What passengers should know after the Boeing 737 Max 9 incident

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After the fuselage of an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 plane tore apart in mid-air on Friday, causing an emergency landing in Portland, Oregon, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered the temporary grounding of some Max 9 planes until they were thoroughly inspected.

Hundreds of flights operated by Alaska Airlines and United Airlines were delayed or canceled Saturday. It is unclear how the flight suspension and ongoing inspections will affect flights in the coming days as these and other airlines face concerns about a cargo plane.

The Max, which comes in four variants, numbered seven through 10, is the most popular plane in Boeing's history, accounting for a fifth of all orders placed since 1955, company data shows.

Here's what passengers should know about the Max 9 aircraft, how airlines are responding to flight suspensions and how to deal with potential flight delays or cancellations.

According to Cirium, an aviation data provider, there are currently around 215 Boeing Max 9 aircraft in service worldwide. United Airlines operates 79, the most of any airline, and Alaska has 65; Their combined fleets represent about 70 percent of the aircraft in service.

Other operators that rely on the Max 9 include Panama's Copa Airlines, Aeroméxico, Turkish Airlines, FlyDubai and Iceland Air.

The FAA's grounding of Max 9 aircraft affects 171 aircraft operated by Alaska, United and other airlines.

Each Max 9 can carry up to 220 passengers, depending on seating configuration.

As of Saturday night, United said in a statement had “temporarily suspended service” on select Max 9 aircraft to conduct immediate inspections required by the FAA. United also said that 33 of its 79 Max 9 planes had already received the necessary inspection.

Alaska said in a statement Saturday afternoon that it had begun inspections early Saturday morning and had cleared 18 aircraft to return to service. The remaining inspections will be completed in the coming days, the airline said.

As of Saturday night, Alaska Airlines had canceled about 141 flights, or 18 percent of those scheduled for the day, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking service. United Airlines canceled 66 flights, about 2 percent of its daily schedule. Hundreds of flights operated by both airlines on Saturday were delayed.

It is unclear how the grounding of planes will affect flight schedules in the coming days. Both United and Alaska said they were working with affected passengers to offer alternative travel options.

Travelers can usually find information about their aircraft type when they book their flights online, either during the seat selection process or elsewhere on the airline's website.

Passengers can also find the type of aircraft on an airline's mobile app. For Alaska, this is available in the “Details” section of the app. Flight tracking websites, such as FlightAware, also have aircraft information if users search for specific flights using the flight number.

However, even if passengers know in advance which plane they plan to fly on, this is always subject to change. Airlines change planes at the last minute, depending on factors such as weather and logistics.

Alaska has issued a “system-wide flexible travel policy” that allows passengers to cancel or change their flights without incurring any fees, due to Max 9 inspections and a forecast of winter weather in the Northeast. The airline encourages travelers to use Alaska's website or app themselves, rather than calling the airline's customer service line (waits are long).

For those with upcoming flights, Alaska directs passengers to check their flight status online. If your flight was canceled, you can get a refund or credit for future travel.

United flight status updates can be found online. If a flight is significantly delayed, United will waive change fees or provide a travel credit or refund. The airline has not issued a specific waiver related to aircraft inspections that would further relax policies.

And if your flight is delayed or cancelled, you may be entitled to compensation, depending on the circumstances.

Boeing Max planes have been hit by disasters in recent years. Over a span of several months in 2018 and 2019, two Boeing Max 8 planes crashed, killing hundreds of passengers and crew. All Max planes were then grounded worldwide for nearly two years as the company's engineers worked to identify the problem.

With additional reports from Callie Holtermann and Niraj Chokshi.

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