FAA Grounds Boeing 737 MAX 9s After Kid Almost Sucked Out Of Alaska Airlines Jet

Alaska Airlines immediately grounded its fleet of Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft after a Portland to Ontario, California flight experienced rapid cabin decompression as a result of the loss of a mid-aft door and interior sidewall shortly after departure on Friday.

The airline quickly completed inspections on at least a quarter of the aircraft, failing to find any issues similar to the 10 week old plane on which “a kid in that row [where the aircraft’s fuselage ruptured] had his shirt was sucked off him and out of the plane and his mother was holding onto him to make sure he didn’t go with it.” Passengers reportedly had cell phones sucked out of their hands and out of the aircraft as well.

The FAA has now ordered the grounding of the plane type for U.S. operators and operations in the United States. United Airlines, the largest operator of Boeing 737 MAX 9s with nearly 80 planes, reportedly had made the decision to do this on its own. Out of U.S. airlines, only Alaska and United operate the MAX 9.

According to airline data analytics firm Cirium, there are 215 Boeing MAX 9 in service, 1 in storage, and 76 more on order. Other major operators of the variant include COPA with 29 MAX 9s and Aeromexico with 19. FlyDubai, which has 3 MAX 9s, says that they are not grounding the plane unless instructed to do so, since they don’t have the same configuration of a deactivated mid-cabin exit.

While the issues are unrelated, this incident may hurt Boeing’s attempt to avoid new safety requirements enacted after Ethiopian and Lion Air 737 MAX crashes for the as-yet uncertified 737 MAX 7.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. The 737-900ER is also at risk because it has the same plugged emergency exit. Delta should stop doing that for its -900ER but Delta is money minded, not safety minded. They just meet the minimum safety requirements, not exceed them. European ULCC which have slightly higher seat density have the extra exit and, as a result, have fewer seats per exit than Dangerous Delta.

  2. Boeing has quite a lot to prove to its customers and the flying public. It’s not succeeding obviously. Much the opposite. It grows harder still to shout down those who declare this aircraft type shoddy garbage.

  3. I don’t think there is a significant difference between having an extra emergency exit and a plug. The extra emergency exit panel goes into the same space as the plug panel. This was a relatively new airplane, delivered in October. Boeing needs to find the root cause of how this panel blew out, as a real fix can’t come until the cause is understood. Hopefully, it was an assembly error which can be fixed.

  4. derek,
    running from site to site saying the same WRONG thing doesn’t make it right.
    the 737-900ER operated by ANY airline is not the issue.
    multiple airlines including AS and UA ALSO operate 737-900ERs and NO 737-900ER is being grounded.

    The FAA ONLY has grounded US 737 MAX 9s

  5. @TimDunn … The basic point here is most of these airplanes have way too many seats crowded in and sold . As you are an authority , Please address the main thing about too many seats and overcrowding . Why ?

  6. One has to have serious concerns with the quality control at Boeing.

    That said, if the stock drops back to 180 again, I’ll probably purchase some call options.

  7. @Derek, the -900ER have a lot of cycles on that same design without such an event.

    Since you appear to be an Airbus or EASA homer, are you concerned about the same feature on some of the A320 family?

  8. @Tim Dunn and Mark
    Airbus shouldn’t plug exits either.

    Just because it hasn’t happened in a -900ER doesn’t mean it won’t, particularly if it’s the same design.

    Maybe they used the wrong sized screws?

    The question remains unanswered, why does Delta reduce safety by plugging the exits when some airlines don’t plug it. Money hungry is why.

  9. This is the unofficial end of Dave Calhoun’s tenure as CEO at Boeing; there is no excuse for this engineering and/or manufacturing failure and will likely result in another charge of hundreds of millions of dollars against Boeing’s future earnings. What a debacle.

  10. @Tim Dunn “The FAA ONLY has grounded US 737 MAX 9s” foreign air carrier MAX 9s cannot fly to the U.S. either, pending inspection

  11. My 2 Cents. Everyone on that plane was very fortunate in that this didn’t happen at 35,000’ and full pressurization. It would have been much worse.

    This may very well be an isolated incident. The inspections will make that determination. No need for speculation.

    Depending on how the plug is designed and installed, ultrasound inspections may not provide the data necessary for ongoing routine reinspections. Above my expertise anyway.

    Another reason to wear seatbelts. Unless the whole row goes out.

  12. @derek I see and appreciate your point but you yourself have said that Delta is meeting the minimum safety standards. If the standard isn’t good enough that’s on the regulators, not Delta. It’s a slippery slope to expect airlines to go beyond what’s deemed acceptably safe by regulatory bodies.

  13. The grounding simply does not affect any other aircraft besides the MAX 9.

    The MAX 9 if operated by foreign carriers cannot fly into the US but the US does not have authority to ground those aircraft.

