American Airlines CEO: Here’s Why Passengers Will Accept Flying On The 737 MAX

American Airlines flew the Boeing 737 MAX before it was grounded, and ordered 100 of the airplanes. They’re committed to the aircraft’s safe return to flying, and they’ve done polling to understand how customers feel about it today – and what will change their minds so that they’ll accept flying on the plane once it’s back in the sky.

After the airline’s fourth quarter earnings call on Thursday, CEO Doug Parker took a question about the MAX during an employee town hall. He laid out the reasons they know that while opinion is largely negative on the plane today, that will change as the year progresses.

  • The FAA re-certifying the plane will change opinion
  • So will actual flights operating safely
  • And the endorsement of the pilots who take the plane up will instill confidence

American’s polling tells them that seeing U.S. pilots confident behind the controls will give them the confidence they need to fly the aircraft again. And as time goes on concerns will dissipate.

Here’s Parker’s full answer on why passengers will change their minds about the MAX:

Polled today, which a lot of companies are doing including ours, asking people “how do you feel about the MAX?” the results are not good. There’s very high awareness of the issue. And there’s real trepidation about whether they would fly it today or not. So that’s clearly a concern.

…I’ll offer just this. One, all of those polls are being taken today. By the time it actually flies a lot more will happen. Of which I believe will make an enormous difference in that customer sentiment.

First off the airplanes will be – whenever this happens, the problem is we don’t know exactly when but let’s assume that the June 30 date that Boeing is now saying I’m sorry they’re saying mid-year so let’s call mid-year June 30. Let’s say June 30 Boeing has the aircraft certified to fly. We still need to train our pilots so we can’t put it into scheduled service of course without trained pilots. That training we’re now being told will require a full motion simulator. So it’ll take us a couple of months at least to get enough pilots trained to be able to fly putting in service.

But the aircraft’s now certified to fly by the FAA. So that’s the one big thing that’s already happened with much awareness. That’ll be a very big deal when the FAA has decided after this incredible scrutiny that this aircraft is as safe as probably the safest airline to fly because of all the scrutiny it’s gone under.

So them to make that decision will be one big event that happens. Then therell be a couple of months before we can return to customer service flying. We will have some number of pilots trained that are qualified to fly just not enough to put it into service yet. We will look to use that to yet to be determined but certainly a number of things we can do. I’ll fly around, try to get my kids – get my kids to go. Those things, media and things like that, to make sure people see it is flying people are flying it. That’ll make a big difference.

But the real thing that’ll make a difference…American Airlines pilots get in the cockpit and say “I am comfortable flying this aircraft. That’s what matters. ..

Of all the polling we’ve done, yes when asked today how to do you feel “trepidation” When asked a follow on question, pick from this menu of items what would make the most difference to you being comfortable flying including media flying around and me flying around. Those two things pale to two things: one, the FAA saying it’s safe to fly, and yes pilots in the United States being willing to fly, particularly I would argue American Airlines pilots who are the best in the business and people know that.

That’s what’s going to make the diffeence. No amount of rebanding or marketing. And the last thing we’d want to do by the way is do anything to suggest that anyone should have any trepidation about it. Anything like – not that we’ve ever thought about, but I’ve seen suggestions “you’re going to need to give lower fares” that makes no sense. That’s the exact opposite message that needs to be sent. Because this aircraft we stand behind, And the FAA stands behind it. And more importantly the pilot whose flying that, the best pilots in the world who don’t take airplanes up until they know everything about them, they’re comfortable doing it that’s what’s gonna matter.

We’ll try and do what we can. Even after all that some people still may not be ready to fly for some period of time, I suspect it will be short, if they’re not prepared to fly it we will do our best to reaccommodate them. But again that airplane – it’s not our issue with the airplane, the airplane is safe and sound, If someone doesn’t want to choose it, says I’m just not comfortable, we’ll do what we do in those cases. We’ll try to find another flight for you later. ..The airplane’s gonna be so well, by that time I think it’ll be less than an issue and certainly over time it’ll go away as it begins flying.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Maybe he’s right, and maybe he’s wrong. All I know is that I don’t plan to fly it until it has been back in service for at least a year without problems.

