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Alaska Airlines returned the 737 Max 9 aircraft to service, with the first flight leaving from Seattle Friday afternoon and landing in San Diego. The trip marked the first for this model of Boeing aircraft since a mid-air blowout of a door plug earlier this month prompted the FAA to ground the jets. 

Alaska Flight 1146 departed Seattle at 3:33 p.m. Pacific Time, according to flight tracking website FlightAware, landing in San Diego at 6:14 p.m. It was flying two additional 737 Max 9 flights Friday evening — Flight 621 from Las Vegas to Portland, Oregon, and Flight 1086 from Seattle to Ontario, California. 

The flight’s departure was delayed about an hour because it had to be ferried over from Oklahoma City, where it had undergone inspections.  

Constance von Muehlen, chief operating officer for Alaska Airlines, was aboard the flight and sat in a window seat in row 26, the closest seat to the plane’s door plug.

Muehlen told a CBS News producer who was also on the flight that she chose that specific seat because she wouldn’t ask passengers to do anything she herself would not do. 

United Airlines, the only other U.S. airline that operates the aircraft, said its 737 Max 9 fleet would begin returning to service on Saturday. United told CBS News that it will allow passengers who don’t want to fly on a Max 9 aircraft to change flights without additional cost, depending on seat availability. 

The mid-air blowout occurred when a door plug, which are panels designed to fit into an unused exit and transform it into a wall section with a window, blew out a few minutes after departure. No passengers were seriously injured, but by luck, no one was seated next to the door plug that fell off the fuselage. Experts said the incident could have been far worse if passengers had been seated next to that section or if the incident occurred later in the flight when people typically unbuckle their seat belts.

Alaska Airlines grounded all of its Max 9 jets within hours, while the FAA grounded all other Max 9s in the U.S. the following day. 

Kayak allowing customers to filter out Boeing 737 Max 9 planes


Airlines found problems on other planes. Alaska CEO Ben Minicucci told NBC this week that “many” of the planes they inspected had loose bolts that are supposed to help secure the door plug to a jet’s airframe. United Airlines also found unsecured bolts on some of its Max 9s.

On Wednesday, the FAA announced it had cleared the way for the aircraft to return to service following a rigorous inspection and maintenance process.

Alaska Airlines told CBS News that it will take several days to get its network fully operational. It plans to ferry some of its 737 Max 9 jets from where they’ve been inspected to the airports where they will resume commercial service.

Will people want to fly on the 737 Max 9s again?

Alaska Airlines officials said Thursday that they have lost a few sales among people purchasing flights into February — a phenomenon called “booking away” in the airline business. They didn’t say how many people have booked away from the Max 9, but they predicted it would only last a few weeks.

Minicucci, the Alaska CEO, said travelers may initially have “some anxiety” about flying on a Max 9, while saying he expects them to steadily regain confidence that the plane is safe.

Travelers returned to the Boeing 737 Max 8 after two of them crashed in 2018 and 2019, killing 346 people. After those accidents, Boeing had to redesign an automated flight-control system before the FAA would let Max 8s and Max 9s resume flying after a 20-month grounding.

—With reporting by CBS News’ Kris Van Cleave and the Associated Press.

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