The grounding of United Airlines’ fleet of Boeing 737 Max 9s following the door plug blow-out on Alaska Airlines flight 1282 cost United roughly $200 million, cutting into the carrier’s first-quarter profits. 

United disclosed on 16 February that it lost $124 million during the first quarter, compared with a loss of $194 million during the same period last year.

The Chicago-based carrier generated $12.5 billion of revenue during the first three months of the year, an increase of nearly 10% over the $11.4 billion it reported in 2023. 

”These earnings reflect the… impact from the Boeing 737 Max 9 grounding, without which the company would have reported a quarterly profit,” United says. 

United 737 Max

Source: Boeing

Earthbound Max 9s ate into United’s profitability during the first three months of 2024 

In what has proven a seismic event for Boeing, Alaska and United alike, a mid-flight blow-out of a door plug on a 5 January flight bound for Southern California from Portland, Oregon prompted Alaska to ground its entire 65-strong fleet of Max 9s. The Federal Aviation Administration subsequently ordered most of the global fleet out of service.

That included all 79 of United’s Max 9s, which were grounded for about a month and re-introduced gradually starting in early February. 

United has since adjusted its fleet plan in response to FAA-mandated production capacity constraints on Boeing and delayed certification of the 737 Max 10. It disclosed on 16 April that it is leasing 35 new Airbus A321neos to compensate for the Max 10s it no longer anticipates receiving. 

Notably, Boeing paid Alaska $160 million in the first quarter as compensation for the Max 9 grounding, which was equivalent to the losses Alaska sustained from the event. Alaska referred to Boeing’s payment as “initial compensation”. 

The rapid de-pressurisation event’s fallout has also included a major management overhaul at Boeing and heightened public scrutiny of airline safety across the industry. 

United reports an otherwise posted strong financial performance during the first quarter, with “double-digit” increases in demand for business travel and capacity up 9% year on year. 

”Additionally, the company was able to take advantage of a number of opportunities to adjust domestic capacity which drove meaningful improvements in first quarter profitability,” the carrier says. 

United will discuss its quarterly results in more detail during a conference call with investors on 17 April.