  2. Dear Doug….You may be right. I might fly it, but it definitely won’t be one sporting the small lavs, cramped seating, surly service, and an AA logo. 😀

  3. Did nobody immediately think, after reading the title,
    Because these will be new clean planes unlike the old dirty junky ones you normally have to sit in on AA?

  4. If I was Boeing, I would demand Parker refrain from all discussion re the 737 MAX, as that’s the last rah rah supporter I would want to hear from. Given how Parker has degraded flying to a point unheard of before, why would the public ever want to hear from him.

    It’s bad enough I threw my 50K+ leftover miles in a drawer, as I moved to over to DL. As long as Parker is AA mouthpiece, I would not take an AA flight even between ORD-MKE.

  5. That´s utter nonsense. The FAA and AA and also their pilots all okayed this aircraft before. So, they´ve been particularly wrong the first time, and now, history repeating, anyone would care a rats a** for them doing it once more? That doesnt make any sense whatsoever to me. If that´s the best rationale they have they should better attempt to cancel the order or do something completly different…

  6. I’m with @FF78. It’s not the Max that I won’t fly, it’s the terribly configured AA version.

  7. Do the pilots and AA have any negotiations upcoming? Sounds like an offer of some sort of concession In exchange for that endorsement.

  8. @Fleiger

    “That´s utter nonsense. The FAA and AA and also their pilots all okayed this aircraft before. ”

    It’s not utter nonsense. The planes that crashed were not flown in the United States, operated by a US flag carrier, or flown by pilots trained in the US.

    You all can disagree with me all you want, but an undisputable fact is that all pilots in the USA who fly the 737 MAX have at least 1500 hours of flight time (and the *experience* that go with it.) This is an FAA rule that applies to US Part 121 operations, and does not apply outside the FAA’s jurisdiction. Foreign flagged carriers are crewing the planes with copilots whose experience is as little as a few hundred hours. This is a *fact* that has been repeated in many news sources.

    Would I trust this plane flown by a US-flagged carrier? Yes, no question. Would I trust it outside the USA? Not so much, unless the carrier has a history of flying 737s.

  9. Pilots’ willingness to fly the 737MAX would carry weight if and only if the pilots’ union confirms pilots are not being pressured by the airlines to say they feel safe.

  10. He’s delusional. I would fly on one after recertification because I trust my grasp of the details. Genpop isn’t going to trust either the FAA (remember how popular X-Files was?) or American Airlines. People will remember this mess for a long, long time. They aren’t sheep, to be cowed (to mix a metaphor) by the Voice of Authority.

  11. For all the grief Parker gets, his response to an employee question is quite good. When the MAX returns, the problem will be customer fear. Most customers won’t be fearful at all, but many will. The best anecdotes to fear are time and experience. When the MAX performs like all other commercial aircraft, the fear will evaporate. We’ve been down this road many times. Humans don’t change. They may often be irrational, but they’re always predictable over time.

  12. Just imagine that there are hundreds of these flawed planesin service and another goes down. That will be it. Disaster for the airlines. Better to trash this poorly engineered plane now!

  13. He persists with this ludicrous implication that the outcome would have been different with American pilots in control. Conveniently ignoring: dodgy US design, scandalous US certification/oversight, abysmal US repair of the sensor, US professionals in the company saying the whole thing has been flawed from day one.
    I’d prefer to listen to views from Europe, where ethics are higher and engineering standards better.

  14. I have worked on Boeing 747, 767 and 777.

    There is NO way, i will fly MAX.

    I will just not fly on them.

    It is a flawed plane and one more crash away from permanent grounding.

