American Airlines was already set on being the first U.S. airline to bring the Boeing 737 MAX back into service, planning on bringing back the aircraft over the busy winter holiday travel season with a flight between New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Miami International Airport on Dec. 29.
But as airlines across the world have come to realize, setting the MAX back into motion will come with a set of public image challenges, the likes of which the industry hasn’t faced in decades. As a result, even after waiting nearly two years for Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to get the MAX flying again, customer airlines now have to contend with a group of flyers that may not yet feel comfortable stepping aboard an aircraft that has spent those 24 months in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
American — just like several other airlines both in the U.S. and abroad — will allow customers who don’t want to fly on the MAX to rework their schedule to avoid the aircraft, a task that will prove easier over the first couple of months of operation before the type begins to command a larger portion of airlines’ schedules. That, of course, is proving to be less of a 737 MAX-specific perk than originally planned, as airlines have almost universally loosened their refund and cancelation policies in order to drum up new bookings and improve cash flow in recent months.
According to View From the Wing, American Airlines announced in an internal memo it would operate five flights for employees to fly aboard the Boeing 737 MAX before it begins operating on behalf of the carrier in December. The flights will be in the “flight to nowhere” model that other airlines have used to drum up extra revenue, taking off and landing at the same airport.
From Dec. 3-17, American will operate one flight at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and two flights each at Miami International Airport and LaGuardia Airport. The flights will be open to anyone employed by American Airlines and its subsidiaries.
While the flights will only be targeted at a small subset of the airline’s population, they will represent some of the first opportunities American’s pilots will have to operate the aircraft itself — rather than flying in simulators — prior to putting the aircraft back on regularly scheduled commercial service.