Am I Rebooking My American 737 MAX Flight?

In light of Ethiopian Airlines’ recent Boeing 737 MAX crash (and the 737 MAX crash months prior), virtually every airline and aviation authority outside of the US and Canada has temporarily grounded the plane.

The two sides to this situation

There are strong opinions on both sides here. Some say that concern over the aircraft is little more than paranoia, while others say it’s unconscionable that US airlines continue to fly the plane, and that the FAA hasn’t done anything.

I don’t think anyone can say with 100% certainty that there’s not something wrong with the plane. Similarly, I don’t think anyone can say with 100% certainty that there is something wrong with the plane, though following the Lion Air crash we do know that some of the features of the 737 MAX weren’t properly explained to pilots.

So this comes down to how high of a price airlines, passengers, Boeing, and our economy, are willing to pay to ensure these planes are safe.

When it comes to grounding 737 MAX aircraft in the US, there are some compelling arguments on both sides, in my opinion. In favor of continuing to fly the plane:

  • The Allied Pilots Association (representing American pilots) says their pilots feel confident in their ability to fly the 737 MAX
  • American’s 737 MAX aircraft are the only ones equipped with AOA displays, one for each pilot, which they say provides an extra layer of awareness and warning

At the same time, there are some things I find alarming about the lack of action in the US:

  • Every single relevant aviation authority and/or airline outside the US and Canada has grounded the plane
  • It’s reported that Boeing’s CEO, Dennis Muilenburg (Dennis Boeing for short), called President Trump to plead his case for the plane not being grounded, which makes me slightly uneasy
  • It’s also reported that Boeing 737 MAX pilots in the US have filed at least five complaints in a federal database regarding the plane, with problems related to the autopilot during the ascent phase of the flight; one pilot called the flight manual for the plane “inadequate and almost criminally insufficient”

My situation involving the 737 MAX

Obviously this pales in comparison to the events that have occurred, but I figured I’d share the situation I’m in, since I know a lot of people are in similar situations.

Next week I have to fly from Washington back to Miami. I need to fly after a certain time, and the only nonstop flight from any Washington-area airport to Miami is on an American Boeing 737 MAX. I was planning on taking that flight long before this situation arose.

To add to this, I planned the trip so that I’d get home shortly before Ford needs to leave on a trip, meaning I’d have dog sitting duties.

So, what’s my plan? Personally, if I were single and parent-less, I’d probably take this flight. Even if I did have safety concerns, the odds are still statistically in my favor. I don’t put much thought into airline safety, and I’ll also gladly fly airlines like Pakistan Airlines and TAAG Angola, which I realize others wouldn’t set foot on. Because statistically just about any air transportation is still safer than just about any car ride you’ll take.

But here’s the thing. I have a mother and I have a husband. A day after this happened, my mom said “promise me you won’t fly one of those MAX planes.” Ford actually has similarly strong opinions, and has asked me not to fly the plane. I appreciate their concern, and I’ll respect that.

I’ll avoid the 737 MAX not because I’m worried I’ll die, but rather because it’s worth me going out of my way to put my loved ones at ease. Fortunately there’s a JetBlue flight from Washington to Fort Lauderdale. Fort Lauderdale is significantly less convenient for me, but I’ll take an extra 30 minute Uber ride to put my loved ones at ease.

Bottom line

Personally I’d probably still fly the 737 MAX, not because I’m convinced there’s nothing wrong with it, but rather because the odds are still in my favor. However, I also have loved ones, and I think their concerns are reasonable. Therefore I’ll take a less convenient and less comfortable flight in order to avoid this aircraft.

This is also why I personally find American’s current stance of not letting people rebook to be heartless. People fly US airlines with the confidence of knowing that they’re choosing a safe airline with an excellent safety record.

Regardless of whether there’s a problem with the 737 MAX or not, a lot of people are really, really scared. Nobody should have to board a commercial plane nervous, given the two unresolved crashes we’ve seen. This isn’t about safety, this is just about common courtesy and people having a legitimate reason to be concerned, in my opinion.

Assuming they’re not going to ground the plane, I at least appreciate Southwest’s stance. “We stand behind the plane, but we understand people are concerned, so we’ll let you change flights at no cost.”