  15. One way to get people onto the MAX is to remove four rows in coach and re-introduce MRTC (more room through coach) with 34” pitch and add 3” more in F. Or offer us twice the normal RDMs, EQDs and EQMs. Those were the incentives we got back in the 80s and 90s to fly AA.

  16. I’ll show my vote of confidence in what Douggie says – by flying on DO who has none of these aircraft in their fleet.

  17. With Boeing’s performance on new aircraft types in recent years, one easily gets the impression that they are beginners. Flight bans for two models as well as problems with military aircraft.

    Boeing seems to have lost its knowledge of designing and manufacturing new models. This is also something that some employees have clearly expressed. We have seen the results that reinforce these statements.

    “Boeing employee said 737 Max ‘is designed by clowns’ and ‘supervised by monkeys'”.

    Any sensible airline would avoid buying and using Max. But they stick to Max because there is a long queue on better aircraft.

    Should we allow passengers to fly with an aircraft “designed by clowns and supervised by monkeys”.

    You choose which aircraft you send your loved ones on.

  18. On the one hand, I think that if and when it is certified it will be safer than it was. I will seek out ways to avoid it for a time, but eventually will probably have no realistic choice but to fly it. The larger point is that Boeing going forward is going to probably, at least for a while, put safety and training ahead of cost cutting and marketing. Maybe. I just wonder though at all the airlines lined up to take delivery or make orders for this aircraft. Won’t “We’re MAX free” become a selling point for their competitors? Delta may not say out loud that the way to avoid the MAX is by booking Delta, but the message will be out there.

  19. Well, I *had* assumed that people would come back to the max after a short period of re-introduction. But since this is American Airlines’s viewpoint, I may have to reevaluate… it’s probably wrong…

  20. Will be the safest airplane in the air once re-certified by FAA. I will have no issues flying on it with my family once North America pilots are trained and comfortable with the aircraft.

  21. Boeing and the FAA didn’t fully consider the human factor with pilots and maintenance in 3rd world countries. The Indonesian flight was totally preventable, had an issue the day before, replaced the faulty sensor with another faulty sensor and did not test it as required before sending the plane back up into the sky. The Ethiopian flight had inexperienced pilots who didn’t have the basic knowledge to fly without a computer: did not to turn the MCAS off or cut the throttle as the airspeed went beyond its limits and slammed into the ground at over 700 mph. The stabilizer could have been retrimmed by what’s known as porpoising, which releases the pressure. I flew a little single engine prop plane and recovering from a dive was part of my training in the first 50 hours, but even pilots panic.

    I would be hesitant to fly those airlines as the lack of skill and training is something we don’t have to deal with here, and I don’t believe all scenarios can be fully addressed for all planes. At some point we need the pilots.

  22. I did fly AA MAX before it was grounded: due to Oasis design it was the aircraft to avoid even then. The GAs were struggling to turn around the aircraft in the allocated time because of more passengers to board/deplane and also more carryons on board. If AA 757 was a slAAve ship what would be the proper nickname for the MAX?
    Overall, I will be OK to board MAX operated by US major carriers but would certainly actively avoid MAX operated by Asian/African discounters. The two MAX crashes (and also loss of B777 in SFO) indicated again that one cannot always replace the rigorous pilot training with an autopilot.
    Today the pedestrian Airbus design of A320 is the big winner after all as Boeing is now left with non-upgradable B737 and the ceased production of B757. It is too bad that any further plans for upgrading B757 did not gain any traction as B757 certainly has the clearance under the wings for much bigger engines.

  23. American Airlines pilots were the ones telling the FAA last year not to ground the airplane. They are certainly not to be trusted on matters they know nothing about (the manufacturing of planes and their systems).

  24. Maybe I’m not paying enough attention, but it seems like he is the most aggressive with wanting this plane back at whatever cost. I heard a couple of statements from UA as well, but it seems like AA is super bullish about this plane. Maybe I’m just not seeing it, but I don’t see other carriers talking so loudly about how great, safe, and wonderful it is. it’s almost like he pushed Boeing to take the cheap way out with slapping on new engines on a 50 year old design versus actually making a new modern design.

