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The Wall Street Journal: United, Alaska Air among airlines snapping up unsold Boeing 737 Max inventory as vaccines fuel rebound in air travel

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A faster-than-expected recovery in domestic air travel is helping Boeing Co. find new homes for unclaimed 737 Max jets whose buyers walked away or collapsed during the pandemic.

Some airlines are buying the orphaned jets amid a vaccine-fueled travel rebound in the U.S. and other parts of the world. The purchases have left the Chicago-based plane maker
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with around 10 stored Max aircraft needing buyers, people familiar with the matter said. Last July, it counted around 100.


Major U.S. carriers such as  United Airlines Holdings  Inc.  and  Alaska Air Group  Inc.  are among recent buyers of the unclaimed Max planes — referred to as white tails as they aren’t painted in airline colors.

A year ago, airlines were parking planes in deserts and some permanently retired swaths of their fleets as they prepared for a protracted downturn. While many business travelers have yet to return and lucrative international routes are still on pause, domestic air travel has been on an upswing in recent months, U.S. airline executives say.

See: Vaccinated and need a holiday? CDC eases travel advice to more than 100 countries.

Also: Airlines demand trans-Atlantic travel restarts, as Biden prepares for G-7 trip

Flights in the U.S. are 84% full, on average, amid a surge of summer travel. The number of people passing daily through airport security checkpoints has neared 2 million recently — a level last reached in March 2020. While previous travel rebounds have been cut short by new waves of infections and restrictions, airline executives are more confident now that the recovery has begun in earnest and their finances have started to stabilize.

Carriers have responded by adding flights, making plans to bring back idled crew and hiring new pilots and flight attendants. They are also starting to expand their fleets.

An expanded version of this report appears at WSJ.com.

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