Boeing 737 Max: what routes does the aircraft fly and what are my options if I’m booked on one?


As the investigators assess what caused Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 to crash with the loss of 157 lives, a steadily increasing number of carriers around the world are grounding their Boeing 787 MAX 8 jets.

It is too early to tell if there is a fundamental safety issue with the aircraft, but many travellers have contacted The Independent with their concerns. 

What routes to and from the UK does the Boeing 787 MAX 8 serve?

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The leading operator of the aircraft type from the UK is Norwegian, which has 18 of the variant and another on order. Research by The Independent on flights over the past week show that Gatwick-Helsinki is the most frequent UK service using the jet, but London and Edinburgh to Oslo and Edinburgh to New York (Stewart) are also popular.

The jet is also used for transatlantic services from Dublin.

Tui Airways has five of the aircraft based in the UK, mainly in Manchester, and uses them on a wide range of longer European and North African links – recent destinations including Funchal in Madeira, Paphos in Cyprus, and Agadir and Marrakech in Morocco.

In addition, some foreign airlines operate services to the UK using the MAX 8, including Turkish Airlines from Istanbul to Birmingham and back.

And abroad?

Many airlines fly the type, and if you are flying on Turkish Airlines to connect in Istanbul with many cities in west Africa – as well as other locations such as Muscat and Zanzibar – then the onward links will be on a MAX 8.

Oman Air flies regional services to and from Muscat with the jet.

In North America, Southwest, American Airlines and Air Canada are the leading operators.

Who has the planes on order?

For British travellers, the most significant order is from Ryanair, which has 135 of a special version of the MAX 8 – the MAX 200, holding 197 passengers, eight more than the number of seats on its existing Boeing 737s.

The first aircraft are due to enter service from Stansted on 14 May, on flights to Tenerife and Thessaloniki, with links to Athens, Corfu, Faro, Lisbon, Madrid, Malaga, Malta, Rhodes, Venice and many other locations.

What are my options if I am booked to travel on one?

In the absence of the aviation regulators such as the Civil Aviation Authority ordering the planes to be grounded, or the airline unilaterally deciding not to fly them, you will pay normal cancellation penalties if you choose not to travel.

In addition, insurance does not cover “disinclination to travel”.

Note also that if you were to book an alternative flight for one leg of your journey to avoid the MAX 8, eg from Istanbul to Muscat, then the rest of the trip will be automatically cancelled if you are regard as a “no show”.

Have there been widespread groundings like this before – and what is the effect on civil aviation?

The last such incident also involved a new Boeing aircraft: the 787 “Dreamliner” was grounded for several months worldwide shortly after its commercial launch due to fears over the risk from the lithium batteries onboard. Several fires broke out, including one aboard an Ethiopian Airlines 787 at Heathrow.

The ban was lifted when safety measures were put in place.

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In 1985, after the last fatal accident involving British Airways, earlier version Boeing 737s were grounded. Fifty-five people died when the Corfu-bound jet burst into flames on the runway at Manchester. BA grounded the aircraft as a precaution.

In 1979, the US Federal Aviation Administration temporarily grounded the McDonnell Douglas DC10 after a series of crashes.

Because most aircraft are worked hard, when a grounding takes place the effect on schedules can be substantial. Airlines will seek to minimise disruption by sub-chartering capacity, using larger aircraft or keeping older planes flying beyond their intended replacement date.

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