    Just seems awfully loud from him and UA.

  25. He should realize that most of his clients have nothing to do with FAA. A reference to FAA sounds ridiculous as it is irrelevant for any country other than the US.
    Myopic statement.

  26. I avoid all of American’s 737s, not because they’re unsafe but because they are way less comfortable their their Airbuses and I’ve not experienced an “Oasis” version yet but I imagine they’re going to be worse.

    The isles are tighter, seats seem more cramped, and even the emergency exits rows worse on their planes.

    Now, would I avoid a Max when they finally go back in the air? No more than any other AA 737. I would take their 319-320-321s every day over their 737s. If it was United or Southwest…I’d not even hesitate.

    Boeing truly cannot afford to mess it up a second time.

  27. I’ll pass on the 737-Max for the time being. I’d rather fly United. We’ll see how it goes. Hopefully they will reconfigure that plane and make it more comfortable. Hopefully everything will go smooth after it returns to service, but still…. I hope they aren’t building any more of them.

  28. Love him or hate him, he’s right. We still flew Pan Am (which crashed yearly), we flew DC-10’s, ATR’s, DC-9’s, A330’s and the list goes on. AA and dozens of other airlines flew the Max safely. The two crashes, while the plane is to blame, the training and maintenance issues were just as big of issues.

    I do think people will forget and move on, it’s how it’s done today. Also, Boeing needs to just call it -8, -9, -10 or -7 (if they ever build it). Naming planes is bad luck IMO so just keep it simple.

  29. As a private pilot, I am often asked will I fly the MAX. My answer has always been yes in US carriers because as noted in several previous posts, pilot qualification is much stricter, and pilots will receive the proper training and have the comfort level to fly the aircraft. With @ 1000 hrs as PIC, I personally am not aware of any pilot getting into the left seat and flying an aircraft he or she did not believe the flight would be completed successfully.
    I also agree that not wanting to fly the aircraft because of comfort issues is a different and legitimate argument.

  30. Those who have not read the in depth article on the 737 MAX in the September 19, 2019 issue of the New York Times Magazine should do so. It lays out in detail the causes of the two crashes.

    Pilot training was certainly a cause of the crashes. Boeing selling versions of the MAX with “optional” safety systems was certainly a cause (why would any responsible manufacturer make a computer system that compensates for a design flaw “optional”?). It borders on criminal negligence (if you designed the system knowing it was reasonably foreseeable that a less than optimally trained pilot would not be able to react properly to the situation that the “optional” system would help avoid, you likely have committed manslaughter). The FAA certifying an aircrafts that lacked an “optional” safety system was certainly a cause. And, the more than cozy relationship between the regulator (FAA) and the regulated (Boeing) was also likely a contributing cause. (I spent 8 years as an attorney in the federal government – this stuff happens all the time.)

    If the pilots have been trained to disconnect the system that pushes the nose down 10 degrees if it loses an attitude sensor, and if someone without “buddy system” ties to Boeing rigorously, and if the plane has no problems after a year or so after certification, then I probably will fly it. Until then, it’s book around. And I will never fly Lion Air.

  31. I can’t predict what others will do but nobody in my family will fly a MAX for the indefinite future, even if fares are $1 (as they were post-9/11 on National Air). Maybe there was a time when people didn’t have a choice (pre-1977 dereg?) but now just about every route has many other options that carry less risk. The only excepts I could see would be if UA or AA decides all hub flights going into IAH or DFW would suddenly switch to MAX flights and even then all the airlines would have to agree on this strategy. But I don’t see that happening.

  32. BOEING really should Tell Parker….”Keep Your Commentary to Yourself. We do Not need Any Interference from You, any more than Your Customers Like Your Business decisions or Your Employees like You as the CEO.” Parker and His Entire Management Team needs to be Shown The Door. He has turned AA into the laughing stock of the Industry.

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