American Airlines Flight Attendants Union Telling Crew They Don’t Have to Work the 737 MAX

American Airlines has 24 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in service. Plenty of customers are expressing concern over the aircraft after the Lion Air incident in October was followed by yesterday’s tragic crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX. China and Indonesia have grounded the jet.

Many airlines operating the plane, including Southwest and American, have expressed support for the aircraft’s safety. And it’s too early to know just what happened in yesterday’s occurrence. We’ll know more soon, especially now that the aircraft’s black boxes are being studied.

It’s natural though to have concerns. This may be the first time that non-frequent flyers start paying attention to aircraft codes. American and Southwest list their MAX 8 aircraft as “7M8.”

While there’s no travel waiver allowing passengers to cancel or reschedule trips without fee if they’re flying this aircraft, American’s flight attendants’ union is telling crew they have options if they do not want to work one.

Upon hearing the news yesterday regarding the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, I immediately contacted Doug Parker and Jill Surdek to request they address critical safety concerns of our Union and our members in flying the 737 Max aircraft. The company issued a general statement via Jetnet.

I contacted management again this morning with safety concerns of our Union and members flying this aircraft. Their current response is they will follow the normal fear of flying procedures. It is important for you to know that if you feel it is unsafe to work the 737 Max, you will not be forced to fly it.

You must contact crew schedule and your flight service manager who will remove you with a Personal Off (PO). While I have requested that the PO be non-chargeable, details must still be worked out. You may make up the flying via the regular methods available.

I am in contact with the leadership of APA, TWU, FAA and NTSB. We are all gathering facts and working together on how to best represent our members in the aftermath of this tragedy. We will keep you updated as information becomes available.

I have no hesitancy flying the 737 MAX on a US airline based on the information we know today (I don’t like what American has done with their interiors, I don’t much mind it on Southwest for trips under 4 hours). And I’d worry that a premature grounding might lead some people to take less safe means of transportation on shorter routes instead.

However I do think waivers – for passengers and for crew – would not be unreasonable.

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. So AA says it is ok for crew not to fly 7M8, but if I as a pax want to change to a non-7M8 flight then I will get slammed with fees? #FrackDougieP

  2. Now that the black boxes from the Ethiopian plane have been recovered it should be pretty easy and quick to figure out if there were flight control issues resulting from the MCAS or faulty sensor readings. (I hope not) Or may be something entirely different and unknown that will require much more investigation.

    If its an MCAS issue – I wont be flying on the 737 Max in any variant.

  3. The union is saying that we can choose not to fly, but yet we will still get penalized and loose hours if we do. (This is information from an email that came out after that one)

  4. This crash serves as further rebuttal to the generally accepted proposition that new planes are safer than old planes. Passengers on the 7M8 deserve flight test pay.

  5. Hey Gary, here’s hoping you get lucky on your next Max 8 flight! Remember, first class hits the ground first!

  6. Be aware
    There will be an additional non refundable supplemental fee plus transportation charge
    Paid by the family if American needs to transport the passengers body after crashing

  7. @Dwondermeant

    I know you’re being facetious or tongue-in-cheek, but in case of death the contract of carriage (at least United’s) states that an immediate payment of no less than 16,000 Special Drawing Rights (=~$22,000 USD) shall be made. This can be expanded upon or clawed back pending further litigation, but based on the language that initial payment is supposed to be immediate.

    “In the event of death of a passenger, the amount of the advance payment shall not be less than 16,000 Special Drawing Rights, which shall be paid to a representative of the passenger’s next of kin eligible to receive such advance payment as determined by the Carrier in its sole discretion.”

  8. I have an odd sense of detachment from this. It’s easy for my brain to blame the training, procedures, and maintenance of foreign carriers that I assume to be less sophisticated than the US carriers. I know logically that it may not have been their fault at all but it’s how I rationalize not worrying about my own safety.

  9. The union has “normal fear of flying procedures”??

    Honestly, how could anyone in the FA union begin to do their jobs if they have a fear of flying?

  10. Singapore just banned the 737max from its airspace. Given the growing number of regulators taking this position and the fact this is a new type of aircraft which has already had two crashes its hard to fault the union here.

  11. If a guy got into two DUI crashes in six months, would you think that he had a bit of a problem? Even if during those six months he had hundreds of other trips without incident? I think the answer is “yes”. Our hypothetical guy should not drive until the matter is investigated further.

    Likewise, the argument about the many safe flight the Max made during the last six months is completely meaningless in the face of two similar fatal crashes. I’m not saying that the Max is a bad or a dangerous plane. Only that it should not be up in the air until a thorough investigation is completed.

    The childhood engine issues on the A380 and battery issues on the 787 were not the same. They were dangerous and expensive to fix, but both planes had enough redundancy and safety mechanism to bring the planes back to the runway in one piece. Even so, both models were grounded until investigated and fixed. It is amazing that some countries still allow the Max to fly after the two fatal crashes.

    More amazing than the FAA is the attitude of the airlines. My wife is scheduled to fly from LAX to OGG on a major US airline. I called to change the flight to an earlier one (same day) which is operated by a 757. The agent’s response: “No. Your wife’s flight is on the 737-Max-9, the plane which crashed are the 737-Max-8”. Perhaps that agent should leave the airline and go work for the NTSB. Obviously, she already got it all figured out!

    The lack of FAA airworthiness directives notwithstanding, all airlines should park their MAXes and take their older planes out of dry storage until we totally understand the issue with the Max, and until we have that issue resolved. After all, the airlines have more beef in this game than the FAA. And we, the passengers who willingly climb into a Max, have even more beef in there. Literally.

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