Southwest Airlines was preparing a 737 Max 8 at Charleston International Airport for its return flight Wednesday when President Donald Trump announced that that the entire fleet was indefinitely grounded.
Passengers were still boarding the Dallas-bound jetliner, which never left the gate. After the emergency order was issued, the scheduled 3 p.m. departure was delayed and then canceled.
Southwest is the only carrier at Charleston International to include a 737 Max 8 in its local flight schedule. One arrival and one departure were on the books Wednesday.
The Dallas-based airline downplayed the impact of the grounding order on passengers. It noted that the Max 8 model makes up less than 5 percent of its 750 planes.
“Our goal is to operate our schedule with every available aircraft in our fleet to meet our customers' expectations during the busy spring travel season,” the airline said.
Southwest also said travelers with tickets on a Max 8 can rebook on alternate flights without any fees or fare changes within two weeks of their original departure date.
Two other U.S. carriers that serve Charleston also have added the Max 8 to their fleets.
American Airlines said 24 of its aircraft and 85 of its 6,700 daily departures are affected by the grounding order. It will work with any passengers who need to change their plans.
“Our teams will make every effort to rebook customers as quickly as possible, and we apologize for any inconvenience,” it said.
United Airlines said it's been "working diligently on contingency plans to prepare our fleet to minimize the impact to customers."
"Our MAX aircraft account for roughly 40 flights a day, and through a combination of spare aircraft and rebooking customers, we do not anticipate a significant operational impact as a result of this order," the Chicago-based airline said in a statement. "We will continue to work with our customers to help minimize any disruption to their travel."
At Charleston International, workers could be seen on the tarmac unloading luggage from Southwest's 737 Max 8 around 3 p.m., shortly after the emergency order was issued.
Several passengers who were on the inbound leg of the flight described the trip from Dallas as uneventful.
They also said they would fly on the aircraft again.
“I don’t think they will knowingly send a plane out with a bunch of passengers on it that has a problem,” said Renae Carpenter, who's visiting Charleston with husband E.J. and their six children before heading to Orlando next week.
Tom and Carol Feeney of New Mexico flew into Charleston as part of a South Carolina vacation.
“It was perfectly normal,” he said of the trip.
Kelly Abraham of Phoenix agreed. She’s making a stop in Charleston before heading south to Savannah for this weekend’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities.
“It was just like any other flight,” she said. “I’d fly on it again.”