Air Canada

Grounded 737 Max leads to record passenger loads

A Westjet Boeing 737-800 departs Vancouver March 2, 2019 (photo: Brett Ballah).

If you feel there’s never an empty seat next to you when you fly anymore, you’re right. The grounding of the 737 Max around the world is leading airlines to fill the planes that are still in the air almost to capacity.

Westjet reported its highest load factor ever, Monday, with 87% of seats filled through the month of March, a jump of 1.4% from 2018. Boeing 737 Max aircraft were grounded in Canada on March 13, indicating load factors in April could be significantly higher.

“We have adjusted our schedule to minimize guest disruption in response to the grounding of our 13 MAX aircraft and continue to work closely with all parties to enable a safe return to the skies,” said Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO, in a statement. The Max represents 11% of Westjet’s mainline jet fleet.

Westjet has pressed the new 787 Dreamliner into additional domestic flying between Calgary and Toronto, adding capacity on its key transcontinental route.

Air Canada has made similar adjustments by combining flights into larger planes and keeping older planes in the air, keeping about 98% of passengers on similar itineraries to what they had booked.

Along with its low-cost subsidiary Swoop, Westjet reported that 104,000 people flew with the company in March, almost five per cent more than the previous year.

Aviation continues to show signs of strength in Canada, with airports across the country reporting gains over and above the records they produced in 2018.

This is particularly the case at airports that serve as hubs for Canada’s airlines. Montreal has posted particularly strong growth, in the range of seven per cent in each of January and February, while fellow Air Canada hub Vancouver has posted passenger gains of 3.5% over the first two months of the year.

Calgary, which serves as Westjet’s main hub, reported almost six per cent more passengers in the first two months of the year. Canada’s largest hub, Toronto, has yet to report passenger figures for 2018.

Both airlines have indicated their strategies will be to funnel an increasing number of passengers through their hubs, connecting with partners’ hubs around the world.

It’s not yet clear how the grounding of the Max will be felt or how long the aircraft will be grounded.