Skip to main content

Alaska Airlines grounds 65 planes after incident on Portland flight, feds to investigate

Two airplanes parked on a runway with mountains in the background.
Alaska Airlines grounded its full fleet of 65 Boeing MAX-9 aircraft after a mid-air incident on a plane. | Source: Ted S. Warren

An Alaska Airlines flight from Portland to Ontario, California, became a nightmare for passengers late Friday when a section of the fuselage broke free from the plane, essentially leaving a gaping hole in the side of the aircraft approximately 30 minutes into the flight.

The plane, with 171 passengers and six crew members, safely returned to Portland.

No one was seriously injured, and no one was seated adjacent to the area that came loose, although air travel experts emphasize that anyone who had not been wearing a seat belt would have been lost.

In response, Alaska grounded all 65 of its Boeing MAX-9 aircraft until technicians could inspect each plane. This does not represent the airline’s full fleet, however.

Asked how the incident might affect operations at San Francisco International Airport, Alaska Airlines referred The Standard to a statement by CEO Ben Minicucci saying the airline will inspect its planes. On Saturday morning, flight-tracking websites showed only a handful of delays and cancellations at SFO in the last 24 hours.

Late Saturday morning, the Federal Aviation Administration later stated that it had grounded 171 Boeing MAX-9 aircraft pending inspection. It was not immediately clear which carriers other than Alaska might be affected. Inspections take between four and eight hours, the FAA said.

Although there were no fatalities in Saturday’s mid-air incident, it was not the first episode involving Boeing MAX planes that has caused concern. The MAX series, the successor aircraft to Boeing’s 737 planes, was grounded worldwide for 20 months starting in 2019 after crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia killed everyone aboard.

Alaska Airlines also contended with an unusual incident last fall when an off-duty pilot, allegedly deprived of sleep and high on magic mushrooms, tried to crash a jet bound for SFO.

This story has been updated to note that the Federal Aviation Administration has grounded some Boeing 737 MAX-9 aircraft.

Astrid Kane can be reached at