Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Passengers Experience Little Disruption Despite Grounding Of Boeing's 737 Max Jets


First, an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed on Sunday. Then countries around the world grounded Boeing 737 MAX planes. Now airlines and their customers are feeling the ripple effects. There were only about 350 of these planes in use around the world, but thousands of travelers have had to find alternate flights, as NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Keeley Miller, her mother and stepfather were all booked on a flight today from Phoenix to Indianapolis, but their Southwest Boeing MAX plane got grounded.

KEELEY MILLER: It was pretty stressful because we were on the phone with the airline for about three to four hours trying to get our flights rebooked.

NOGUCHI: They succeeded, but then the flight Miller's parents were rebooked on was delayed four hours during a layover in Las Vegas. And as of this afternoon, Miller has yet to depart Phoenix.

MILLER: It's a little bit of a mess.

NOGUCHI: Douglas Kidd is executive director of the National Association of Airline Passengers. So far, he hasn't received a lot of consumer complaints, whether from business or vacation travelers. Boeing MAX aircraft make up a small fraction of airline fleets. He says the impact on airlines will depend on how long the planes remain grounded.

DOUGLAS KIDD: They're going to have to scramble to, you know, find - meet the needs of passengers, rebook them on other aircraft, assign other aircraft to these routes. I think the effect is going to be more and more profound as time goes on.

NOGUCHI: That's largely because airlines don't maintain a large number of spare planes. Southwest, American and United are the three U.S. airlines that are affected. They're offering greater flexibility to reschedule flights. Southwest passenger Keeley Miller says she and her family are currently slated to arrive in Indianapolis before dawn tomorrow.

MILLER: Hopefully there aren't any delays, but because there is a tornado watch, I'm not sure what will happen in terms of Indianapolis.

NOGUCHI: Yikes. And then what?

MILLER: (Laughter) I - at that point, I have no idea. It's just out of my hands.

NOGUCHI: She jokes that maybe then it's time to consider an Uber. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Yuki Noguchi is a correspondent on the Science Desk based out of NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C. She started covering consumer health in the midst of the pandemic, reporting on everything from vaccination and racial inequities in access to health, to cancer care, obesity and mental health.