I’m curious where you guys stand on this. To those of you already booked on a 737 MAX, are you rescheduling? Do others plan on avoiding the 737 MAX?

Comments

  1. Ammerican is a garbage airline with less room than Spirit Airlines on their 737 MAX. I’m not surprised that they are not letting people rebook. The FAA Is shirking its duty by not grounding these planes. But the worst of all is Boeing, by continuing to be in denial mode.

    It’s just a matter of time before this plane is grounded, and even if it isn’t, no one will want to fly on it and they will have to take it out of service.

  2. I think fair enough. If my wife pleaded with me not to fly it (even if I had no problem with it), I wouldn’t want to cause her some distress.

  3. I have an upcomming flight from AA SDQ-MIA with my 3 kids and wife. I won’t take that risk. AA is unwilling to change my flight to 737-800 which flights earlier that day, so I Will wait 1 week to see if AA ground their 737MAX, if not will change to another airline or flight -will assume it as paying for an insurance for my family-

  4. why do you say that JetBlue is less comfortable than AA? I prefer B6, especially their E190s since there are no middle seats. Is it just that you can’t get an upgrade?

  5. @ raksiam — Should have clarified, sorry. The 737 MAX was a definite upgrade, as first is wide open.

  6. you wouldn’t catch me on a B737 max at the moment – even though the chance of something going wrong is tiny, it’s at least one order of magnitude higher than on any other short haul jet.

  7. I’m booked on a Southwest flight for work that uses the MAX 8. I have a family, so I’m not risking it because of Boeing’s corrupt influence over the feds. I ended up booking an alternate flight on Alaska (on an ex-Virgin A320) and will have to pay an extra $200 out of pocket since my employer cares more about $$ than safety.

    I saw on Twitter that some companies like Chevron are not allowing employees to fly on MAX 8 planes

  8. I think North America is not exhibiting “abundance of caution” that is usually called for in these kinds of scenarios, but…

    What exactly makes the parents/spouses/relatives/kids’ concern “legitimate”? This plane conundrum is a very bad example, but at what point one challenges mass-opinion vs. cold-headed (hearted?) reasoning?

  9. I’ll avoid the AA 737MAX because of the seating they installed first. Atrocious management to put in such terrible seats

  10. @Lucky

    Looks like there are other late options as well. Southwest flies nonstop from BWI to FLL and has 3 evening nonstops each day.

    Of course, if DCA is closer to where you are coming from, that would take precedence. Only pointing out the Southwest flight because they do not come up in online search engines, so it could of been missed.

  11. @ Izzi — Good point, thanks! In my case the JetBlue alternative works, and BWI-FLL would be way out of the way in both directions. Appreciate the heads up, though.

  12. Interesting how opinions have changed from “yeah, I will fly the MAX, super comfortable, no problem” and now easy to say “well, for the comfort of my loved ones”. Just admit you were wrong to begin with and cut your losses.

  13. Crashes just don’t happen anymore (baring intentional/nut job pilots and military) so to have two crashes in 5 months on a new aircraft is pretty insane. The FAA/Boeing are in complete denial.

  14. You should rebook, not because it’s a MAX, but because it’s American Airlines! Take the train or reroute (which you’ve done). Either way, even if you think it’s fine to fly, you never know, the airlines might bend to public pressure and ground them (most likely cancelling your flight) anyway.

  15. Ben, if you can, take the brightline train from FLL to MIA, It’s a $10 uber ride from both airports the train station. It will also be a worth while review for the blog as it opens up MIA, FLL and PBI as options to fly into.

  16. @Lucky. I was thinking of exactly what “listen” asked (since you only mentioned your mom). Hope your dad is still alive and well!

  17. I think you made the right call, Ben.

    If it was a choice between taking a MAX flight and not going, I’d probably take the flight. But with other aircraft available, I plan to avoid this airliner for the time being.

    Years ago I lost a flight attendant friend on the Western Airlines DC10 that crashed at Mexico City’s airport. This was the THIRD accident involving the DC10, and the one that finally brought about the months-long grounding of the aircraft…

  18. Come on Lucky you are better than this! Pakistan airlines is an extremely reliable airline with one of the best maintenance teams in the south asian region people gladly fly the airline and many full 777s takeoff from Pakistani airports
    If Pakistan airlines wasn’t reliable then i wouldnt expect them to fly to Toronto,Paris,London and many reputable airports around the world
    Also Pakistan airlines once provided maintenance for Emirates!!

