncertain about flying on the Max can opt to switch flights free of charge, a policy adopted by all four US airlines operating the aircraft.

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A massive new Boeing 737 Max order

March 10, a date that was slated to commemorate the loss of life on Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 in 2019, became a hopeful day for Boeing as reports indicated Southwest was nearing a deal to buy more Max aircraft from the manufacturer, Reuters reported.

Southwest is eyeing the 737 Max 7, the smallest aircraft in the Max family and one that's yet to enter commercial service with any airline. If the order comes to fruition, the Max 7 aircraft will gradually replace the 737-700 Next Generation aircraft in Southwest's fleet.

Boeing and Southwest declined to comment on the deal.

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Southwest had driven a hard bargain to secure a favorable deal, even suggesting it might consider taking on the Airbus A220, the smallest aircraft in the European plane maker's lineup. The order for "dozens" of Max jets is reported to be in the billions, with the list price of $99.7 million per jet, and would put another high-profile order between Boeing and the Max grounding.

The Max 7 could fly any of Southwest's current routes, including those to Hawaii, thanks to its superior range. Its cost-saving economics combined with commonality with the larger Boeing fleet means Southwest can easily swap the aircraft in on underperforming flights to minimize losses, which may be critical if aviation's recovery from the pandemic is protracted.

"I would not hesitate for a second to put my wife, daughters, and sons-in-law, and granddaughters onboard the plane," Kelly said.

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