After a worldwide grounding that lasted almost two years the infamous Boeing 737 Max is cleared for take off once again.
American Airlines operated the Boeing 737 Max from Miami, Florida (MIA) to New York LaGuardia (LGA) on December 29, 2020 after its mandatory suspension from commercial service.
The flight will remain in the history of modern aviation as the fist commercially operated after the grounding of the Boeing in March, 2019 when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the U. S. and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) ordered the type unsafe for flying.
FAA, the Department of Transportation, and other independent regulators allowed the Boeing 737 Max to fly commercially in the U.S. again.
The Boeing 737 MAX was suspended from service after two fatal accidents in late 2018 and in early 2019 involving the type. The accidents led to the unfortunate deaths of 346 passengers and crew.
A faulty piece of automated flight control called MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) became the most probable cause for the crashes and in the center of their investigations.
However, will travelers trust the manufacturer Boeing and the FAA that the plane is safe to fly again?
Two days before the FAA official re-certification of the Max the aviation analyst Jon Ostrower asked in a poll his 91.4K followers on Twitter if they’d feel comfortable flying on the Max after it returns to services?
Revisited for a fifth time. Simple, but important, question: When the 737 Max returns to service, will you feel comfortable flying on the airplane?
— Jon Ostrower (@jonostrower) November 16, 2020
From the 3200 who answered, surprisingly, sixty percent answered “Yes”; they will feel comfortable flying the plane.
Ostrower asked a valid question on behalf of many travelers. Is it safe to fly with the Max again? What can we do if we don’t want to fly with the Max?
In anticipation that travelers will hesitate to board the 737 Max airlines set up special information webpages in an effort to boost passenger confidence in an already constricted travel demand due the coronavirus pandemic.
When making a flight booking most airlines and travel websites will list the type of aircraft assigned for each flight. Let’s say the Boeing 737 Max shows up on your itinerary and you don’t want to fly on the aircraft because you fear its safety. Simply, terminate that booking before confirming it. Start over with another booking by changing the departure date, for example.
It is important to understand that an aircraft for a particular flight is subject to change by the airline even on the day of the travel. Therefore, it’s also possible to find that you’ll fly with the Max at the flight gate. Then you’re at the mercy of the airline as you are bound by their travel policy.
To avoid being cornered at the gate book with an airline that doesn’t operate the 737 Max aircraft at all.
The Max in the U.S.
American Airlines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines are among the biggest Max operators in the U.S. They all outline specific information the 737 Max.
If you don’t want to fly on the 737 Max with American, according to the airline, you can rebook on the next available flight in the same cabin for free. You can also opt out to cancel your flight for a travel credit on a future flight, or change your trip within 300 miles at no extra charge.
United Airlines offers similar, accommodating conditions. United will rebook or refund your tickets at no additional cost.
Southwest Airlines is the biggest Boeing 737 operator in the U.S. As of December 2019 the airline reports 747 aircraft and 34 of them are of the Max series.
The airline explains how the Max will enter into service after the grounding and what steps it will take to ensure passenger safety.
Southwest has a temporary policy to allow passengers booked on a 737 Max to request a change to a flight on one of the other 737s types the airline operates. The flight change will be subject to seat availability. If the new flight includes the same origin and destination cities, there will be no fare difference charged. It’s also possible that the flight a passenger changes to may ultimately depart on a 737 Max. Aircraft type always remains subject to change per Southwest’s Contract of Carriage.
The Max in Europe
Europe‘s largest airline, Ryanair, is expected to operate in total of 210 Max aircraft now on order from Boeing.
The International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG) will put in service 200 aircraft across its network followed by Turkish Airlines with 75, and TUI Group with 72.
IAG consists of British Airways, Iberia, BMI, Vueling, Aer Lingus, and Air Europa.
In the wake of the incidents it becomes apparent that Boeing rushed to produce the Max grossly overlooking important safety issues. A previously reputable company Boeing is now mired in culture of disregard to safety. Perhaps a stain that will stick with the company for the foreseeable future.
Boeing wanted to compete hastily with its European rival Airbus. The 737 Max was intended to be a direct competitor to the A320 Neo. In the process Boeing decided not to invest into creating a new aircraft type but rater modify their existing 737 series aircraft to make the 737 Max.
However, the modification created numerous aerodynamic issues one of which is having the aircraft pitch up during flight. It is the result of fitting bigger and heavier engines under the wings then what originally the air-frame was designed for.
As a result Boeing develops MCAST to cope with pitch issues. Furthermore, allegations claim the manufacturer failed to disclose MCAS specific in-flight capabilities and did not require additional pilot training. Pilots flying the Max did not even know about the MCAS capabilities until after the two fatal incidents.
The Max was initially certified by the FAA and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in March 2017. At that time FAA deemed the 737 Max airworthy. Three years later FAA had re-certify the Max once again.
However, the nearly 350 deaths that stained the image of FAA and Boeing will not be forgotten for many years to come. Or perhaps not until all the lawsuits filed against Boeing by the victims’ families are resolved.