Almost two years after Boeing's 737 MAX was grounded over safety concerns following two fatal crashes, the next-generation jet is returning to the skies – but many travellers remain wary of the tarnished MAX brand.
That's driven Air Canada to allow passengers who find themselves booked onto a Boeing 737 MAX flight to change or even cancel their booking at no charge.
The Star Alliance member has 24 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in its fleet, and following approval by Transport Canada will resume domestic MAX flights from Toronto on February 1.
While Air Canada says it remains "fully confident in the return of the Boeing 737 MAX," it acknowledges that some travellers will think twice about their trip once they learn it's on the MAX.
Passengers will be allowed to change to an alternative Air Canada flight at no extra charge – and within the same cabin as their original booking – up to seven days before or even after the original date of flight.
"You can also choose to change your origin and/or destination to an alternate origin/destination within 200 miles," Air Canada advises.
Bookings can be cancelled up to two hours before departure, although that could prove too tight for people who discover only at the departure gate that they'll be stepping onto that 737 MAX parked just outside.
Travellers can also an alternate itinerary with no change fee – although the usual fare difference will apply – or they can cancel their flight without penalty and convert the ticket to an Air Canada Travel Voucher with has no expiry date.
The FAA has already cleared the 737 MAX to return to service in the USA, with Europe's aviation safety regulator also poised to clear the 737 Max for a return to service in the region.
Virgin Australia's 737 MAX plans
On the local front, Virgin Australia has decided to push ahead with adding the Boeing 737 MAX to its fleet, but has slashed its order by almost half and pushed back the first delivery by another two years.
The smaller Boeing 737 MAX 8, for which Virgin held 23 orders with deliveries from early 2025, has been scrubbed from the list.
However, Virgin will go ahead with its order for 25 of the larger and more flexible Boeing 737 MAX 10, which was unveiled only in late 2019 – although its original July 2021 delivery timeframe has been reset to mid-2023.
The MAX 10 has seating for around 200 passengers in a standard two-class layout, and Virgin intends to roster the jet on high-density domestic and short-range international routes, as well as routes facing "constraints due to slot availability limitations."
Sydney-Melbourne is perhaps the best example of this: in normal times, this corridor rates as one of the world's busiest domestic routes, with some 150 flights per day shuttling between the two cities, so larger aircraft trump smaller ones.
"It will do a great job for us transcontinental, it’ll do a great job for us in more traditional short-haul (than longer) international routes," enthuses Virgin Australia Group CEO Jayne Hrdlicka.
"We have already moved to simplify our mainline fleet and committed to the Boeing 737 aircraft as the backbone of our future domestic and short-haul international operations."
"The restructured agreement and changes to the delivery schedule of the Boeing 737 MAX 10 gives us the flexibility to continually review our future fleet requirements, particularly as we wait for international travel demand to return."
Also read: Boeing CEO says he won't rebrand the 737 MAXv