[Alaska’s COO Sits Next To Door Plug As 737 MAX9 Returns To The Skies] A Rough, Yet Miraculous Week For Aviation; Travel Waivers Issued After Yet Another 737 MAX Incident

Alaska Airlines 737 MAX9 Sam Almo-Milkin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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Update, 1/27: Alaska Airlines COO Constance von Muehlen sat in the window seat next to the door plug on the first 737 MAX9 that returned to the skies yesterday evening after getting clearance from the FAA.

Alaska’s systemwide flexible travel policy has been extended to 2/2, while United’s 737MAX 9 travel waiver is set to end tomorrow. You may be able to request a free flight change away from the MAX9 after those dates if you don’t feel comfortable flying on the aircraft, but personally, I’d feel comfortable flying in it at this point.

Update, 1/24: The Seattle Times has now corroborated the unbelievable Boeing whistleblower comment referenced below, indicating that Boeing removed the bolts from the Alaska plane after finding multiple problems with the Spirit AeroSystems work, and then failed to reinstall the bolts due to broken internal processes. It’s nothing short of shocking gross negligence and it’s a true miracle that there were no fatalities.

If the report is correct, heads will soon be rolling at Boeing. Hopefully, the storied company can find a way to fix itself. The last 90s merger with McDonnell Douglas is often pointed to as the point where things started going south in the company culture, quality, and product.

Meanwhile, United CEO Scott Kirby has lost faith in Boeing leadership and says it’s considering making fleet plans that exclude the previously ordered MAX 10.

Alaska’s systemwide waiver has now been extended to travel booked through 1/31.

Update, 1/22: I didn’t receive a response when I asked Alaska, Delta, and United 2 weeks ago if they would be inspecting the door plugs on their 737-900ER aircraft in the wake of the 737 MAX9 grounding. At the time, Boeing said that was not necessary, but I questioned why that would be in the previous post update below.

The FAA now notes that some airlines have indeed inspected the door plugs on the 737-900ER and noted anomalies with the bolts that keep the plug in place. The FAA is now recommending that airlines conduct an inspection of the door plug bolts on the 737-900ER. 

The 737-900ERs were delivered between 2007-2019 and have a much safer track record than the 737 MAX aircraft which have been involved in multiple fatal accidents since the first 737 MAX delivery in 2017. The 737 MAX 9 remains grounded, while the 737-900ERs can continue operating during the inspection process. United expects to inspect its 737-900ER fleet over the next few days without flight disruptions. Alaska started inspections a few days ago and hasn’t found any anomalies in its 737-900ER fleet. Delta also expects no operational impact from 737-900ER inspections.

Meanwhile, an alleged Boeing whistleblower shares exactly what he says happened in this comment. He writes that the 4 retaining bolts were pulled out of the Alaska 737 MAX9 due to quality control issues and were never replaced due to broken procedures at Spirit AeroSystems and Boeing. Whether that’s legitimate or not, things do not look good for Boeing. The NTSB still hasn’t determined if the bolts were installed or not.

Alaska’s systemwide flexible travel policy and United’s 737MAX 9 travel waiver continue to be extended.

I’d be remiss not to share this SNL skit as well…


Update, 1/8: United confirms that several of its 737 MAX9 aircraft have loose bolts and other parts on their plug doors, which will be rectified.

United shared with DansDeals, “Since we began preliminary inspections on Saturday, we have found instances that appear to relate to installation issues in the door plug – for example, bolts that needed additional tightening. These findings will be remedied by our Tech Ops team to safely return the aircraft to service.”

They also shared that they have 79 Boeing 737 MAX9s and they are awaiting final approval on the inspection process. They have inspected most of those aircraft, which involves removing 2 rows of seats and the sidewall liner. Each inspection takes a team of 5 technicians several hours to complete.

Surprisingly, Boeing says that the FAA isn’t requiring airlines to inspect their 737-900ER aircraft, which also have plug doors. Delta and United fly the 737-900ER with plug doors. I have reached out to both airlines for comment asking if they will be inspecting those planes. United responded with the MAX9 information above, while Delta didn’t immediately respond to our request for comment, though this post will be updated if we do get a response.

In the meantime, the Alaska Airlines plug door was located, fully intact. 


Multiple cell phones that fell from the plane were also located, shockingly intact. 


