Worried Fliers Ask What Plane They’re Flying on After Second Fatal Crash
(Bloomberg) -- For many fliers, “Am I booked on a 737 Max?” has become a crucial question after Boeing Co.’s new plane was involved in a second mysterious crash that killed all on board.
Travelers are shaken by the two catastrophes involving the Boeing 737 Max 8, which came just five months apart and killed 346 people. Passengers are turning to social media to express their fears about the plane’s safety and to seek assurance from the airlines that fly the jet.
“We are fielding some questions from customers asking if their flight will be operated by the Boeing 737 MAX 8,” said Brian Parrish, a spokesman for Southwest, which doesn’t charge a fee to change reservations. “Our customer relations team is responding to these customers individually.”
Chinese authorities responded to the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight Sunday by grounding the 737 Max, followed by Indonesia and the Cayman Islands. Ethiopian Airlines said it won’t fly its remaining 737 Max 8s.
Regulators in other nations, including the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, are sticking with the plane while investigations are underway. Carriers including Southwest Airlines Co., United Continental Holdings Inc., American Airlines Group Inc. and Canada’s WestJet Airlines Ltd. have reaffirmed their confidence in its safety.
Airlines declined to say how many passengers were seeking to change their flights. Carriers also dealt with questions like how travelers could tell what type of plane they’re booked on, what routes are flown with the Max and whether a Boeing 737-800 is the same as a 737 Max 8.
Southwest is the largest Max operator, flying 34 of the planes. American operates 24 and WestJet has 13.
Other U.S. and Canadian airlines are enforcing their ticket-change rules and charging fees for nervous customers who seek to swap from the Max. It’s a tricky dilemma for carriers: If they allow customers to rebook from a 737 Max flight without a penalty, they’re implicitly lending support to the notion that the new plane isn’t as safe as other aircraft they fly.
“Our standard policies for changes still apply,” said American Airlines. The carrier had 88 Max 8 flights scheduled Monday.
Fees to change tickets can cost up to $200 on a domestic itinerary, depending on when the switch is made, and $750 for international flights, according to airline websites.
American emphasized its belief in the safety of the 737 Max 8 in a message to its pilots and flight attendants on Monday.
“American will never operate an unsafe aircraft,” Kimball Stone, vice president of flight operations, and Jill Surdek, vice president of flight services, said in the statement. Extensive flight data, “along with our analysis, gives us confidence in the safe operation of all of our aircraft, including the 737 Max 8.”
United, which is also keeping its fees in place for rebookings, is parsing the difference between Boeing’s Max 8 and Max 9 on its social media accounts, noting that it operates the larger 9 and not the model that crashed in Asia and Africa. United has brought in 14 new Max aircraft since April, and is awaiting delivery of 122 more.
Passengers weren’t alone in being nervous about the aircraft. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents workers at American, told its members they would not be forced to fly the Max 8 if they felt unsafe. The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA called on the FAA to investigate the Max.
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