    As much as some people look incessantly for opportunities to throw dirt at Delta, it appears with every month that they made the right decision to build its fleet predominantly around Airbus and perhaps by next year, quality problems on the MAX will be sorted out although it is certain that Delta’s MAX order will be delayed.
    15% of AS’ flights are cancelled today while just 1% for UA.

  14. The pictures show a clean hull. I will speculate that components around the perimeter of the plug itself are what failed, and will further speculate that the failure of carbon fiber bonding is in play.

    The hull failure is just way to “clean”.

    PSA: the economics argument is around the reduced pax capacity if the plug was an actual exit door; if the hole was used as intended, as an exit door, that would require an exit row with exit row pitch, 2 less seats on that reduced pitch exit row, and in addition 1 less regular row of seats, with the sum total revenue penalty to the operating airline of 8 seats for a thousand flights per year.

  15. When cell phones, passports, and the shirt off a kid’s back get sucked out of a Boeing 737 MAX9 aircraft due to a pesky rapid cabin decompression, it may be an excellent reason to consider printing out a backup paper boarding pass.

  16. The kid was almost spontaneously deplaned. That is the language for it.

    Good reason to keep your seat belt on.

    I strongly prefer Airbus aircraft, particularly the narrow bodies because they are wider. Boeing needs to trash the 737 and start from a blank piece of paper.

  17. That’s what you get from a plane designed by clowns who are supervised by monkeys. Those are Boeing’s words. Not mine.

  18. @L,
    writing that if the standards aren’t good enough, that’s on the regulators and not Delta Airlines.

    This is a very bureaucratic way of thinking. This is why people are dead wrong in relying on politicians to be their doctor and writing Covid precautions.

    Delta should be more responsible and not use legalistic excuses. The emergency exit is there. Use it and not plug it. If there is an emergency exit, then people can evacuate quicker.

    CNN reports that passengers have already received money from Alaska.

  19. derek,
    you keep trying to pin those on other airlines that don’t operate the MAX 9 including operators of the 737-900/ER which include AS and UA and multiple other airlines.
    If you are convinced that the FAA didn’t ground the right plane – or enough models – let them know.

    Quit having a temper tantrum because the suffering isn’t going exactly as you hoped.

  20. Gary, boy was buckled in. Mom reached out to him because that was what mom’s do. He was not in danger of being sucked out. Nice story. But just sensational bs.

  21. @Alan – His shirt was ripped off by the event and the source cited described his exposed skin as being irritated all over before flight attendants assisted him and his mother with relocating. The last similar event I can recall was when a Southwest flight had a catastrophic engine failure where a piece of the engine broke off and destroyed a window, leaving a gaping hole (notably, considerably smaller than this hole). The individual seated next to that window was partially sucked out in that event, and while they managed to eventually pull her back in (and a hero blocked the hole with his backside for remainder of the flight, giving himself some medical issues in the process), she later died.

    All that to say he most definitely was in serious danger. There’s also a story here, as is common in aviation accidents, of seatbelts saving lives. Use them as instructed, folks!

  22. At the end of the day, the 737 MAX is cursed.
    First it was the flight control systems. People died because of that. Boeing eventually accepted liability after initially trying to deflect blame onto the Etheopian and Lion Air crews.
    In April last, Boeing admits that its subcontractor Spirit, installed fittings on the rear of the ‘plane that “did not follow the standard” (BBC)
    And then in December last, a bolt in the rudder control system is found not to have a required nut. Oops.
    And now this?
    1) I really don’t want to fly on this aircraft.
    2) At risk of stating the obvious, something has gone badly wrong at Boeing. They used to be a top-tier manufacturer. I don’t think you can say that now. It’s not just the 737. The 787 has been reporting several QC issues too. Is it the use of subcontractors rather than in-house manufacture? I don’t know, but something has clearly gone upside down in Seattle.

  23. @derek: You wrote, “CNN reports that passengers have already received money from Alaska.”

    When my American Airlines flight had irregular operations causing a three-hour delay, the passengers on my flight who asked received a $12 meal voucher. You should know that CNN did not bother to report that passengers on my flight had also received money from American Airlines.

  24. Back in the day with the 747 I considered Boeing the ultimate aircraft
    But almost everything they have done in more recent years has vastly disappointed.
    I didn’t like the 787 at all other than it was big.Nor did I feel more hydrated or that the cabin had better air.The max series just seem woefully inadequate in every regard
    Almost everything Airbus has done seems more solid even if passenger illusion
    The A380 The A350 almost anything they do offers a better flying experience and they don’t seem to crash into mountains and have doors blowing off with parents clutching and holding onto their children for dear life! I did like the 767 a lot in the past but it seems to be history overall.
    It was comfortable reliable etc I’m not going to debate mechanical or quality control I am not informed nor do I have the data.However from a passenger comfort & experience perspective Airbus rules IMO

Comments are closed.