It was in the news recently that Transport Canada has completed test flights of the Boeing 737 MAX 8. Europe is set to conduct its tests very soon as well. I thought this was a noteworthy development and thus might be worth pondering what a return of the controversial aircraft would mean for travellers in the Maritimes.
I’ll preface this post by saying that I am not an aviation enthusiast (or AvGeek) by any stretch. I do not enjoy flying and I’m not knowledgeable about airplanes. My first flight was on an L-1011 when I was a child and I’m stunned that I remember that. The second plane I flew on was a 737-200. I only know this because I distinctly recall it had the name “Flagship Labrador” so I just googled it and found some info with a picture. I remember we got low on fuel on the way to St. Pete’s and had to stop in Wilmington, North Carolina for a fill-up.
Anyway, if you want to read various perspectives on details of the plane’s problems and recertification journey, maybe check out the news and discussion threads dedicated to the 737 MAX on the Airliners.net forum.
A Very Brief History of the Boeing 737 MAX
The 737 MAX is the most recent version of the Boeing 737, a reliable narrow-body aircraft used by many airlines for many years. The MAX planes were to be more modern and efficient and able to fly longer distances, replacing wide-body planes on some routes.
The 737 MAX went into service in 2017 and things were apparently fine until the tragic Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. Consequently, in March of 2019 all of the planes were taken out of service until deemed safe to fly again.
The grounding had an impact on a number of non-stop routes out of Halifax. Icelandair eliminated Halifax entirely from its route network. WestJet could no longer offer seasonal non-stop service to Paris and Air Canada suspended non-stop flights to London Heathrow.
There was a lot of speculation about how long the planes would be out of service or even if they would ever be in the sky again. However, as time went on and COVID-19 put the kibosh on travel, the subject of the 737 MAX’s destiny seemed to fade further from view.
News of Transport Canada’s recent flight tests has brought the issue back, prompting curiosity about the results and what they’ll mean for the airliner’s future.
737 MAX 8 Flights – Halifax to Europe – Bookable Now
Despite the uncertainty over recertification, it’s indeed possible to book flights scheduled to be on the 737 MAX 8 non-stop from Halifax to several cities in Europe.
Here are a few examples:
Halifax – London Heathrow
October 26 – November 3, 2020
Halifax – London Gatwick/Dublin/Glasgow/Paris
May 4, 2021
It doesn’t seem very likely that the MAX 8 will be flying for Air Canada by late October of this year. If you’re booked on it, you’ll probably be re-routed through Montreal or Toronto.
With WestJet, because those routes don’t resume till well into next year, it’s perhaps within the realm of possibility that the 737 MAX would be back in the air. If not, the non-stops to Dublin, Glasgow and London could still be available on the regular 737s which is how WestJet handled it previously. However, the older 737 apparently cannot be used for Halifax to Paris, so the re-routing would likely be via Montreal on Air France, as it was last year. There is also the unpleasant possibility of being re-routed through Calgary on WestJet’s 787.
Therefore, if Paris is on your radar for next spring or summer, be aware that a non-stop might not materialize. I recall from last year that fares shot up over time, which presumably coincided with the decreased likelihood that the MAX would be back flying. Assuming travel to Europe in 2021 is feasible, it could be a good strategy to book the non-stop to Paris well in advance in order to snag a lower fare while it lasts.
Regarding Halifax to London Heathrow on Air Canada, making a speculative booking becomes even more interesting with the new Aeroplan program set to take effect November 8, 2020. The new system prices flight rewards based on the number of miles flown. Having that Air Canada non-stop Halifax to London Heathrow is tremendously useful for travel to Europe, especially now that fuel surcharges will no longer be a factor.
After November 8th, if you book the non-stop to London on Aeroplan, connecting to an onward flight while staying under the 4000 mile limit, you’d be locked in at the lower reward rate even if you end up having to connect in Montreal or Toronto should the 737 MAX not be back in service by your travel date. Conversely, if it’s you making a change to the flight itinerary, not the airline, the necessary connection in Canada would add distance and require more points.
The primary source of uncertainty about travel these days is obviously the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But when it comes to daydreaming about future trips, the question mark around the return of the 737 MAX compounds matters further.
For both WestJet and Air Canada/Aeroplan, there may be an upside to making a speculative booking to take advantage of the potential return of the 737 MAX, in the form of a lower airfare or fewer Aeroplan points, even if its recertification doesn’t happen in time for your trip.
I know there are probably folks out there who would prefer not to ever set foot in a 737 MAX. There is even talk of Boeing possibly rebranding the plane to remove the MAX moniker. I flew on one of these planes from Vancouver to Montreal in 2018 and fortunately it was a smooth and uneventful flight.
My thinking is that the problems with the aircraft would surely have to be fully rectified in order for any nation’s aviation regulator to lift the grounding order. And, considering the safety of air travel generally, I’m not too hesitant to book a flight on a 737 MAX if and when they fly again.