Does airplane mode keep your cell phone intact from a 16,000 foot drop? 😉 Somehow I once cracked a phone from a 5 foot drop…


Alaska Airlines also confirmed that the aircraft in question had auto-pressurization warning lights that came on in flight on 12/7, 1/3, and 1/4, before the plug door blew out on 1/5. The plane was removed from overwater ETOPS flying, but allowed to continue flying over land. The airline also confirmed that the secured and locked cockpit door was flung open during the depressurization incident, which then jammed into the lavatory door.

Originally posted on 1/7:

Last week was a rough one for aviation, though it could have been so much worse.

On Tuesday, JAL flight 516, an A350, collided with a Japanese Coast Guard plane, killing 5 of the 6 passengers on the coast guard plane, with only the captain surviving. Early indications are that the Coast Guard plane, which had been operating continuously to bring relief to earthquake hit areas of Japan, misheard Air Traffic Control’s directive to hold short of the runway that the A350 had been cleared to land on. The Coast Guard Plane had been told they were “number 1.”


Tokyo Haneda’s runway collision warning lights were not working, however Air Traffic Controllers missed the runway monitoring system that showed the Coast Guard plane sitting on the runway for 43 seconds before the crash.


Miraculously, all 379 passengers and crew escaped from the A350 just moments before the plane became a burning inferno.


I flew from Fukuoka to Tokyo Haneda this past May and was shocked at how ANA started preboarding a 395 passenger 787-9 just 20 minutes before the time of departure. Their Star Alliance partner United would board 50 minutes before departure. And yet, everyone was settled into their seats in just 10 minutes.


Japanese efficiency is always something to behold. And I’m not surprised that even in the craziness of the evacuation, where the plane’s speaker system malfunctioned, that passengers left their carry-ons behind to ensure everyone was able to escape before it was too late.


It’s also a good reminder to keep your shoes on during takeoff and landing.

Kudos to the crew and passengers of that plane for a job well done!

And then on Friday, it was more bad news for the 737 MAX. 2 previous crashes of that plane took down the CEO of Boeing.

Alaska Airlines flight 1282 depressurized after the plug door blew out in flight.

But this story doesn’t end like United flight 811, where 9 passengers were sucked out of a plane after depressurization.

Flight 1282 was nearly full, but miraculously, seats 26A and 26B next to the plug door were unoccupied. A boy’s shirt in row 26 was ripped off and sucked out of the plane while his mother was holding onto him and many other personal items including phones and teddy bears were sucked out of the plane. Oxygen masks came down to help passengers breathe at that altitude.

But those 2 seats being empty was incredibly lucky, as not much was left of them:


Passengers on the flight remained surprisingly calm:


The crew was clearly under pressure at first, but were always several steps ahead of Air Traffic Control as they quickly got the plane back on the ground, some 20 minutes after it departed:


Passengers on the flight were given a refund and $1,500 cash assistance. An additional flight was added Friday night to fly the passengers that still wanted to fly that day.

What is a plug door? It’s not new, the plug door is an option that has been offered for years on the 737-900ER and is also offered on the 737 MAX9.

Airlines such as Lion Air that operate the 737 MAX9 with 221 seats need another exit row, so the plane was designed to accommodate that. That exit row door has a portal window.

Alaska operates the plane type with 178 seats, as does IcelandAir, while United operates it with 179 seats, so they don’t need the extra exit rows.

Those airlines have the option of a deactivated exit row or a plug door. The deactivated exit row can be easily switched to a real exit row should the airline decide to densify the plane with more seats, however the deactivated exit row means that there is no window in that row.

IcelandAir chose the deactivated exit row option, which is why there’s no window in row 24. IcelandAir continued to fly their 737 MAX9’s as they don’t have plug doors.

Alaska and United both chose a plug door, which gives passengers a full size window with a door that plugs the hole that is never intended to be able to open. 4 bolts lock that door in place. It’s a costly conversion process to go from a plug door to a regular exit row, so Alaska and United chose this option because they are confident that they won’t densify the plane later on.

The Alaska plane, tail number N704AL, was just delivered to the airline in October. Its plug door blew out at around 15,000 feet in the sky. Were the bolts defective or improperly tightened during the manufacturing process? Is there another design defect on the MAX planes? Only time will tell, but for now 737 MAX9s with plug doors are grounded while being investigated.

Luckily the bolts keeping the seats in place and passengers’ seat belts were properly fastened!

The MAX9 is the only MAX aircraft that offers a plug door option.

No other US airlines fly the MAX9, but airlines like Aeromexico, Copa, FlyDubai, and Turkish also fly it.

