Alaska Airlines Instantly Grounds Boeing 737 MAX 9 Fleet After New Plane’s Terrifying Mid-Air Fuselage Rupture

Alaska Airlines is grounding all 65 of its Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft following an incident on board flight 1282 Friday. The plane experienced rapid decompression following the loss of a mid-aft door and interior sidewall shortly after departure. The airline expects to complete inspections on the planes over the course of a few days.

All 171 passengers and 6 crew on the Portland to Ontario, California flight returned safely to Portland.

Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci said,

I am personally committed to doing everything we can to conduct this review in a timely and transparent way.

We are working with Boeing and regulators to understand what occurred tonight, and will share updates as more information is available. The NTSB is investigating this event and we will fully support their investigation.

My heart goes out to those who were on this flight – I am so sorry for what you experienced. I am so grateful for the response of our pilots and flight attendants. We have teams on the ground in Portland assisting passengers and are working to support guests who are traveling in the days ahead.

Here’s video from inside the cabin:

According to The Air Current (paywall) the “the aircraft in question, N704AL, had presented spurious indications of pressurization issues on January 4” and the plane had been restricted from extended range (ETOPS) operations.

The aircraft had only just been delivered on October 31. Much of the reporting indicates that it’s a window that blew out of the aircraft, because that’s how it appears to passengers, when in fact it’s a deactivated emergency exit door that low cost carriers put into service for higher passenger count configurations of the aircraft.

With this many 737 MAX 9s to inspect, there will be many cancelled flights and passengers needing reaccommodation. Fortunately, past the holidays, there will be more seats available to move to alternate flights but this will be a huge inconvenience. Meanwhile it’s another blow to Boeing and its 737 MAXs which have experienced a number of production issues.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Wonder if any other airlines will follow suit. Pretty scary.

    Hope everyone deplaned in the Japanese manner…….

  2. This is at least the second 737-Max to have this problem in a week. I sem to recall another that lost 3 outside windows recently. The other is AS1282 PDX-ONT in Portland. Surely time to ground the fleet, perhaps revoke its certification permanently!

  3. As usual, the narrative is backwards.
    AS and other airlines plug that exit because the number of seats DOES NOT REQUIRE use of that exit.

  4. I do not want to fly on any Max Jets. Boeing’s rush to compete with Airbus has produced low quality aircraft, all in the name of profits – not safety. The picture reminds me of the DC 10 and it’s problematic locking door system. God bless the passengers who had to experience this terrifying incident.

  5. @TimDunn … How about a normal amount , of normal size , seats in the first place … say 80 total ? Also , no carry-ons and no dogs ? Why is it more comfortable in a dentist’s waiting room than on an airplane ? Why is it safer with a NYC taxi driver than with airline passengers ? Because greed has caused us to regress . When Delta had the L-1011 it was better than now , duh .

  6. Two things- 1) I don’t want any part of flying a MAX. And since airlines won’t tell you which version of the 737 is on the flight, I do my best to avoid them all together and try to fly 777, 767, airbus. And 2) on these days of packed flights, how did a plane depart with no one in a window seat? No one scooted over?

  7. Alert,
    the 737-900/MAX9 has enough doors to accommodate a much higher number of seats than AS has on the plane which is why the doors are blocked because those two emergency exits are not needed based on number of seats on the aircraft and the distance of the remaining exits from every seat on the plane.
    It has nothing to do with the L1011 or a dentist waiting room.

  8. @TimDunn … The Lockheed L-1011 was a well-engineered and comfortable airplane , without too many seats , without giant carry-on bins , without ill-bred passengers and their bad-breath dogs , with happy flight attendants and decent small meals . Even Delta . Greed has caused us to regress .

  9. The L1011 was a great plane, passengers were better then w/ higher fares, etc but none of that has to do with the fact that greed has nothing to do with this incident.
    The exit doors were plugged because the aircraft COULD accommodate a higher passenger load but AS does not require the doors to be open based on the number of seats on the aircraft.
    That is the OPPOSITE of greed if greed is based on cramming as many seats on the aircraft – because that is NOT what AS did.

  10. I am not sure why Alaska Airlines continued to fly an aircraft with pressurization issues. Maybe the bean counters were in charge instead of the safety folks.

  11. The was not a “Fuselage Rupture”. This was a deactivated exit door that blew open. Big difference.

    My first questions would be “was the door really deactivated?” And, did the child sitting in the middle seat next to the door have anything to do with this?

