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737 Max

Are Flyers Forgetting the 737 MAX’s Troubled History?

Are Flyers Forgetting the 737 MAX’s Troubled History?
Joe Cortez

A new survey by Reuters and Ipsos suggests only four out of ten Americans recall the two fatal accidents of the Boeing 737 MAX, which resulted in a grounding lasting nearly two years. But when reminded of the airframe’s history, 57 percent said they would avoid flying on the next-generation aircraft.

The flying public may be distancing the Boeing 737 MAX from the two fatal accidents that killed over 300 souls and forced the aircraft into a 20-month worldwide grounding. The data is one aspect of a survey released by Reuters and Ipsos asking passengers about their travel habits moving into 2021.

Four-in-Ten Recall the Accidents, While Three Percent Say Aircraft Model is Important

When the survey group was asked if they were familiar with the crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, less people responded affirmatively than in previous polls. Only 39 percent said they were familiar, a drop of roughly 11 percent from the last time Reuters and Ipsos asked the public.

However, most people still attach the 737 MAX to the two tragedies. When asked about aircraft, nearly three-in-four correctly identified the 737 MAX as the airframe involved in the accidents – but it’s still down from 82 percent in the previous survey.

Although fewer flyers correctly recall the incidents, a reminder would be enough for them to avoid flying aboard the airframe altogether. Just over half of those asked said they were “not likely” to fly on the 737 MAX, while 37 percent say they would likely fly on a 737 MAX-operated flight after six months or more of successful flights.

As flyers consider their travel plans in a post-COVID-19 world, their minds are not focused on airplanes flown by carriers. Instead, their focus is on affordability, and what safety measures airlines are taking during the pandemic. In the group, 41 percent said price was their most important factor, while nearly one-quarter said “COVID-19 safety measures,” including blocked middle seats or face covering policies, were their biggest concerns. Only three percent said the aircraft type was the most important factor.

Avoiding 737 MAX May Be a Difficult Task Starting in 2021

Regardless of flyers’ feelings about the 737 MAX, avoiding flying aboard one may be difficult, depending on where you live. American Airlines will begin flying one 737 MAX flight between Miami and New York starting Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, but says passengers can opt-out if they wish. Alaska Airlines will add 68 additional 737 MAX airframes with options for more, while Ryanair increased their MAX order by 75. United Airlines is not planning to fly their 737 MAX airframes until February 2021, while Southwest Airlines – which owns the largest MAX fleet in the U.S. – will begin re-introducing the aircraft into their operations by the second quarter of 2021.

“We continue to work closely with global regulators and our customers to support the safe return of the fleet to service around the world,” a Boeing spokesperson told Reuters, when asked about the public opinion poll.

View Comments (14)


  1. Mabuk dan gila

    December 28, 2020 at 5:24 pm

    They say only 40% of Americans recall accidents associated with the 737 MAX. I’d hazard to guess that less than 40% of Americans could even answer correctly if ask them if they were flying in an Airbus or in a Boeing. Most (non-Flyertalk) flyers just know they fly in “jets”, which are usually pretty safe and not a subject of much thought or concern for most people most of the time.

  2. dhturk

    December 29, 2020 at 6:35 am

    Have a friend who is a retired SW pilot who flew the MAX, amongst other aircraft. Without going into out lengthy discussion, he stated that while there were issues with the Max that needed to be resolved, they were accentuated by the minimal training a lot of foreign pilots get. Particularly their reluctance to switch off “automatic” systems and reverting to manual controls when an issue arises. In the second crash, he stated that the report read that the pilot switched off the crash cashing program to gain constrain control, but almost immediately turned it back on.
    Bottom line for me is to only fly major airlines (primarily US and European) who put their pilots through extensive training and testing.

  3. jjwhelan

    December 29, 2020 at 6:46 am

    Evidently you have forgotten about the rudder reversal issues the 737 had in the 90’s. I’m sure you have flown a 737 since then. Why would now be any different?

  4. am1108

    December 29, 2020 at 7:31 am

    I think there are a lot of flyers as a whole who are more concentrated on the Pandemic and not flying anyways. Also headlines come and go so they were probably worried about it at the beginning but forgot since it’s been two years.

