The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday grounded all Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 jets in the U.S., leaving passengers aboard 21 South Florida flights scrambling for alternatives.
The order, announced by President Donald Trump mid-afternoon, was effective immediately. Any Max jets in the air were grounded after landing. The action followed the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight in which all 157 passengers were killed.
“Pilots have been notified, airlines have been all notified,” Trump said in making the announcement. “Airlines are agreeing with this. The safety of the American people and all people is our paramount concern.”
The U.S. was among the last countries to ground the Max jet. In the last few days, countries across Europe and Asia grounded the planes. The Canadian government issued a similar order earlier Wednesday.
In the wake of the announcement, American Airlines canceled 19 flights at Miami International Airport. No other flights from Miami were grounded Wednesday, according to an airport spokesman. An American spokesman could not say how many passengers were affected, but if the flights were fully booked, more than 2,000 fliers would have been affected, according to one estimate.
Wednesday night, American had no information about how the action would affect its Thursday schedule. Copa Airlines, which operates one Max 9 jet a day from Miami to Panama City, Panama, also canceled its Wednesday flight and said it was suspending future flights for the time being.
At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, an outbound Westjet flight to Toronto was canceled. A United flight bound for FLL was grounded in Houston, according to an airport spokesman.
Among those affected was Dr. Guenther Koehne, chief of bone marrow transplantation at the Miami Cancer Institute. He was slated to depart on American Airlines flight 1156 from MIA to New York’s LaGuardia International Airport when he received a message that his flight had been canceled. He was automatically re-booked on a flight leaving MIA Wednesday evening to John F. Kennedy International Airport, he said, but did not know whether he would be able to return to Miami Saturday as scheduled in time to attend Baptist Health’s annual fund-raising gala.
“That’s disturbing,” he said.
American passenger Gail Henry was in the air flying from the Cayman Islands, where she lives, when she received a mobile alert about the grounding order. When she landed at MIA, she learned she would miss the connecting flight Wednesday evening that would have delivered her to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, for her aunt’s funeral.
“Now I will miss the funeral,” she said.
Henry was among those waiting in a snaking line of a few dozen tired travelers Wednesday evening at one of two American Airlines’ rebooking stations. Alexis Aran Coello, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, said that the airline would accommodate travelers with hotel vouchers.
Erwin Reyes, a Miami resident, waited in line near Henry. His 6 p.m. flight to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, was delayed by nearly two hours while American changed to a different type of plane. But he said he was thankful the FAA decided to ground the Max 8 jets while the investigation continues.
“Traveling already sucks,” he said. “At first you’re just upset, but something could really happen [if there is an issue with the Max 8].”
Passenger David Williams, 44, of Trinidad and Tobago, flew from San Francisco to Miami on a 737 Max 8. When he landed at MIA, he received a mobile alert that his connecting flight to the islands was canceled, he said. He isn’t sure when he will return home but said he decided to look on the bright side.
“I’m alive, thank God,” he said.
The grounding order rippled throughout the region. Juan Camilo Tamayo of Boca Raton told the Miami Herald in an interview that he was stuck in Bogota as an indirect result of the cancellations. Though his American flight to Miami was canceled Wednesday due to an equipment malfunction on an Airbus jet, the wait time to speak with an American Airlines customer service representative was an hour and a half. The delay cut off other travel options.
Two other carriers, Cayman Airways and GOL Airlines, also operate Max 8s out of Miami. Both have maintained their schedules on alternative aircraft, said Greg Chin, spokesman at Miami International Airport.
On Sunday, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on a Boeing Max 8 crashed en route to Nairobi, Kenya, killing all 157 aboard. About five months earlier, 189 passengers were killed when a Max 8 jet operated by Indonesia’s Lion Air crashed in the Java Sea after taking off from Jakarta. The causes of both crashes are still under investigation.
Prior to the president’s sudden announcement Wednesday, the mayor of Broward County hoped to ban Boeing Max landings at FLL.
Mayor Mark Bogen said on Wednesday that he had planned to introduce his proposal to the county commission for a vote.
“My interest is to protect the public until we can find the cause of these crashes and problems with aircraft,” Bogen said in a statement. “If we can’t legally stop the aircraft from landing here in Fort Lauderdale, then I’ve asked the County Attorney to amend our contracts with airlines flying the jet and I want warning signs placed at terminal gates so passengers will know they’re boarding this type of aircraft.”
Tourism reporter Taylor Dolven contributed to this report.