Airlines push 737 Max groundings to at least March

HARLINGEN — United Airlines has joined Southwest and American airlines in announcing the grounding of its fleet of Boeing 737 Maxes has been extended until at least March.

United officials also said the latest schedule changes due to the grounding of the airliner will mean 1,600 advance flight cancellations in February and 168 in early March.

Media reports Friday said Southwest Airlines has removed 175 daily Max flights from its schedule, while American Airlines has taken off 140 daily flights. Airline experts say passengers with reservations between now and March should monitor those flight deals for any changes.

Around a year ago, a 737 Max flown by Indonesia’s Lion Air crashed, killing 189 people. Investigators are focusing on the plane’s anti-stall software. A second crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max killed all 157 people on board.

The fleet of 737 Maxes was then grounded in March.

The 189-passenger 737 Max is not a regular visitor to Valley International Airport, flying in occasionally as a replacement aircraft. But airport officials are concerned airlines with grounded 737 Maxes will continue to reassign jets from other flights to make up shortfalls at their hub airports.

This, they fear, will reduce passenger traffic at VIA over the holidays and now apparently well into the new year.

“We won’t put our customers and employees on that plane until regulators make their own independent assessment that it is safe to do so,” United officials said in a statement Friday.

United’s announcement follows one a week earlier from American, which also said it is removing the Max from its schedule through early March. United operates 14 Maxes and American has 24 Maxes.

Southwest Airlines, with 34 of the planes, also announced the airline will push back the grounding of its fleet of Maxes until early March.