Travel Updates

Boeing 737 Max 9s grounded, Alaska Airlines jet loses window: What travelers should know

Author: Krystal Nurse, Mike Snider Source: USA Today
January 7, 2024 at 07:06

Air travelers will want to keep watch on the latest trouble facing the Boeing 737 Max aircraft.

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An Alaska Airlines flight from Portland to Ontario, California had to make an emergency landing back in Portland after a window on the plane blew out mid-flight. Fox - Seattle
 
 

The Federal Aviation Administration has grounded 171 of the Boeing 737 Max 9 planes worldwide after a hole blew out of an Alaska Airlines plane Friday night on a flight out of Portland, Oregon. No one was injured in the incident and the flight made a safe emergency landing back at Portland International Airport.

In a statement on Boeing's website, the aircraft company says: "Safety is our top priority and we deeply regret the impact this event has had on our customers and their passengers. We agree with and fully support the FAA's decision to require immediate inspections of 737-9 airplanes with the same configuration as the affected airplane. In addition, a Boeing technical team is supporting the NTSB's investigation into last night's event. We will remain in close contact with our regulator and customers."

But the involvement of the 737 Max airplane – previous safety concerns about the aircraft led to it being grounded for nearly two years – suggests there could be repercussions for the already troubled airplane fleet.

The National Transportation Safety Board has sent investigators to Portland to investigate the incident involving the Boeing 737 Max 9, Flight 1282 bound for Ontario, California.
 

An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 plane sits at a gate at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on January 6, 2024. Alaska Airlines grounded its 737 MAX 9 planes after part of a fuselage blew off during a flight from Portland Oregon to Ontario, California.
An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 plane sits at a gate at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on January 6, 2024. Alaska Airlines grounded its 737 MAX 9 planes after part of a fuselage blew off during a flight from Portland Oregon to Ontario, California.



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Boeing 737 Max 9 aircrafts grounded by FAA, Alaska Airlines

The FAA said its Emergency Airworthiness Directive, affecting about 171 airplanes worldwide, would require inspections taking four to eight hours. "Safety will continue to drive our decision-making as we assist the NTSB's investigation into Alaska Airlines Flight 1282," the agency said.

Before the FAA made their decision, Alaska Airlines had announced that it would be grounded its fleet of 65 Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes. But on Saturday, shortly before the FAA statement, Alaska Airlines said in a post on X that inspections had been done on more than a quarter of its 737 MAX 9 aircraft with "no concerning findings." Flights on the fleet will return to service after successful inspections.

Since the aircraft is used by other airlines including United Airlines, Copa Airlines, Aeromexico and Turkish Airlines – according to data from Cirium, an aviation analytics company – other international agencies will be interested in any findings, too.

United Airlines released a statement to USA Today saying: "United has temporarily suspended service on select Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft to conduct an inspection required by the FAA. We are working directly with impacted customers to find them alternative travel options.:

USA Today spoke with Shem Malmquist, instructor at college of aeronautics at the Florida Institute of Technology about the Alaska Airlines grounding.

"To the extent that they need to do anything, the question is do they need to ground all the airplanes and look at other ones or can they look at this and say, this was just this particular configuration?" said Malmquist, a current Boeing 777 captain and experienced accident and safety investigator. "Until they've looked at it nobody is going to be able to give you a truthful answer."

 

What happened to the Boeing 737 Max 9 jet on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282?

Alaska Airlines N704AL, a 737 Max 9 which made an emergency landing at Portland International Airport after a part of the fuselage broke off mid-flight on Friday, is parked at a maintenance hanger in Portland, Ore., Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer) ORG XMIT: ORCM102
Alaska Airlines N704AL, a 737 Max 9 which made an emergency landing at Portland International Airport after a part of the fuselage broke off mid-flight on Friday, is parked at a maintenance hanger in Portland, Ore., Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024.
(AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer) ORG XMIT: ORCM102


Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 was at about 16,000 feet shortly after takeoff when an exit door plug, a section of the fuselage, blew out as the plane. The crew reported a "pressurization issue," according to the Federal Aviation Administration. One of the pilots declared an emergency and asked for clearance to descend to 10,000 feet (3 kilometers), the altitude where the air would have enough oxygen to breathe safely.

"We need to turn back to Portland,” the pilot told controllers in a calm voice that she maintained throughout the landing process.

Passenger Kyle Rinker described to CNN how "it was really abrupt. Just got to altitude, and the window/wall just popped off and didn’t notice it until the oxygen masks came off.” He posted a picture on X, the social media network formerly known as Twitter.

 

   
 


The Alaska Airlines plane apparently had "plugged" a section of the plane that could be used as an exit door, with another cabin piece without a door, Malmquist said. The number of exit doors needed on a plane is based on the seating configuration, with more exits required as the number of passengers accommodated rises.

Without an exit door there "it's a bit lighter ... and it is a pretty big advantage to do that," Malmquist said. If it's determined that this configuration caused the incident, other airlines may not have to cancel any other flights, he said.

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