If you’re flying in 2019, I suspect your flight has either already been affected by the Boeing Max grounding (originally series 8 and 9) – or if it hasn’t, it may yet be!
Air travel may sometimes feel a little scary, humans aren't yet accustomed to the feelings of turbulence (or the habits of our seatmates) but it is statistically the safest method of transportation going. Part of that safety achievement is a direct result of proactive groundings and other extreme moves in the industry which maintain passenger safety as the number one priority. It isn’t just about trust, it’s about real human lives.
But that doesn’t mean such disruption isn’t a plain pain-in-the-you-know-what! While not at all releasing any one business from their responsibility to safety, the grounding has been a wholly unfortunate scenario as the Max 8 aircraft are touted for their increased guest comfort and cost-effectiveness, but also their reduced environmental impact.
Your flight disruption and its cause isn’t always obvious
Close to home here at Odyssean Travel, we’ve had a good number of client schedules changed and which sometimes resulted in different fare categories being replaced into the new ticket. That means your flight may not have been cancelled but the aircraft servicing the route may have been swapped with one featuring different seating or amenities.
For example, a fare scheduled in Premium Economy seating from Vancouver to Toronto being replaced with a seat on the same flight number but swapped aircraft; the new aircraft did not feature Premium Economy seating (it just doesn’t exist on this plane!) and the passengers' original seating was simply swapped with the plane.
On notice, I was able to simply switch my clients onto a new flight on a near-identical schedule and back to their desired seating with a simple phone call and no effort or cost on behalf of my client. I'd however note that less popular routes may result in fewer options for such convenient changes.
At the time of grounding, most airlines were extending their goodwill windows to 72 hours and administering no-cost changes to afflicted schedules. If you were scheduled to fly in Economy, chances are your disruption was no more than a 20-60 minute flight schedule change.
Changes to schedules without Max 8 flights?
Air Canada Vacations has gone so far as to charter entire jets from competing airline Air Transat to ensure that although guests may not be in their originally selected seats or on their originally selected schedule, they will still have the option of enjoying their much-anticipated Caribbean vacation.
What that means is that passengers heading on a select few Air Canada Vacations packages will notice almost no disruption other than they will visit a Transat gate agent and board a Transat aircraft at the time they depart for their destination – although I’m as yet unsure if those departures will feature a new terminal at Toronto Pearson or if the Transat jets will depart from the Air Canada gates as originally scheduled.
Airlines often code-share or even outright form partnerships which allow flight ticketing among partners, such is the case with Star Alliance (Air Canada) or the newly updated, full partnership between WestJet and Delta, among many other unique circumstances in which a schedule change can result from another airline’s fleet needs.
What I’m getting at, is that even when a fleet doesn’t feature a Max 8 it may be affected in some small and often unforeseen manner.
The worst client schedule issue we’ve experienced here at Odyssean Travel during the Max 8 debacle was with Aer Lingus, an airline which does not actually own any Max 8 aircraft. In the end, a lot of sleep lost for me, trying to get my client family home from their March Break trip to Ireland; a sizeable claim for them in the poor way Aer Lingus handled their rebooking process. A story for another day!
Canadian carriers disproportionately afflicted?
Canadian carriers seem particularly afflicted, with both national brands Air Canada and WestJet holding a sizeable fleet of the Max 8 vessels. Popular vacation package supplier Sunwing has a less-sizeable fleet of the aircraft but has still seen significant flight schedule changes.
Air Canada currently has 24 Max 8 jets out of its fleet of 186 (12.9%)
WestJet currently has 13 Max 8 jets out of its fleet of 129 (10.1%)
Sunwing currently has 4 Max 8 jets out of its fleet of 43 (9.3%)
What happens now?
The most disruptive of changes - outright cancellations - seem to be behind us. With the week following the March 13th grounding being the most disruptive.
Initially, Canadian airlines moved to review their needs in May but that window has since been extended to July in most instances. With a bit of breathing room, foresight may be applied to itinerary needs and while I expect changes to continue, I expect them to be less disruptive and certainly feature few cancellations, if any.
That does mean that if you haven’t yet experienced a flight disruption for your summer trip to Europe, you may soon.
What to do if my flight has been affected?
It depends on your needs and how badly disrupted your schedule has become. All North American airlines seem to have a good handle on re-positioning aircraft and administering schedule changes proactively at this time.
Passengers scheduled on a direct or single flight itinerary may find themselves the least afflicted, it may be more typical to expect a shift in the departure time of up to an hour or so.
More extreme disruption occurs where passengers have a connection or series of connections to make in reaching their ultimate destinations or where flights are seasonal or infrequent.
For example, the Aer Lingus change (mentioned above) of one hour meant a would-be misconnection and resulted in a whole new ticket for a whole new day; the new ticket was with their partner, United Airlines, an airline which does feature Max 9 jets. More chaos.
As airline schedules are updated, a sort of 72-hour amnesty may be applied in which passengers may choose to alter their flight plans or be refunded in some instances. The terms of which will be more flexible than regular change or cancellation policy but may not be universal nor feature an unlimited period of time in which to apply for a goodwill change.
What do I recommend?
As with any large industry disruption, if you haven’t checked your itinerary in a while, perhaps now is the time to do so.
Keep an eye out for notifications from your airline or vacation package supplier if you have a trip booked for 2019. If you don’t have notifications enabled, consider adding them now.
Better yet, if you’ve been working with a travel advisor, simply ask them to do it for you (if they haven’t already)!
As always, a robust travel protection policy will help where flights compose only a small portion of your travel plans, no one wants to lose their cruise or tour!