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737 Max

The 737 MAX Is “Fixed.” Here’s What Airlines Plan to Do About It

The 737 MAX Is “Fixed.” Here’s What Airlines Plan to Do About It
Joe Cortez

Boeing says that they’ve updated the software for the troubled 737 MAX and many airlines say that they’re behind it. One CEO even promised to board the first flight. But will customers be eager to board the first MAX’s with software updates? And will they have to? Or be allowed to change aircraft? It depends on the airline. 

Shortly after Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 became the aircraft’s second fatal crash in less than six months, all 737 Max aircraft were grounded worldwide with no timeline on when they might return to the skies once more. In the weeks since the ground order, there has been wild speculation about the reasons why two 737 MAX planes crashed in such quick succession. Some reports suggest critical safety measures were offered as higher-priced options, while internal sources claim the Chicago-based manufacturer sacrificed safety for productivity.

Now Boeing claims that a software update exists, but although the Joint Authorities Technical Review team (a consortium of international civil aviation authorities) thoroughly reviewed the Boeing 737 Max automated flight control systems earlier this month, they provided no clue as to when the airframes may be re-certified for service.

Meanwhile, airlines and customers continue to speculate when the 737 MAX 8 will fly again. Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary told Bloomberg they expect to see the troubled airframe back in service as soon as “June or July 2019.” But the FAA has a completely different outlook. Speaking at a press conference, BBC News reports acting FAA director Dan Elwell told reporters: “If it takes a year to find everything we need to give us the confidence to lift the [grounding] order so be it.”

Will flyers be forced aboard the 737 MAX when it takes off once again? We looked into several airlines’ published policies in anticipation of the aircraft’s next flight – and passengers’ options vary based on their carrier.

American Airlines

American Airlines’ chief executive Doug Parker has repeatedly put his faith behind the 737 MAX. His airline currently has 24 aircraft grounded under the order, with 76 deliveries remaining unfulfilled. Speaking to NBC News, Parker said: “It’s incredibly important to us that we get to a point where the entire aircraft aviation community feels comfortable that this airplane is ready to get back in the air. And when it is, we’ll be flying in it.”

Will passengers have the option to avoid flying the aircraft? We reached out to American, and they provided the following statement:

“We have the utmost confidence in our fleet, which is flown by our highly-trained pilots. Our customers can be assured that an American Airlines pilot would never operate an unsafe aircraft. Right now, our focus is on the software update and training elements.

We remain confident that the impending software updates, along with these new training element [sic], will lead to recertification of the aircraft soon. Our team continues to work collaboratively with the FAA, Boeing and the Allied Pilots Association in this process.”

When asked if passengers will be allowed to opt out of flying the aircraft, a company spokesperson told us: “We have not made any determination regarding specific policies. However, we will always work to ensure we have policies and procedures in place that take care of our customers and team members.”

Southwest Airlines

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines has one of the most flexible passenger rebooking policies among all American carriers. Instead of charging change fees, passengers are allowed to switch their itineraries by paying any difference in airfare. And should they decide to cancel, the paid airfare is returned as a credit that can be put towards any future flight within one year of the original reservation date.

When it comes to the 737 MAX – Southwest has 34 in their fleet, making them the largest American operator – flyers will be allowed to change their minds about the aircraft without incurring a penalty. Speaking to CNBC, Southwest chief marketing officer Ryan Green said the airline will allow passengers to change their flights away from the 737 MAX without paying any difference in airfare.

United Airlines

United is the third American carrier with the 737 MAX in their fleet, but not the one under scrutiny. Currently, the Chicago-based airline has 14 737 MAX 9 aircraft in their fleet, with 86 remaining on order. When they fly again, Reuters reports airline chief executive Oscar Munoz said he will be on the first United flight.

If passengers don’t have the same confidence in Munoz about the aircraft, Munoz told the public after the company’s annual shareholder meeting that his airline will accommodate passengers. The specifics on his plan have not yet been detailed.

“Just because somebody says it’s safe, you as the flying public aren’t just going to get on the aircraft,” Munoz told reporters, as quoted by the Chicago Tribune. “If people need any kind of adjustments, we will absolutely rebook them.”

FlyDubai

The regional airline operating out of the United Arab Emirates has the second largest order of Boeing 737 Max aircraft among all international carriers. In total, FlyDubai ordered 251 737 Max airframes, including 131 of the troubled Max 8 variant.

