Singapore suspends operations of B-737 Max jets: No major disruptions expected at Changi Airport

A SilkAir Boeing 737 Max 8 plane at Changi Airport yesterday. The carrier currently flies this aircraft - whose operation has been suspended by Singapore - to places like Bengaluru, Cairns and Chongqing.
A SilkAir Boeing 737 Max 8 plane at Changi Airport yesterday. The carrier currently flies this aircraft - whose operation has been suspended by Singapore - to places like Bengaluru, Cairns and Chongqing.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Airlines hit by CAAS move say first option is to switch jets to minimise inconvenience

Thousands of air travellers flying in and out of Changi Airport will be affected by Singapore's decision to suspend Boeing 737 Max operations but no major disruptions are expected.

While there will be some flight cancellations, affected airlines said the first option is to switch planes to minimise inconvenience to their customers.

With effect from 2pm yesterday, airlines are no longer allowed to fly the B-737 Max jet into and out of Singapore, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said.

The temporary ban follows the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight on Sunday and that of a Lion Air flight last October - both operated with the B-737 Max 8.

CAAS' decision affects Singapore Airlines' (SIA) regional arm SilkAir, as well as China Southern Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, Shandong Airlines and Thai Lion Air, which have been flying the aircraft to Singapore.

The Singapore carrier currently operates the aircraft to Bengaluru, Cairns, Chongqing, Darwin, Hiroshima, Hyderabad, Kathmandu, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Phnom Penh, Phuket and Wuhan.

In a social media update yesterday, SilkAir told travellers that on some of the affected routes, arrangements will be made to replace flights previously operated using the B-737 Max 8 with another aircraft type.

In a social media update yesterday, SilkAir told travellers that on some of the affected routes, arrangements will be made to replace flights previously operated using the B-737 Max 8 with another aircraft type. Where flights are cancelled, SIA will mount supplementary services to accommodate SilkAir travellers.

Where flights are cancelled, SIA will mount supplementary services to accommodate SilkAir travellers.

As a result of the adjustments, three Singapore-Kuala Lumpur SilkAir services will be cancelled today, while SIA will operate a supplementary flight to the Malaysian capital city.

Information on other flight changes will be progressively updated, SilkAir said, adding that it is in close communication with the CAAS and Changi Airport Group to manage the effects of flight disruptions. Customers affected will be contacted for reaccommodation.

At Changi Airport yesterday, it was business as usual at SilkAir check-in counters, with most travellers saying they were not affected by the latest developments.

Mr Prashant Singh, 25, an engineering consultant who was travelling to Hyderabad - one of the affected destinations - was not aware that his plane had been switched.

He was thankful, though, that the airline was adopting a "safety-first" stance.

 
 
 

However, his travelling companion had a different view.

Operations manager Kailash Kumar, 25, wondered if it was necessary to ground the B-737 Max 8, especially since the cause of the crash has not been established.

In Indonesia, Garuda and Lion Air, which have also grounded their B-737 Max 8 jets, said they do not expect their customers to be adversely affected either.

Lion Air spokesman Danang Mandala Prihantoro told The Straits Times that none of the airline's flights has been disrupted.

The budget carrier has 10 B-737 Max 8 aircraft, out of a total fleet of 122 planes.

He said: "We're making the best effort to minimise the impact of the grounding."

• Additional reporting by Linda Yulisman


Things to know if you decide to cancel your flight

NEW YORK • The Ethiopian Airlines plane crash that killed 157 people on Sunday has rattled travellers around the world.

Just six months ago, the same model of airplane - a Boeing 737 Max 8, operated by Lion Air - crashed off Indonesia and killed all 189 people on board.

To help travellers understand how to determine what plane they are scheduled to fly on, and their rights if they decide that they do not want to board a Boeing 737 Max 8, The New York Times talked to airlines, advocates for passenger rights and airline experts.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I AM FLYING ON A BOEING 737 MAX 8?

For most travellers, the information about their plane type is available at the time of booking, either during the seat-selection process or elsewhere online.

Experienced travellers often go to FlightStats.com or SeatGuru .com to determine their planes.

Even if passengers determine which type of plane they are booked on, airlines might change planes at the last minute, as required by logistics or a change of weather.

IF I WANT TO CANCEL A FLIGHT SCHEDULED ON THIS PLANE, WHAT ARE MY RIGHTS?

Mr Henrik Zillmer, the chief executive of AirHelp, a company that partners Travelocity to help travellers make claims against airlines, thinks passengers are probably out of luck.

"Travellers can cancel their flights, but would not be eligible to claim compensation if they decide to do so," he said. "They do not have a right to compensation or reimbursement for tickets purchased as it is technically their decision to cancel."

If, however, you are booked on a flight with an airline that has grounded its Boeing 737 Max 8 planes, Mr Zillmer believes you will probably be refunded your fare.

Critically, though, what compensation is due and the laws that protect passengers depend on the departure airport and the home country of the airline.

If you are on a flight in or out of the European Union, or operated by an EU-based airline, Mr Zillmer noted, EU regulations may entitle you to receive compensation of up to US$700 (S$950) per person.

If you are flying elsewhere in the world, though, you might not have another option. Many routes operate on limited timetables and, in some cases, there is no option to change to another flight.

WHAT ABOUT FLIGHT INSURANCE?

Mr Paul Hudson, the president of Flyers Rights, a passenger advocacy group, said that even insurance might not help in these circumstances.

"Insurance would probably protect against government or airline action grounding delays, but not passenger election to change flights," he said.

Ms Julie Loffredi, who is the media relations manager for travel insurance comparison site InsureMyTrip.com, said that fear is usually not a good enough reason for insurers to pay compensation to travellers who cancel their flights.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2019, with the headline 'No major disruptions expected at Changi Airport'. Print Edition | Subscribe