  19. With the 2 accidents on the 737 Max. You are more than 2500 times more likes likely to die in an accident on the 737 Max vs a car accident. Normally you are over twice as likely to die in a car accident vs a commercial plane accident.

  20. Shame on Boeing and American airline for putting the safety of people in harms way money is definitely their God. Just own up to the correction needed and repent of the lives that were lost and compensate those families who suffer the loss of their love ones. Have compassion after all it could have been your family .correct the problem so the blood will not be on your hands,it’s the right thing to do. You will reap what you sow

  21. I appreciate that Southwest is letting customers change their flights for free, but doesn’t Southwest ALWAYS let customers change their flights for free? Am I missing something here?

  22. @James, can you explain that math? I’m curious.

    As to everyone else… this herd mentality is interesting. The most informed people in the world are Boeing and the FAA. Why does anything else matter? General distrust? I don’t understand this at all.
    If both were pilot error, the rest of the world looks so silly… or are they smart because it hurts Boeing and the US? Interesting….

  23. I think Boeing is being incredibly dodgy with this situation, even since the previous Lion Air incident. I also think it speaks volumes that The United States remains the only country to not ground the Max as of yet. I might even dare say this is politically motivated. Grounding an aircraft that’s American made due to a deathly flaw certainly doesn’t make Boeing look good. Ben, I think it’s best to avoid flying this aircraft until we get some more concrete and hopefully credible answers as to what’s going on.

  24. @ Andrew – Southwest does allow customers to “change” flights for free but normally still charges the fare difference. It seems that Southwest is allowing these changes through next week.

    However, I have a flight in June and August on the 737 MAX and I currently am ineligible for waived fare differences.

  25. Andrew,

    You can change your flight with Southwest but the prices increase generally the the closer your booking date for the new flight gets to departure. So usually if you had booked the flight 3 weeks ago for $100 and now it was $400 then you could change without a penalty fee but you would still be on the hook for an extra $300 for the fare difference. In this case Southwest is waiving the fare difference so it is a significant amount of money that they are giving up to do this.

    Hope this helps.

  26. @Misha the FAA grounded all Boeing 787s before any serious accidents had taken place, purely due to safety concerns about the batteries.

    What has changed so dramatically at the agency that you think they now wouldn’t ground a plane if they believed it had an inherent flaw that had already caused two crashes??

    This insistence that the FAA and Boeing are corrupt is so tiresome. As if neither cared at all about safety… It seems to me media pressure and fact-free statements like yours are largely driving this grounding.

  27. I just got this from a forum.
    _____________________________

    Airbus: Hey, I am putting a new engine on A320 and I call this wonder NEO.
    Boeing: I am doing better and putting a new engine on 737. I call this masterpiece MAX.
    Boeing’s engineer 1: We have a problem. These new engines are larger than the previous ones. No adequate ground clearance.
    Boeing’s engineer 2: Easy. Mount them higher and farther forward on the wings.
    Boeing’s engineer 3: No, we will have a destabilizing effect , especially at lower speeds during high-banked…
    Boeing’s engineer 2: Don’t worry. We have an app, sorry system, for that. It is called MCAS.
    Boeing’s engineer 4: Good. Let’s give training to pilots about this new system.
    Boeing people 1: No, we promised airlines to minimize the costs of pilot retraining.
    Boeing people 2: He is right. They will not buy MAX if there is costly and time-consuming training.
    Boeing’s engineer 4: Oh. At least, let’s make them know about it.
    Boeing people 1: Yeah, somebody prepare a briefing.
    Boeing people 2: HOORAY. Here is a shiny presentation for the customer.
    Boeing’s engineer 4: This is insane.
    Boeing people 1: Relax. We don’t hide anything. Everything is written in maintenance manuals.
    Boeing Engineer 5: Knock knock
    FAA: Who’s there?
    Boeing Engineer 5: Boeing ODA.
    FAA: ODA who?
    Boeing Engineer 5: ODA who does self-certification and whose engineers sign off on their own work on behalf of you.
    FAA: Here is your certificate. Now, go away. I am listening ” I don’t care, I love it” song.
    Boeing Engineer 6: Hey guys, here is the certificate from FAA.
    European Regulators: Good job.
    Brazilian Regulator: I don’t like you and I don’t like FAA. I require that pilots be made familiar with the change.
    Boeing: Whatever. I married your old girlfriend.
    After the accidents
    FAA: The investigation has just begun and to date we have not been provided data to draw any conclusions or take any actions but we stopped listening to that song. I ensure you that we will ground 737 MAXs just as soon as one crashes in the US.

