American Airlines pulled the Boeing 737 Max from its schedules until mid-January, delaying its return longer than any U.S. airline, as the prolonged grounding of the troubled plane disrupts year-end holiday travel.
Regulators have not said when they will allow airlines to operate the Max jet again. The plane hasn’t been allowed to fly since mid-March after two crashes within five months of each other killed 346 people.
The grounding has forced airlines to cancel thousands of flights, driven up costs and dented airlines’ profits. American said Wednesday that the 9,475 flights it canceled in the third quarter reduced its pretax income in the period by about $140 million.
Boeing has said it expects the Federal Aviation Administration to clear the planes to fly in the fourth quarter.
The company has developed a software fix for the planes after crash investigators implicated a flight-control program that malfunctioned, repeatedly pushing the nose of the Max planes down in both disasters, but the FAA hasn’t approved it yet. Some regulators, including in Europe, have expressed concerns about the plane’s design, and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg last month said officials around the world may not all approve the plane at the same time.
American said the schedule change will force it to cancel around 140 flights a day. The airline previously expected the planes to return to its fleet for commercial service in early December, and like other carriers, has had to repeatedly postpone the jet’s return to its schedules.
American said it plans to “slowly phase in” its Max planes, starting Jan. 16, and will increase its use of the jets through February. It had 24 of the 737 Max 8 planes at the time of the grounding and has 76 on order.
Airline executives have said they are talking with Boeing about receiving compensation for the grounding, the largest ever. Boeing took a $4.9 billion after-tax charge in the second quarter to reimburse losses at carriers that can’t fly the fuel-efficient planes.
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said the carrier has had conversations with Boeing but doesn’t have a firm number yet.
“It’s hard until we know when the airplane is really going to be back in service to ascertain what the damages are,” he said in an interview.
American said customers booked on flights that it scheduled for its 737 Max planes through Jan. 6 will be rebooked on an older 737 that has the same seating configuration, while travelers booked on Max flights between Jan. 7 and Jan. 15, will likely be rebooked on another plane. The airline said it would contact travelers whose flights have been canceled.
Some flights that were not scheduled with the Max may be canceled because airline may opt to reassign those jets to higher-demand routes.
The schedule changes will take effect Oct. 13.