By Tracy Rucinski
CHICAGO (Reuters) – United Airlines Chief Executive Oscar Munoz promised on Wednesday to accommodate any passengers concerned about flying Boeing (NYSE:BA) Co’s 737 MAX jets once regulators deem the aircraft safe to fly again.
United is the only one of the three U.S. MAX operators to make such an announcement so far. Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) Co, the world’s largest MAX operator, said on Wednesday discussions were still ongoing.
American Airlines Group Inc said on Wednesday “customers can be assured that our pilots would never operate an unsafe aircraft,” echoing other carriers’ insistence that safety is paramount to putting the globally grounded jets back in the air.
Still, following two fatal crashes of the MAX model within months, an Ethiopian Airlines jet in March after a Lion Air jet in October, Munoz said he wants customers to feel as comfortable as possible.
“If people need any kind of adjustments we will absolutely rebook them,” Munoz told reporters after the airline’s annual shareholders’ meeting.
Munoz said it was too soon to discuss whether Boeing would pick up the tab. None of the shareholders at the meeting questioned the company’s MAX plans. United is in the midst of a growth plan that has fueled a 17% share rise over the past year.
Global regulators are meeting with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday to discuss Boeing’s proposed software fix and training updates for the MAX, which has been grounded since mid-March.
The timing of regulatory approval is still unclear, and Munoz said that is only the first step, with independent analysis and public and employee confidence critical in the Chicago-based airline’s strategy for eventually flying the jets again.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week showed U.S. fliers still value ticket prices over aircraft models when choosing flights, suggesting the crashes have had little impact on consumer sentiment.
The No. 3 U.S. airline by passenger traffic, which trades under parent company United Continental Holdings Inc, operates 14 MAX jets and has dozens more on order.
United, American and Southwest together have canceled thousands of flights during the busy U.S. summer travel season and warned of hits to profits from the grounded MAX, which many airlines had rushed to buy thanks to the narrowbody’s higher fuel-efficiency and longer range.
Still, Munoz said he was not concerned about the timetable for a return to service.
“We have to fly this aircraft for a long period of time, so a week, a month, whatever is not that important,” Munoz said.