  28. I’m scheduled to fly SJO to Clt on 16 March and like the last time on 737 MAX. When the pilots of American boycott this aircraft and refuse to fly in I will too. Safe tvl everyone!

  29. I rebooked my MIA – LGA flight on 737 MAX to JetBlue from FLL loosing money so far as AA reused to refund

  30. @Lucky thought this would be a fitting time to say how much the I appreciate how *grounded* you are. You always approach topics reasonably and logically, unlike that other guy. Thank you!

  31. You know I think it could be argued that you’re plan could theoretically be putting you in more danger. Considering how much more dangerous car travel is that air travel, an extra 30 minutes on the road to drive to FLL is probably statistically more dangerous than 2 hours on a 737 MAX. Just a thought.

  32. I don’t mean to be blunt, but you didn’t mention your dad, so has he passed away? And if so, my sincerest condolences. And, on behalf of all readers, please don’t fly on the MAX, because, just in case, we all love your blog and reviews and articles and your personality of course and we would hate to see anything change that.

  33. @ Bruce — No, he hasn’t passed away, he just just generally doesn’t get into my business when it comes to safety stuff, and trusts my judgment more.

  34. @Dave:
    I rebooked my MIA – LGA flight on 737 MAX to JetBlue from FLL loosing money so far as AA reused to refund

    Are you eligible for a refund if you book on another airline? I thought you can only switch to another AA flight that doesn’t operate with the 737MAX

  35. @globetrotter, it depends on what you mean by “this Boeing plane.” United does not fly the MAX 8, but does have the MAX 9 in its fleet.

  36. @ Kerry – ” the FAA grounded all Boeing 787s before any serious accidents had taken place, purely due to safety concerns about the batteries. What has changed so dramatically at the agency that you think they now wouldn’t ground a plane if they believed it had an inherent flaw that had already caused two crashes??”

    I think that most of us would note that the President and the Administration has changed.

    Given the Administration’s stance on the EPA, clean water, the NRA, coal, the banks – just to name a few – I would speculate that the most notable change is concern for money over concern for…well, anything else.

  37. @Joe – you’ve put your finger on it.

    The Trump corruption circus colors everything in his administration. I simply don’t trust that an ostensibly non-political regulatory decision is necessarily made in the absence of some sort of financial influence. I didn’t have that worry with previous administrations of either party. At least not as much.

  38. Boeing’s response is similar to GM’s reaction to the ignition switch issue and Ford’s denial of the problems with Pinto’s blowing up. The new nickname for pilots flying the 737Max is Kamikaze.

  39. @Lucky

    Looks like you can now fly DCA-MIA after all on AA. Plane will most likely be switched to another 737 aircraft, as they are now grounded in the US.

  40. @mattt: “FAA and Boeing… the most informed in the world”?? Lol, some ignorance showing right there. You might need to leave the USA to see that there is a world out there, and no the US is not as relevant as you think (especially the last couple of years).

  41. I am a CEO of a medium sized company with many of my staff on monthly international and domestic flights. I am also Executive Platinum Status on AA. Given Mr. Parker’s management decision to put his staff and customers at risk, I have instituted a company wide policy NOT to have any one my staff fly AA. I wonder what else Mr. Parker knows and is not responding to. His primary goal is clearly NOT safety. I care about my team and their families too much to put them at risk. I have lost trust in the Airline’s management.

  42. @lucky
    I’m with you on this. I wouldn’t care if my flight was on a max. My wife asked me not to board one, so I am respecting her wishes.
    By the time I saw the post and commented, individual #1 grounded them all…

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