WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Hundreds of passengers flying to and from Palm Beach International Airport have had their travel plans shaken up by the grounding of Boeing 737 Max 9 planes.
The FAA grounded the fleet of United Airlines' Max 9s earlier this month after an Alaska Airlines plane lost a door plug panel in mid-flight after departing from Portland, Oregon.
In the past two weeks, United has been forced to cancel an average of 17 flights a week from Newark to PBIA.
The Max 9s can carry up to 111 passengers, which means up to 1,887 passengers will have to scramble to either find other flights or not come at all.
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Among the airline ticketing counters at PBIA, United seemed quiet early in the week.
Mendel Delman and his wife were the only ones at the counter.
"It's really a pain," Delman said. "It's a big pain."
He and his wife were trying to get home after their morning flight to Newark was canceled.
"They pushed it off from yesterday until today," Delman said.
WPTV asked him if he thought he'd make it home OK.
"I hope so," he said. "I have a flight in one hour and five minutes."
When United grounded its 737 Max 9s earlier this month, several United flights to and from Newark were canceled.
WPTV's investigative unit put together a list of cancellations on United's seven daily trips to and seven from Newark Liberty International Airport
In the last two weeks, 67 flights scheduled on Max 9s were grounded. That's 34% of United's PBI-Newark flights.
WPTV investigative reporter Dave Bohman asked airline expert Dr. Jungho Suh of George Washington University School of Management if United was in a position to find other planes to put on the Newark-PBI routes, which are being canceled at a rate of four to five every day.
"It's highly unlikely at the moment," Suh said. "I haven't heard of the official strategies or plans to replace their current grounded 737 Maxs with other types of fleets yet."
Suh said the Max 9 groundings hit places like the Palm Beaches and the Treasure Coast especially hard.
"The small and medium-sized business owners, especially in the local community in a popular tourist destination across the country," Suh added.
The FAA grounded all Max 9s as a result of the door panel that blew off in mid-flight on an Alaskan Airlines flight earlier this month.
The entire fleet, including United's 71 Max 9s is being inspected.
WPTV asked United about how the groundings are impacting PBIA.
The airport responded in an email saying, "We’re not providing market-by-market figures but can confirm that United has approximately 200 flights per day (nationwide) scheduled on Max 9s."
At PBI's baggage claim, several passengers flew here on other airlines because of United's cancellations, including Bonnie Izen of New Jersey.
"It was very challenging because we wanted to take another flight," Izen said. "They put us on a United flight that was going to leave at night and we wanted to get in during the day, so we canceled the whole thing."
Izen hopes her return flight on United is not canceled.
In an email, United wrote that it plans on grounding its Max 9s until Jan. 26. However, there's no indication that the FAA investigation into those planes will be complete.
There's also no indication that United will find other planes to cover the Newark to PBI route as tourist season hits full stride.
Editor's Note - Here's how we came up with the data:
WPTV checked the website flightaware.com which has two weeks' worth of flight information.
We found the cancelations at PBI on all flights to Newark then cross-checked the tail numbers on the canceled flights with the FAA database. This resulted in 67 cancellations.
A few other flights were canceled with United's other aircraft on the PBI-Newark route in the past two weeks, suggesting those cancellations were the result of bad weather or some other reason.