Hesitant fliers can find out what aircraft they'll be flying on before and after booking their flight.
Just weeks after it was grounded, the Boeing 737 MAX 9 is back in service. And while flying is statistically one of the safest ways to travel, fear of flying is still a very real thing for many travelers.
Fortunately, it's possible to check the details of upcoming flights, and know your options if you want to make a change before you hit the friendly skies.
“Even if there's one little component of flying that you can control, it's empowering,” Katy Nastro, a travel expert with Going.com, told Travel + Leisure. “It's definitely something good to keep in your travel arsenal.”
Of course, an airline can change the aircraft for your flight, but Nastro said that’s not too common.
Why Was the Boeing 737 Max 9 Grounded?
An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft suffered a dramatic mid-air blowout of a plug door panel on a flight from Portland, Oregon, to Ontario, California, on Jan. 5. Following the incident, both Alaska and United Airlines found loose bolts and hardware on their planes, and both airlines were forced to cancel hundreds of flights. Alaska's Boeing 737-9 MAX returned to service on Friday, Jan. 26.
“Airlines put out schedules and they have to know what flight type they're flying on,” Nastro said. “You might have a little bit higher likelihood that it could change if you're booking further out, but it's not a high likelihood.”
Whether travelers want to check which aircraft type they’re scheduled to fly on due to nerves or simply because they want to know what kind of seat they’re getting, there are ways to check both during the booking process and after.
When searching for a flight, there are a few different ways to check what type of aircraft the flight is scheduled on. If you’re booking directly on an airline’s website, you can click on flight details to see which aircraft is assigned. If you’re searching on Google Flights, you can also use the drop-down arrow on each flight option to see the aircraft assigned.
Some online booking sites also allow travelers to see the aircraft type when searching for a flight.
Kayak, for example, even allows travelers to filter flight searches by aircraft. The booking site first introduced the feature in 2019 and recently told T+L it was updated to allow travelers to search by specific 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 aircraft models. Travelers can find the filter on the left-hand side of the page detailing flight options.
Travelers who are already booked on a flight can find out what type of aircraft is assigned by searching for their flight on websites like FlightAware. To search, travelers can input their flight number or airport codes. However, FlightAware only allows travelers to search a couple days into the future.
Alternatively, travelers can also search their future flight on booking sites like Google Flights to see the aircraft assigned by inputting the exact time and date they are traveling.
How to Change Your Flight
If you’ve already booked a flight and are scheduled to fly on an aircraft you don’t feel comfortable on, you do have options. Currently, both Alaska Airlines and United Airlines have temporary flight waivers in place.
United will allow travelers scheduled to fly on a Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft who booked their flight by Jan. 6 and who are flying by Jan. 28 to change it without having to pay any change fees or fare differences. Customers must reschedule their flight by Feb. 3.
Alaska has a system-wide travel waiver in place, which the airline first instituted after its mid-air blowout. Passengers scheduled to fly by Feb. 2 may change any flight with the carrier as long as they reschedule by Feb. 9. The airline will waive all fees and fare differences.
Beyond these specific waivers, many major U.S. airlines don’t charge cancellation fees if travelers change their mind about a flight, but they will have to pay the fare difference for a new flight. Many basic economy tickets are likewise cancellable, but often for a fee.
Travelers who book a flight and realize quickly they want to change their aircraft type can take advantage of a 24-hour Department of Transportation (DOT) rule that allows travelers to cancel nearly all tickets in the U.S. for free.
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