© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The fuselage plug area of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 Boeing 737-9 MAX, which was forced to make an emergency landing with a gap in the fuselage, is seen during its investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in Portland,
By Shivansh Tiwary and Doyinsola Oladipo
NEW YORK (Reuters) -More travelers are checking the model of an aircraft before booking flights after a midair cabin blowout forced a new Alaska Airlines-operated Boeing (NYSE:) jet to make an emergency landing and grounded more than 170 planes, several travel operators said.
A piece of fuselage tore off the left side of the 737 MAX 9 jetliner operated by Alaska Airlines as it climbed following takeoff on Friday, forcing pilots to turn back and land safely with all 171 passengers and six crew on board.
U.S. regulators have since grounded 171 737 MAX 9 planes for safety checks while Alaska and United Airlines, which together have 70% of the 737 MAX 9 fleet, have canceled hundreds of flights this week.
The Alaska crew have been praised for swiftly landing the plane, with only minor injuries to those on board.
But photos on social media showing oxygen masks deployed and a portion of the aircraft’s side wall missing, as well provisional checks turning up loose bolts in some grounded planes, stirred concerns it would dent passenger confidence in Boeing planes.
Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun on Tuesday acknowledged mistakes and told staff he and many customers had been “shaken to the bone.” Boeing must work to earn their confidence, he said.
On Thursday, Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary said passengers had not shown any concern about flying on Boeing 737 aircraft since the grounding.
Europe’s largest airline by passenger numbers is one of Boeing’s largest customers and operates different variants of the 737 MAX from the type that has been grounded.
“We see no indication of any passenger concern … not one passenger,” O’Leary told Reuters, adding that the biggest threat to the MAX came when it was grounded for nearly two years in 2019 following two crashes.
Even so, Booking (NASDAQ:) Holdings-owned Kayak said it has seen a spike in the use of a filter on its website that allows customers to screen by plane model following Friday’s incident.
It has moved the filter up on its website to make it more prominent and added the ability to check specifically for the 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 models. MAX 8 aircraft are still in service.
Internova Travel Group, which represents more than 100,000 travel advisors worldwide, has also seen more queries about plane models.
“The consumer who is aware of the situation is asking our agents, ‘is this an impacted plane?’ said Peter Vlitas, an executive at the company.
When the MAX 9 jet resumes service, he said Internova agents will inform customers which model plane they will be booked on to regain client confidence.
The biggest headache for travelers this week has been rearranging flights after cancellations by United and Alaska this week, said Paul Charles, chief executive of the travel consultancy PC Agency.
The UK’s travel agent trade body ABTA said it has not had any calls from members of the public or travel agency members about the issue.
Other travel companies like Tripadvisor said it was too soon to track a major shift in booking or travel habits.
Even so, Kelly Sites, 37, said she had grown wary of Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircrafts following the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airline crashes in 2018 and 2019 and now she will also be avoiding MAX 9 jets.
“As someone who is not an aviation expert, I would personally rather be safe than sorry because you don’t really see this type of information coming out about any other aircraft,” she said.
Some, though, have added plane model to their list of criteria along with price and amenities when booking a trip.
“This incident has made us realize that there is another step that we need to add to our checklist while booking a flight,” said Chaitra Yangandul, a Washington DC-based travel content creator.