Boeing 737 Max 9 Safety Woes: Loose Bolts Discovered on United and Alaska Fleets

The issues with the Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft continue, four days after Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 was forced to make an emergency after a piece of fuselage on the side of the plane blew out, taking one of the passenger side windows with it, and rapidly decompressing the cabin. 

The issues are impacting two carriers in North America—Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, both of whom have a fleet with a significant number of 737 Max 9s. On January 9th, both carriers announced that they are now finding significant safety issues with the planes.

First, United Airlines said that it had found loose bolts on the door plugs of several of the Boeing 737 Max 9 planes during inspections. According to Reuters, which cited a source familiar with the investigations, close to 10 of United’s 787 Max 9 aircraft had already been found to have loose bolts, a figure that may increase as the investigation continues, and a high enough number to raise serious questions about the planes’ manufacturing process at Boeing.

Then, later, Alaska Airlines confirmed that it had also found some “loose hardware” on 737 MAX 9s in its fleet.

“As our maintenance technicians began preparing our 737-9 MAX fleet for inspections, they accessed the area in question. Initial reports from our technicians indicate some loose hardware was visible on some aircraft,” Alaska said.

The findings from both came from inspections made by their maintenance and technical teams. Both still await “final documentation from Boeing and the FAA” before starting a more formal inspection process.

Flight schedule impact and waivers
While there is concern that the public will start questioning whether or not they want to fly on MAX 9s in the future, something that happened during the string of 737 MAX issues in 2019, both Alaska and United continue to cancel flights.

As of 8:30 a.m. PST on January 9th, Alaska canceled roughly 140 flights due to the grounding, a volume that is expected to continue for the short term.

Alaska did put a flexible travel policy in place system-wide, giving those impacted the option to change or cancel their flights without penalty.

According to FlightAware, United canceled close to 10% of its schedule on January 9th, which amounts to more than 260 flights, a majority from the MAX 9 grounding.

United, like Alaska, has issued a travel waiver because of the outsized impact. Any United guest scheduled to fly on a Boeing 737 Max 9 through (subject to change) can reschedule without any change fees or fare differences for new travel through Jan. 18. Flights can be rescheduled after Jan. 18, but a fare difference may apply.

Update: January 25, 2024 – FAA Gives Green Light for Boeing 737 MAX 9 to Fly Again.