The US aviation regulator will bring the Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft under heavy scrutiny after the latest incidents. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: Travelers from the UAE and Gulf will find they will have to take direct flights to the US, which makes for more expensive tickets, after the latest issue over Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft.

UAE-based passengers taking connecting flights to the US may face delays or cancellations in the days and weeks ahead, as airlines try to get a handle on the situation.

While UAE airlines operating the 737 MAX 9 aircraft have said they are not having an issue, Turkish Airlines has grounded five of its 737-9s. The latter is popular with Gulf and Middle East travelers to the US.

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Also, many UAE and Gulf travelers rely on US domestic carriers to reach their ultimate destinations in that country. They too will be affected as multiple US carriers reassess the situation with their 737 MAX 9s.

An increasing number of domestic flights in the US are being cancelled due to the grounding of the Boeing aircraft.

This can hit travelers hard when it comes to ticket prices as such connecting flights can substantially lower costs for travel within the US.

Bad news for budget travelers

“For example, a return Economy class Dubai to Boston trip on United Airlines, with one pit-stop at Newark Liberty International Airport with a 2-hour layover, costs Dh2,915 (for departure on January 15),” said a travel agent in Dubai.

“A direct Dubai to Boston flight costs Dh4,355 on Emirates.”

Similarly, direct flights from Dubai to Chicago’s O'Hare International Airport cost Dh5,145, while a connecting United flight is priced at Dh2,775.

“Budget-conscious travellers usually prefer connecting flights,” the agent added. “With the cancellations, travelers will have to wait for refunds and book tickets on alternative flights – on Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue, for example.”

After the latest 737 MAX blowout, United Airlines suspended service on all 79 of its 737 MAX 9 aircraft. On Tuesday, the airline cancelled 225 flights - or 8 per cent of its total schedule. Similar cancellations were expected on Wednesday, Reuters has reported.

Alaska Airlines has cancelled hundreds of flights since the incident. That included 109 flights, or 18 per cent of its schedule on Tuesday.

Impact on 4 million passengers

Mike Arnot, a spokesperson for aviation data analysis firm Cirium, said, “The largest carriers flying the MAX 9 are United, Alaska and Copa. Each will have been forced to cancel multiple flights until inspections are completed — and for January, there are almost 20,000 flights scheduled, which could impact upwards of 4 million passengers."

He said such airlines fly multiple flights per day with these aircraft. They will now have to wait for spare aircraft to cover the shortfall.

“They will consolidate flights using other aircraft types to minimize the impact on passengers and aim to inspect their aircraft expeditiously,” said Arnot. “The impact will be acutely felt for several weeks.”

Only silver lining

Fortunately, January and February marks a relatively slow period for air travel, particularly after the winter rush.

The OAG aviation analyst John Grant said: “Many of the required checks can be undertaken in scheduled downtime on aircraft or by overnight checks.

“For many airlines, the next few weeks are a relatively quiet period in which some flights would normally not be operating, so at least from that perspective, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue in the region.”

Boeing, Airbus need better quality control
The CEO of the ultra-low-cost carrier Wizz Air Jozsef Varadi has said aircraft and engine manufacturers must designate better 'internal quality controls' to give airlines more certainty over their operations.

Varadi said manufacturers (aircraft or engines) will have to designate better internal quality controls and resources for those controls. Regulatory scrutiny also needs to be enhanced. “The regulator needs to play a proper role in oversight,” he said.

For airlines and the travel industry, matters would remain ‘quite distressing’ at the moment. While it is challenging to pinpoint precisely when these issues will be resolved, Varadi said the aviation industry will start seeing ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ in a couple of years.

“The core problem lies in material supply, and progress hinges on geopolitical stability. The global supply chain needs more stability to ensure materials are available where needed.”

Wizz Air is an all-Airbus operator with over 180 A320 Family aircraft fleet.