Plug doors have been in use in other planes for a long time and there are no plans to investigate the plug doors on planes like the 737-900ER, though that may change if a defect is discovered.

The NTSB is still searching for the plug door that blew out of the Alaska Airlines flight.

In the wake of the incident, United is offering free changes if you’re booked on a 737 MAX9 through 1/10. You can rebook through 1/18 with no difference in fare.

Be sure to watch your flight status as well!


Alaska Airlines is offering free changes no matter what plane type you’re booked on. If you’re traveling by 1/9, you can rebook through 1/20 with no difference in fare.

I wouldn’t be surprised if those waivers are extended.

Will you think twice before flying in a 737 MAX?

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46 Comments On "[Alaska’s COO Sits Next To Door Plug As 737 MAX9 Returns To The Skies] A Rough, Yet Miraculous Week For Aviation; Travel Waivers Issued After Yet Another 737 MAX Incident"

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Oh man, if those Southwest changes come back again…


Just a theory… maybe they got their bolts from that fake European company


I would be afraid at this point


In the case of JAL 516, it’s the decades of hard work in the aviation sector chasing redundant systems and perfecting safety procedures, now paying off rather than a miracle.

Yanky Whiskey

I am booked on an AA 737 Max 8 later this week – should I be worried?


Imagine when finding out you missed your flight or decided not to travel and you were supposed to be seated in one of the two chairs there on Alaska… nuts


People taking luggage in an emergency should be prosecuted


If they make it out alive…


The first-day stories said there was a 15-year-old boy in the middle seat, next to his mother in the aisle seat, and that his shirt was torn off and his phone sucked out the door. What happened to that detail?


read the post.

tom bradley

Wondering why airlines aren’t cancelling their MAX orders and moving over to airbus after all these defects


At this point it seems the FAA and other certifying agencies will have to answer some tough questions rather than Boeing, as the MAX is the most scrutinized aircraft in aviation history, yet again they neglected basic QC.

Harley Kesselman

Wow so Alaska Air knew that this particular aircraft had issues with that door and still let it fly over land? HUGE LAWSUIT coming their way.


No. They didn’t know it had problems with the door. It had warning lights with auto-presurization system. The warnings were rectified during flight and maintenance couldn’t find any issues.


Alaska Pilot: warning lights with auto-presurization system
Alaska management: keep flying we are like UPS we ship boxes not humans, We lose money every second. The plane is grounded.
Alaska Pilot: let’s have the Alaska CEO on our next flight
Alaska Management: he said no, it’s to dangerous for him to with this issue.


Update: Message from Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci: Next steps on the Boeing 737-9 MAX
positive message, i hope he really means what he’s saying…


How can we find out which row has a plug door on all planes? I have an upcoming Copa flight.


I have a flight booked on a Delta 737-900ER would love to hear if they responded


So the MAX 8 is an issue too? What about the 737-900? We just bookef


You guys are amazing. Seems like the FAA and the airlines would keep themselves out of at least a few fires by paying attention to you.


The solution is clear. No one in aviation should be allowed to call their company Spirit anything. Problem solved.


Hey, but at least Boeing is doing great in regards to DEI. Who cares for quality control.

Mr. CC

So ‘one person is saying’ that Boeing didn’t put back the bolts…
This person could just be upset at Boeing for any reason. Why do we all believe him/her?

reb yid

“considering making fleet plans that exclude the previously ordered MAX 10.”
meaning, “here’s how I’m going to get Boeing to come down on the price, and then of course I will go ahead with the purchase”


Finally a reason to cheer Spirit Airlines…they fly Airbus


Call me a conspiracy theorist but is there any way that someone can be doing this purposely to sabotage Boeing? I mean they just been failing so bad one after another on these aircraft and they’re the leaders in the industry manufacturing these machines. What are we missing?!


I was pretty sure something was going to come out about boeing.


I have a flight on a Boeing 737 MAX 9 on Feb 7 – should I change it? Or should I assume they will all be checked by then?


Instead of celebrating B6 and spirit canceling their merger we should be calling for the FTC to break up the monopoly called Boeing but that will never happen as they have too much political backing in Washington

J Adams

So glad the kid by the hole is ok. I personally will probably be wearing my seatbelt a bit more.


The only way to fly economy. Buy the seat next to you so you don’t have to fight for the armrest.


I loved that SNL skit. Very funny. I like that last minute shtuch at Spirit.


I just booked to JAX and its says BOEING 737 MAX 9 . What should I do now?