Thursday, 7 January 2021

WestJet is bringing back 737 MAX passenger flights from 21st January.

The Canadian airline WestJet announced on Wednesday that it would be reintroducing the troubled twin-jet Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to passenger flights from 21st January - despite the aircraft still not being allowed to operate in Canada.

The airline's plans follow an announcement from Transport Canada (TC) on December 17, 2020, where TC safety experts validated the aircraft design changes and outlined requirements for Canadian carriers.

"As we continue working with Transport Canada on the additional Canadian requirements, our first MAX will be ready to return safely to service as of January 21," said Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO. "While we don't have final confirmation on when TC will open Canadian airspace to the 737 MAX aircraft, in the interest of transparency we are sharing our intent to fly once this confirmation is received."

"The FAA, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and numerous other regulatory bodies around the world have spent more than a year examining the MAX aircraft to provide recommended changes to software, pilot training and maintenance requirements. We are confident with the changes they have mandated," continued Sims. "In particular, the deliberate, detailed and independent scrutiny applied by Transport Canada's National Aircraft Certification team, which prescribed additional requirements to pilot procedures and training, provides further confidence in the aircraft and its safe return."

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency EASA still has not given the green light for the jets to fly in European air space. Back at the end of November, it opened a 28-day consultation period. Once that ends, EASA will take time to review the comments made, before publishing its final Airworthiness Directive. That final publication is expected from mid-January 2021 and will constitute the formal ungrounding decision of the plane for all 737 MAX aircraft operated by operators from EASA Member States. After the return to service, EASA has committed to monitor the plane closely in-service, to allow for early detection of any problems that may arise. 

EASA also issued a Preliminary Safety Directive for 28-day consultation which requires non-European airlines which are holders of EASA third country operator (TCO) authorisation to implement equivalent requirements, including aircrew training. This will allow for the return to service of the 737 MAX when the aircraft concerned are operated under an EASA TCO authorisation into, within or out of the territory of the EASA Member States.

The Canadian airline says it will take a measured phased approach to get the 737 MAX back into service. Non-commercial test flights are set to start in the middle of the month and should TC reopen Canadian airspace to commercial flights for the 737 MAX, the airline plans to operate three roundtrip flights, per week, between Calgary and Toronto from 21st January.

This temporary schedule will remain in place for four weeks, while evaluating further routes and additional frequencies. There are a number of reasons why the airline has chosen this route to commence operations on the MAX again, which could include the number of flights it operates each day between the two cities - which is 6, so disruption should the return not go smoothly should be able to be absorbed into the other flights. The availability of maintenance personnel is a key item into the mix as is the ability of each airport to cope with full-scale emergencies. 

"We are dedicated to restoring guest confidence in this aircraft through our safe operation while providing the transparency and the flexibility that some of our guests may still require," concluded Sims. "We will be forthcoming with our guests on where the MAX aircraft are flying, and we will be flexible with our change and cancel policy to ensure our guests can make their travel plans confidently."

If your WestJet itinerary states that you are booked a 737 MAX flight and you want to change because of safety concerns, you have the following options - at least until the 737 MAX flexible change/cancel policy runs out on February 28, 2021.

More than 24 hours from departure 

You will be able to rebook on the next available flight, or to a flight within a 24-hour period before or after your original departure time, in the same cabin, at no additional cost. 

Rebook on another flight outside the 24-hour period before or after your original departure time and have the change/cancel fee waived. Any difference in fare will apply. You can complete this change online up until 24 hours prior to your flight by signing into Manage Trips.

You will not get a refund if you cancel your flight, however, the airline will give you a travel credit voucher. You can complete this change online up until 24 hours prior to your flight by signing into Manage Trips.

Less than 24 hours from departure

You won't be able to make and changes online, but you can call the airline on 1-888-937-8538 but your options will be limited and you will not get your money back if you cancel. 

Those rules only apply if you booked directly with WestJet,  bookings through and agency, another airline or part of a vacations package may have different rules and you'd need to go back to wherever you purchased the ticket with. 

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