Since the international grounding, FlyDubai has remained quiet about how they will reintroduce the aircraft to the flying public. They have also not come forward with a plan to reintroduce it to passengers. When discussing their fleet with Reuters in March 2019, a spokesperson for the company said: “Flydubai continues to work closely with its regulator and Boeing and we value our long-standing relationship with these partners. Our MAX aircraft remain an integral part of our strategy for the future.”

As of today, it remains unknown if passengers of the state-owned airline will be allowed to change their itineraries to avoid the Boeing 737 Max.

Lion Air

Lion Air Flight 610 was the first fatal accident of the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft. On October 29, 2018, the aircraft plunged into the Java Sea 12 minutes after takeoff, killing all 189 souls onboard.

Since the incident, the airline has been quiet about their plans to reintroduce the aircraft to their fleet. The carrier has made no public announcements about the grounded airframe, but instead continue to update the public about the investigation and identification of those lost in the fatal accident.

Ethiopian Airlines

Ethiopian Airlines was the second airline to lose an entire 737 Max 8 aircraft, claiming all souls onboard. The incident launched a massive investigation into the aircraft’s safety and what brought it down, involving authorities from around the world.

Since the accident, Ethiopian has not announced the fate of their remaining airframes. However, they have gone on the record repeatedly to defend their overall safety record with regards to the aircraft.

“Ethiopian Airlines has the largest Aviation Academy in Africa with the most modern training devices and facilities of global standards which is accredited by all required national, regional and international regulatory agencies,” the airline wrote in a press release clarifying their standards. “Ethiopian Airlines is among the very few airlines in the world and the only one in Africa which has acquired and operates the B737 Max 8 full flight simulator.”

Despite this, the carrier regrets that the simulator “was not configured to simulate the MCAS operation by the aircraft manufacturer.” When the ban is lifted, Ethiopian plans on adding all of the safety recommendations, but have not announced how passengers will be treated if they do not want to fly aboard the aircraft.

“Since flight safety is our collective priority and should not be compromised by any means and not a single life should be at risk, we strongly believe that the recommendations made by the preliminary report should be fully implemented,” the company announced in a press release.

Ryanair

Europe’s biggest customer for the 737 Max has no plans to rebook flyers who are concerned over the aircraft’s safety record. In a recent conversation with Bloomberg, Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary stated they plan on reintroducing the aircraft as soon as it becomes available.

“We see no indication yet from passengers of any concern about the Max aircraft,” O’Leary told Bloomberg. “They will love it, and it will be a massive success for Boeing.”

In addition to not introducing any waivers for passengers, the aircraft expects to receive more airframes this year. Ryanair told the news organization they plan on receiving up to five more 737 Max aircraft by October 2019, and 44 more deliveries in place by the third quarter of 2020.

How to avoid flying aboard the Boeing 737 Max aircraft

For passengers still concerned about the 737 Max safety record once the ground order is lifted, there are ways to still avoid the aircraft entirely.

First, call your airline to see if there are any available changes for your aircraft type. In some situations, customer service agents may be able to assist you. Another option is to consider the airlines’ unwritten “Flat Tire Rule,” which allows for flyers to be rebooked on the next available flight if they miss their first departure by less than two hours.

Another option is to purchase “Cancel for Any Reason” travel insurance prior to departure. Much as the name suggests, this type of policy allows travelers to cancel their itinerary over any concern they may have. But don’t expect to get your full money back from your insurance provider: in most policies, flyers may only receive 75 percent of their non-refundable fees due to cancellation.

View Comments (5)

5 Comments

  1. dogcanyon

    May 29, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    … and Boeing’s reputation is “shot” for years to come over this fiasco (and deservedly so).

  2. OZFLYER86

    May 29, 2019 at 6:01 pm

    dogcanyon more like a week.

    The public has already forgotten. Old news. The 737 max will now be the safest aircraft to fly on in the world.

  3. FCfree

    May 30, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    I’m thinking I’d like to see six months of no problems before I get on one.

  4. red75231

    May 30, 2019 at 2:06 pm

    I’ll get on one after all the airlines’ executives have flown it over several months. Until then I’ll be avoiding it.

  5. edgewood49

    June 3, 2019 at 10:19 am

    Joe, its not fixed yet they have found more defective parts. If this keeps going this way I think the Max maybe a bust because who is really going to fly it?

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