United Continental pulls 737 MAX flights out of schedule

FILE PHOTO: A worker from United attends to some customers during their check in process at Newark International airport in New Jersey , November 15, 2012. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo

(Reuters) – United Continental Holdings Inc said on Monday it had pulled Boeing Co’s 737 MAX flights out of its schedule through early July, following similar moves by rivals American Airlines Group Inc and Southwest Airlines Co.

United, with 14 MAX jets, had largely avoided cancellations by servicing MAX routes with larger 777 or 787 aircraft.

But the airline’s president, Scott Kirby, warned last week that the strategy was costing it money and could not go on forever.

Boeing’s 737 MAX planes have been grounded worldwide since March after an Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed, killing all 157 aboard, just five months after a similar crash of Indonesia’s Lion Air flight.

(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

With 737 MAX grounded, airlines face daily scheduling challenges

FILE PHOTO: Southwest Airlines Co. Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft sit next to the maintenance area after landing at Midway International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Kamil Kraczynski

By Tracy Rucinski and Allison Lampert

CHICAGO/MONTREAL (Reuters) – Following the global grounding of Boeing Co’s 737 MAX jets, U.S. and Canadian airlines that fly the roughly 175-seat aircraft face a fresh logistical challenge every day: which flights to cancel and which to cover with other planes.

Southwest Airlines Co and American Airlines Group Inc, the two largest MAX operators in the United States, said they have bolstered their reservation and operations teams to figure out how to spread flight cancellations across their networks, not just on MAX flights.

American Airlines, for example, had most of its 24 MAX jets flying in and out of Miami, where load factors have been full during the Spring Break season.

“We can’t just cancel all of those flights, so the goal is to spread out the cancellations across our entire system to impact the least amount of customers,” American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said.

This means that an American Airlines flight from Miami to the Caribbean initially scheduled on a 737 MAX may now fly on a 737-800 with a similar seat configuration, while that 737-800 flight is canceled.

“It’s a challenge to explain to customers who weren’t previously booked on a MAX why their flight is canceled,” Feinstein said.

The 737 MAX jets were grounded last week following two fatal crashes in the past five months, the causes of which are under investigation.

Southwest, the largest MAX operator in the world with 34 jets representing about 5 percent of its total fleet, is canceling about 150 flights per day due to the grounding, but not all on MAX routes.

Steve West, Senior Director of Southwest’s Operations Control, said the company is trying to cancel flights five days in advance, while looking at issues such as weather, that could free up jets, like last week’s snowstorm in Colorado.

Southwest and American were already grappling with a larger than the normal number of out-of-service aircraft, further straining their fleets.

So far United Airlines, with 14 MAX aircraft, has not canceled any flights due to the grounding but has had to put smaller aircraft on some routes and fly the larger 777 to places like Hawaii.

It is unclear how long the grounding will last. Deliveries are also on hold, meaning an additional hit to airlines due to receive more of the jets this year.

Boeing has over 5,000 orders for the MAX, which sold fast thanks to its higher fuel-efficiency and longer range. Now airlines face a dent to 2019 profits.

Calgary-based WestJet said it took steps prior to the MAX grounding to start protecting trans-border flights to sunny destinations that were previously scheduled to fly with the carrier’s 13 MAX planes.

Meanwhile, Air Canada said on Tuesday it would remove its 24 737 MAX aircraft from its schedule until at least July 1, 2019.

“It is easier to put the aircraft back in the schedule than to pull it out,” said a source familiar with the carrier’s thinking, who is not allowed to publicly discuss its strategy.

 

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

U.S. might ban laptops on all flights into and out of the country

A TSA worker loads suitcases at the checked luggage security screening station at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California,

By Toni Clarke

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States might ban laptops from aircraft cabins on all flights into and out of the country as part of a ramped-up effort to protect against potential security threats, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said on Sunday.

In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Kelly said the United States planned to “raise the bar” on airline security, including tightening screening of carry-on items.

“That’s the thing that they are obsessed with, the terrorists, the idea of knocking down an airplane in flight, particularly if it’s a U.S. carrier, particularly if it’s full of U.S. people.”

In March, the government imposed restrictions on large electronic devices in aircraft cabins on flights from 10 airports, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey.