  5. dliesse

    December 29, 2020 at 10:14 am

    Does anyone remember that the 727 had four crashes in one year as a result of pilots not being thoroughly familiar with its flying characteristics? How about the DeHavilland Comet because engineers didn’t fully understand the effects of repeated pressurization/depressurization cycles? There are many more examples.

    It’s unfortunate that we need these incidents to learn, but we’re not born with omniscience. The MAX issues are a little different in that they could have been foretold (just ask Air France, who have a 340 at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean because of a lack of redundancy on a flight-critical system), but the point is that we do learn from these tragedies and make things safer going forward.

  6. BC Shelby

    December 29, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    …the difference with the 727 and Comet, they were entirely new concepts at the time. the 737 is a essentially 53 year old design but with new avionics and new engines. That does make a difference as Boeing pretty much milked it for all they could instead of turning to a clean sheet design or one based on a much newer aircraft at the time (eg, the 757). Without MCAS the 737 has a “designed in” stability issue that would normally require new type certification for flight crews which airlines didn’t want, hence the addition to what in engineering terms is called a “kludge”. The accountants at Boeing basically made the important decisions, not the engineers as in the past. The 787 looks to be another victim of this, with Boeing’s plan to move all final; assembly to the South Carolina plant which is non-union (as a cost cutting measure) and has been the focus of serious QA issues.

    All I can say is I’m pretty content with travelling domestically on Delta (former Northwest customer) and JetBlue as well as internationally on Virgin (which is moving to the A-350).

  7. cairns

    December 29, 2020 at 12:59 pm

    dliesse nailed it. Nearly every aircraft has had issues at one time or another. We learn from them and move on.

  8. Carolinian

    December 29, 2020 at 4:23 pm

    I would not fly one of these birds until it has several years of trouble free operation. This one is an engineering nightmare designed around objectives other than safety.

  9. MEaton

    December 30, 2020 at 8:14 am

    Most of us on this site are frequent flyers, and as such, we pay close attention to aircraft incidents, especially a fatal crash involving a large airline, as the 2 Max crashes were. I read every article regarding the crashes. I believe the engineers/programmers who wrote the original code for the Rapid Descent warning and reaction system and the people who tested it, have to live with the events for the rest of their lives. Boeing has been building planes for a very long time and my personal opinion is that the plane and all its avionics systems, is now one of the most tested aircraft ever built. I would be totally comfortable flying the Max any time it’s assigned to my routes.

  10. cairns

    December 30, 2020 at 1:12 pm

    There are far more than new avionics and engines on the Max. And the 737 was built around a 707 fuselage.

    I’d get on one tomorrow.

  11. Snuggs

    December 31, 2020 at 7:06 am

    Seems the only conclusion one can draw from the article is exactly the conclusion one could draw from almost any aspect of life… And I’m not so sure it is a modern/current phenomena…
    is that few remember the facts, they remember the hype. They remember the hype, because it is rammed down their throats.

    The clear answer is to fly only Airbus products… You know, the ones that never have issues because the European governments refuse to acknowledge them. Regardless of potential or actual risk. Isn’t it interesting, the lack of discussion of the problem the A330 had in somewhat similar circumstances, except their issue manifested at altitude. Of course, you can’t be a smug anti-american American and bash Airbus.

  12. Gizzabreak

    December 31, 2020 at 3:37 pm

    Of course Flyers are forgetting that lack of competent training in third world countries can end in tears, just as they forget that the Max has significant time under its belt with first world operators and pilots without insurmountable difficulties. Yes, it proved to have a ‘do this or else that’ characteristic … but so does flying a DH82. Never mind, after the interest that recertification has ignited has died down (in a week or so) and the diehard ‘I ain’t going if it’s a Boeing’ find the service they want is only operated by a Max … and decide to fly on them after all … we can all forget about Max ‘issues’ and think of Max for what it will always be … a derivative of the vastly successful 737 family and a narrow gutted, claustrophobic alternative to the Airbus 3xx family.

  13. travelnewbie

    January 9, 2021 at 8:00 pm

    Nope, will never forget. We booked a couple of tickets this week and made sure it was not on a 737. Alaska bought 28 of these, so we threw their cc in the trash. We never fly SW so that was not a problem.

  14. Sydneyberlin

    January 11, 2021 at 5:12 pm

    If it’s Boeing, I ain’t going. Too much dodgy chasing the bottom line over safety recently. For me it’s Airbus if at all possible over Boeing any time!

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