Southwest Airlines began flying the 737 MAX on Thursday. Unusually for the airline that typically enjoys some publicity, Southwest has said little on the subject. However, CEO Gary Kelly had posted a statement online confirming the MAX would return to service at Southwest this week.
Southwest CEO expresses absolute confidence in the 737 MAX
The airline was the last of the four big United States-based carriers to get their MAXs back in the skies. According to airline database Planespotters.net, Southwest Airlines has 56 Boeing 737 MAX 8s, making them the biggest operator of the MAX in the United States. Not all of Southwest’s MAXs are coming back into service immediately. Many remain parked and in storage at sites around the United States.
According to media reports, Southwest Airlines scheduled 32 departures from 15 cities across the United States on Thursday. Mr Kelly says he has total confidence in the aircraft.
“I would not hesitate for a second to put my wife, daughters, and sons-in-law, and granddaughters onboard the plane.”
Southwest readies its pilots to resume MAX flights
To date, Southwest Airlines has operated more than 200 readiness flights with its active 737 MAXs. Thousands of hours of work, inspections, and required software updates to the aircraft have been completed.
Gary Kelly says every active Southwest MAX pilot has or will complete all additional FAA-mandated simulator flight training before flying the aircraft. That’s in addition to computer-based training covering MAX procedures.
On top of that, Southwest has run its own refresher training programs to complement the FAA’s training requirements. Gary Kelly notes it may be almost two years since the MAX stopped flying at Southwest, but the airline knows the plane intimately nonetheless. Before the grounding, the 737 MAX had flown around 40,000 flights for Southwest Airlines. In the process, Southwest pilots clocked up 89,000 flight hours.
“The changes made and the measures taken, by literally thousands of experts around the globe, have convinced me that the MAX is ready for us to safely fly once again,” said the Southwest CEO.
Southwest happy to accommodate passengers unwilling to fly on the MAX
Southwest says that while the aircraft type operating a particular flight is listed on the passenger’s itinerary, last-minute aircraft swaps can occur. The airline is aware not everyone may be as pleased as Mr Kelly to board a MAX. Southwest Airlines says:
“Through to May 31, 2021, customers booked on a 737 MAX 8 may contact Southwest, within three days of the customer’s original scheduled departure date, to request a change to a flight onboard our 737-700 or 737-800 aircraft, subject to seat availability.
“Southwest will not charge a fare difference for the requested flight change so long as the new itinerary also operates within three days of the original scheduled departure date and operates between the same origin and destination cities; otherwise, any applicable fare differences will be charged.”
Southwest will issue refunds on refundable tickets and issue travel credits on non-refundable tickets if that doesn’t suit.
At the time of publication, Southwest has several MAXs in the air. For example, N8739L is due to touch down in Phoenix just after 18:00 local time after operating WN6016 from Portland. N8743K is heading to Atlanta, operating WN6025 from Fort Myers. N8750Q has just taken off from Las Vegas and is now operating WN6020 down Phoenix.
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