Kelly said the move would be part of a broader airline security effort to combat what he called “a real sophisticated threat.” He said no decision had been made as to the timing of any ban.

“We are still following the intelligence,” he said, “and are in the process of defining this, but we’re going to raise the bar generally speaking for aviation much higher than it is now.”

Airlines are concerned that a broad ban on laptops may erode customer demand. But none wants an incident aboard one of its airplanes.

“Whatever comes out, we’ll have to comply with,” Oscar Munoz, chief executive officer of United Airlines told  the company’s annual meeting last week.

Airlines were blindsided in January when President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning entry for 90 days to citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, sending airlines scrambling to determine who could board and who could not. The order was later blocked in the courts.

In the case of laptops, the administration is keeping the industry in the loop. Delta Air Lines  said in a statement it “continues to be in close contact with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” while Munoz applauded the administration for giving the company a “heads up.”

“We’ve had constant updates on the subject,” he said. “We know more than most. And again, if there’s a credible threat out there, we need to make sure we take the appropriate measures.”

MORE SCRUTINY OF CARRY-ONS

Among the enhanced security measures will likely be tighter screening of carry-on items to allow Transport Security Administration agents to discern problematic items in tightly stuffed bags.

Kelly said that in order to avoid paying fees for checking bags, people were stuffing them to the point where it was difficult to see through the clutter.

“The more stuff is in there, the less the TSA professionals that are looking at what’s in those bags through the monitors can tell what’s in them.”

The TSA has begun testing certain new procedures at a limited number of airports, requiring people to remove additional items from carry-on bags for separate screenings.

Asked whether the government would expand such measures nationwide, Kelly said: “We might, and likely will.”

(Reporting by Toni Clarke in Washington; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington, David French in New York and Alana Wise in Chicago; Editing by David Gregorio and Peter Cooney)

Four U.S. airports to open automated security lanes this fall

American Airlines plane

(Reuters) – Four major U.S. airports plan to speed up security checks by automating the distribution of bins for travelers’ carry-on bags, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and American Airlines Group Inc said on Tuesday.

American’s hubs in Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth and Miami will open the automated lanes this fall, which are expected to decrease wait times by 30 percent, the airline and TSA said in a joint statement.

Long security lines at U.S. airports this spring caused thousands of travelers to miss their flights and prompted criticism of TSA by airlines and other industry groups.

In an interview last month, American’s CEO Doug Parker said the world’s largest airline was working with airports to roll out the faster lanes, already in place at rival Delta Air Lines Inc’s Atlanta hub.

At the four airports, automated conveyer belts will move bins for carry-on luggage through X-ray machines and divert those with suspicious items to a separate area, preventing bottlenecks. After screening is complete, the belts automatically move the bins back to the start of each lane.

American and TSA also said they plan to add computed tomography, or CT, scans for carry-on bags at a checkpoint in Phoenix by year-end.

The technology, currently in use for checked luggage, could allow travelers to leave carry-on liquids and laptops stowed in their bags.

“Think of the time – and bins! – that saves,” American’s Chief Operating Officer Robert Isom said in a letter to employees on Tuesday, shared with Reuters, noting that the airline is spending nearly $5 million on the new lanes.

“Neither initiative is a slam dunk to solve TSA woes, but they are both huge steps in the right direction,” he said.

American has said the TSA must add enough staff to handle checkpoints during peak travel times, without relying on airlines to contract extra airport staff. Earlier this year, TSA projected it will screen 15 percent more people than in 2013, with 12 percent fewer agents.

TSA may deploy CT scans elsewhere if the Phoenix pilot program succeeds, according to the statement.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in New York, editing by G Crosse)

Airport screening made 70,000 miss American Airlines flights this year

Passengers make their way in a security checkpoint at the International JFK airport in New York

(Reuters) – American Airlines Group Inc has had more than 70,000 customers and 40,000 checked bags miss flights this year because of delays in airport screening, according to an executive’s testimony before a U.S. Congressional subcommittee Thursday.

A shortage of staff and a surge in air travelers have created a nightmare scenario for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), with airport wait times in places like Chicago stretching beyond two hours. American, the world’s largest airline, wants TSA to create a senior internal role focused on advocating for travelers, according to prepared remarks by American’s Senior Vice President for Customer Experience Kerry Philipovitch.

(Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)