Renaming 737 MAX off the table for Southwest

Southwest Airlines will not be renaming the 737 MAX once the type returns to service, the airline has announced.

The announcement comes as the Dallas-based airline recently extended cancellations of MAX-operated flights until at least 5 January 2020, amid uncertainty over when the Boeing aircraft will be allowed to fly again.

Some airlines — most notably Ryanair — have opted to rebrand their MAX aircraft in an effort to distance themselves from the negative reputation the type gained following two fatal crashes spaced just months apart. Southwest will retain the “MAX” handle, however, citing transparency with customers as the main reason.

In a statement, chief revenue officer, Andrew Watterson said: “We will not change the name of the aircraft. That would be disingenuous.”

He added that the airline believes its passengers trust it to thoroughly vet the aircraft’s safety, and that it will reassure them by providing credible evidence to prove the aircraft is safe to fly.

Southwest, which is currently the world’s largest MAX operator, originally extended cancellations of flights on its MAX fleet through 1 October, but uncertainty over regulatory approval and Boeing’s ability to quickly deliver the hundreds of aircraft currently in storage led to it extending cancellations until next January. 

Boeing expects to submit certification requirements to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in September and for regulators to clear the aircraft in the fourth quarter.

“By proactively removing the MAX from scheduled service, we can reduce last-minute flight cancellations and unexpected disruptions to our Customers’ travel plans,” Southwest noted, though depending on when the aircraft is cleared to fly again, it could move forward the reintroduction of the type. 

The 737 MAX has been grounded worldwide since the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which killed all 346 aboard. Last month, Boeing announced $3bn in losses, a direct result of the grounding.