  12. I would like to know more about the specific design of this door. Being a “plug” door, my thoughts are that it should be impossible to open it once the cabin is pressurized. Only a structural failure of some type would allow a plug door to blow out.

  13. It is greed because the plug is to have more seats of the desired sest pitch. They should see the old DC-8-73, which had over 10 exits (maybe 12) for fewer than 200 passengers.

    I do not see this as a MAX issue but potentially a 737-900ER issue, too. They also have plugs.

    As far as the comment like the evacuation in Japan, if the flight had an emergency evacuation to cya, passengers should grab their luggage unless they like it to be stolen by employees.

  14. @Alert: You asked: “Why is it safer with a NYC taxi driver than with airline passengers? Because greed has caused us to regress.”
    I’m afraid I have to disagree with the safety record when riding in a taxi because, unlike the New York City taxi drivers, mainline airline pilots at Delta, American, United, and Alaska Airlines do not have crashes resulting in injuries or death every week.

  15. I’m appalled by much of the comments! Grab your bags during an emergency evac. Taxis are safer than airplanes, etc.

    What uneducated universe are you people coming from?

  16. @tim dunn The L-1011 was a great plane but a gas guzzler for the airlines. Delta’s first class on this plane was very spacious. Those were the days where you could choose breakfast from 3 choices (cold, eggs w sour cream, hot omelette).

  17. The L-1011 had an elevator that went to the cargo compartment. It was pressurized and part of the cabin. It was used to store the FC meals and one attendant would prep the meals downstairs and send them up the elevator.

  18. Explosive decompression can happen from high altitudes with masks dropping, objects flying around and the pilots making an emergency descent at 2-5000 feet per minute. This is why the galleys should NEVER be blocked off with seat belts.

  19. While I am fairly sanguine about in-flight adventures such as this, problems with the 737 Max have reached the point where I would not fly on one by choice, were there to be a workable alternative.

  20. @TimDunn … Fares were More Affordable then . Now it is All Greed behind every decision , including too many seats . Visit an old-time country store and see what I mean . ( In contrast with the airlines nickeling and diming the pax , whilst squeezing them in , with their horrible dogs . )

  21. From CBS news. “There was a kid in that row, his shirt was sucked off him and out of the plane. His mother was holding onto him to make sure he didn’t go with it,” a man on the first flight said.

    That poor mother and child. SO thankful she was strong enough to keephim from blowing out with his shirt.

  22. Didn’t we learn from the MAX that went down in Ethiopia? All the passengers and crew paid the ultimate price. THEY ALL DIED.
    As even Boeing said, they rushed the implementation of that aircraft.
    Bad mistake…and still is.

  23. The FAA has ordered the grounding of 170 MAX 9 aircraft.
    United and Alaska are both major operators of the type.

  24. The 737 Max is beginning to sound like the DC-10. Problem after problem, never stops. Boeing have slipped so badly . Part of the problem is having nothing but lawyers and accountants on the Board.

  25. Incredibly fortunate that seat was vacant, and that presumably mom wanted the aisle. This is also why seatbelts should always be worn.

    @wileydog there was no ‘door’ on the inside, standard cabin wall facade. So no, the child was not to blame, passengers are entirely unaware there’s a plug door there.

    Alaska are not at fault here; the plug door is not a regular maintenance item. Boeing are very much on the hook.

  26. We need a real leadership change at Boeing. The best thing for the public is to let Boeing go bankrupt. The new company that will emerge from the ruins will be stronger and more innovative for certain. The current management board should fly every single day on a 737M with their loved ones, until they agree that dangerous plane is finally to be taken out of service forever.

  27. When I see a picture of a 737–200 compared to one of a Max9, I think of the story of the woodsman and his axe. The blade and handle had been replaced and enlarged several times. But to him, it was the same axe.

    To think there was a time when Boeing was run by engineers, not MBAs. And in Seattle.

  28. Its unfortunate but Issues like this happen, rarely, but they do happen. Lets wait for the NTSB to do its job. All the amatuer speculation is not helpful and rather misleading. For all the Boeing haters on this comment thread, just remember that AIRBUS, and many other manufacturers have had unforeseen issues crop up in the design process. The NTSB and other investigative bodies have saved countless lives identifying issues.

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