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How to tell if you’re booking on a Boeing 737 MAX


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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.

The Boeing 737 MAX is again in the news following the sudden cabin decompression on an Alaska Airlines flight from Portland, Oregon, to Ontario, California.

The jet — a brand-new 737 MAX 9 registered N704AL — had its door plug separated from the fuselage during the flight, which led to the decompression.

The Alaska jet landed safely back in Portland. Still, the Federal Aviation Administration has since ordered the grounding of all 737 MAX 9 aircraft outfitted with a door plug aft of the wing.

Until the grounding is lifted, you won’t be flying on an affected MAX 9 jet. But even once it is, some flyers might still be worried about flying on the MAX, so here’s a guide to checking if you’re booked on one.

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Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines operates 65 Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft and just one 737 MAX 8 aircraft, according to Airfleets.net.

You’ll be able to check which aircraft is operating your flight when booking. Once you’re on the flights result page, click the “details” button to pull up the full flight details, including the scheduled aircraft.

The example in the photo below shows the 737-9 MAX, which is the aircraft type that’s currently grounded. Of course, Alaska could theoretically change the aircraft assignment to operate the flight, or it might decide to simply cancel the flight.

You’ll likely find out about the fate of your flight in the days leading up to departure.

alaska flight detailsALASKA AIRLINES

American Airlines

American Airlines exclusively operates the Boeing 737 MAX 8 variant, which does not have a plug door, nor is it subject to the FAA’s grounding order.

American’s 59 MAX 8 jets continue to fly.

When booking an American flight, you can see the aircraft type clearly displayed on the flight results screen, as shown in the below screenshot.

american flight infoAMERICAN AIRLINES

Southwest Airlines

Of the U.S.-based carriers, Southwest Airlines is currently the largest operator of the MAX, with 223 of them in the fleet, according to Airfleets.

Like American, Southwest currently operates only the MAX 8 variant of the jet, which is not currently grounded.

To see if a flight is scheduled to be operated by a MAX, just click the flight number on the flight search page.

southwest flight infoSOUTHWEST

United Airlines

United is the only other U.S.-based carrier that operates the Boeing 737 MAX 9. The airline has 79 of these jets in its fleet, all of which are currently grounded due to the FAA order.

United also operates the Boeing 737 MAX 8 variant, and all of these jets are currently flying.

To check if your United flight is operated by a MAX, search for your flight and look for the aircraft type listed next to the flight number.


Some advanced strategies

If the above wasn’t enough, there are two advanced strategies to determine if you’re flying on the MAX.

The first uses ExpertFlyer, a web-based tool designed for frequent flyers and those looking to maximize their points and miles. (ExpertFlyer is owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures.)

Once logged in, click on the Flight Availability search and enter your route. The aircraft column will display the equipment code for each flight — hover over one to see the aircraft type’s full name.

expertflyer screenshotEXPERTFLYER

Using ExpertFlyer allows you to quickly compare a range of dates and routes without needing to do all the legwork on an airline website.

The other strategy uses FlightRadar24. This is my preferred method for figuring out what aircraft is operating my flight just a day or two before departure.

Once on the FlightRadar24 website, enter your flight number and find your flight details. You’ll then see which aircraft is assigned to your flight, as well as its registration.

flightradar screenshotFLIGHTRADAR24

FlightRadar24 is incredibly useful in the hours leading up to departure. Aircraft swaps — where one plane is substituted for another — happen all the time. Just because you’re scheduled to fly on a “regular” 737-800 doesn’t mean that it can’t be swapped for a MAX at the last minute.

With FlightRadar24, you can keep track of your assigned aircraft right until it’s time to pull out of the gate.

Some other tips to remember include:

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