Delayed Boeing Max deliveries affecting airlines; United is asking pilots to take unpaid leave

SEATAC, Wash. — United Airlines is now asking its pilots to take voluntary unpaid leave for the month of May because of a delay in deliveries of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.

KIRO 7 reached out to United who said, “We can confirm that due to the recent delays in Boeing deliveries, our forecasted block hours for 2024 have been reduced and we are offering our pilots voluntary programs for the month of May to reduce excess staffing. We don’t have any further specifics to share at this time.”

The FAA halted production expansion of Boeing’s 737 MAX program to hold the aircraft manufacturer accountable for its ongoing quality assurance issues. This includes the door plug that blew off an Alaska Airlines flight on January 5th.

“The change in staffing and everything like that is just, I’d just say frustrating for the most part,” said Serenity Thompson, who was flying out of SEA Airport Monday afternoon.

Alaska Airlines also told KIRO 7 that it’s experiencing delays and said in a statement, “We are experiencing some delivery delays with our new Boeing aircraft.”

Southwest Airlines told KIRO 7 that Boeing told them to expect 46 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in 2024 which is a significant drop in what the airline was expecting, which was 79.

Southwest said in part, “As a result of Boeing’s continued challenges, we expect the delivery schedule to be fluid and therefore we have plans to reduce capacity and re-optimize the schedule, primarily for the second half of the year.” Southwest also said they’ve paused hiring across most workgroups including pilots and flight attendants.

“It’s a big problem it doesn’t have an easy solution,” Mike O’Bryant, another passenger, said. “I haven’t flown United for a long time but so no so far it doesn’t worry me, if I had to travel a lot still it might.” Thompson said she may start looking at alternatives to flying.

“Maybe I’ll just start like looking into road tripping more I guess so if that’s going to be the case,” she said.

John Nance, an aviation expert said it’s not surprising to have airlines match available demand with the number of airplanes they have available. He said this shouldn’t have a major impact on travel at this point.

“If you look closely and you really know particular schedules, you’re liable to see a flight or two you thought was going to be there that isn’t anymore and the prices may go up just a little bit but they fluctuate all the time anyway,” Nance said.

Delta Airlines was the only major airline who told KIRO 7 they are not being impacted by the Boeing production delays.

“They don’t have the constraints that Southwest and Alaska and United seem to have,” Nance said.

KIRO 7 is still waiting to hear back from American Airlines.

If you plan on travelling soon, Nance said to make sure you book early and are flexible.

“My recommendation would be have a little flexibility greater than what you normally do, get into the computer a little bit early and make sure you know what flights are scheduled because this is what the airlines are trying to do is make sure that you have as little impact on you as possible,” he said.