If You Don’t Want To Fly On The Boeing 737 MAX, Here’s What To Do

American Airlines became the first U.S. carrier to fly the Boeing 737 MAX again yesterday, after the aircraft’s ungrounding.

Huge mistakes were made engineering this plane. So that it would fly like older 737 ‘Next Generation’ aircraft even with engines moved, Boeing added software that they didn’t fully brief airlines on. That software was triggered based on a single point of failure, while the plane has two angle of attack sensors it only used data from one at a time. Planes are built now to more or less fly themselves, this one couldn’t do that properly when a sensor failed. The results were tragic.

These errors have been corrected, and no plane has gone through more scrutiny in history. I believe it is now safe to fly. Many people disagree with me, and aren’t comfortable flying the MAX yet.

As American Airlines brings the MAX back into its schedule, they’re replacing flights that were scheduled to be operated by older 737s. You may find that a flight you booked is now going to be flown by a MAX. If you don’t want to fly the aircraft, here’s American’s polcy.

  • Currently everywhere American flies with a MAX they also fly with other aircraft. So they can switch you to another aircraft and still get you to your destination.

  • That will eventually change. If your destination becomes served only with a MAX, or only MAX flights are available, they’ll offer to fly you to another destination within 300 miles.

  • And if that’s not possible, they’ll offer you a travel credit for the value of your ticket.

Of course you can get a travel credit for the value of your ticket when you cancel anyway. American has waived change fees due to the pandemic, and going forward most non-Basic Economy tickets no longer have change fees either.

The additional benefit here beyond ‘no change fees’ if your flight changes to a MAX aircraft is:

  1. Next available flight in the same cabin with no extra charge, not just no change fee but no difference in fare.

  2. Change of destination within 300 miles when there is no alternate non-MAX itinerary available.

American will help you change your flight, and won’t pressure you to fly the MAX. However that doesn’t mean you won’t be inconvenienced.

At some point MAX aircraft will replace a Boeing 737-800 on the day of departure. You’ll already be at the airport. The airline is only operating half its schedule of a year ago for the next couple of months, which means there aren’t as many options for getting where you’re going. And while occasionally it’s nice to be able to change your destination, for most that’ll mean renting a car (at your own cost and time).

Eventually you’ll fly the MAX again, even if you say you won’t. Remember all the people who swore they’d never fly United again after David Dao was dragged off a regional jet?

About 5000 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft have been ordered. American, United, Southwest, Alaska Airlines and Air Canada all have MAX aircraft in their fleet or on order. United will bring it back in February, Soutuwest in the spring. This plane is going to become ubiquitous in aviation – and eventually tough to avoid without great cost.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. When I can sit next to Doug Parker in first class…then I will fly it….otherwise…NO!

  2. The Max reminds me of the quote from Oscar Wilde regarding horses, “Dangerous from the front, dangerous from the back, and uncomfortable in the middle.”

    No thanks…I’ll pass.

  3. Vicarious psychological trauma can cause flyers to avoid the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. Some passengers say they will never fly on a MAX aircraft after 346 people were killed in two fatal crashes. After Dr. David Dao was beaten, bloodied, rendered unconscious, and dragged down the aircraft aisle on United Express flight 3411, has he never again flown on United Airlines or their regional partners?

  4. Come on, not flying an airline because David Dao was dragged off a plane is NOT the same as wondering if the plane you’re on is gonna crash.

  5. Not a perfect analogy but I would say it’s more comparable to DC-10? I’m sure lots of people who swore to never fly that bird due to safety concerns eventually did so (of course no one was able to broadcast their intentions or share their subsequent trips on social media, so can we be sure not sure it actually happened?)

  6. The fundamental, root cause of the engineering “error” has not really been corrected. More like a cheap band-aid has developed for the bleeding wound. The “too big” engines are still “too far forward” for proper aerodynamic design. Now they are fixing a bad aerodynamic design “error” with software?? Assuming the software has proper coding and no bad lines of code (the big “if”) maybe the “error” can be offset. IMO, Boeing designed and built this plane (the MD way on the cheap) by doing a flawed extension of an existing platform which has proved to be a big engineering “error”.

  7. From what I’ve seen in instagram, even the safety manuals on the 737-MAX planes don’t say 737-MAX. They’ve rebranded the plane. I have a feeling most pax won’t even know they’re flying on a 737-MAX.
    Those who fly United definitely know they’re flying United.

  8. The best way not to fly a MAX is to stay home. Too many people wear a mask and think they followed rules so are safe or mostly safe.

    There’s a story of an elderly couple who were killed by a hair cut. The stylist was the couple’s daughter who tested negative, waited 3 days, then cut one of the couple’s hair while the window was open. After the haircut, the stylist felt a little ill and tested positive.

    Yet another example of testing giving people false confidence. Not the first time. The White House was over confident because it tested everyone everyday. Yeah, all tested negative until Trump got Covid and, the same day, some positive tests started to show up…..too late. Testing is for public health number crunching but, for the individual, has big limitations and doesn’t stop Covid.

    Covid is at its worse now. Just stay home. And I am a flyer who is itching to fly again and love flights.

  9. As others have noted, forced removal (bumping) doesn’t get you killed the way bad engineering does.

    The timing of the rollout is stellar given that most people are still skittish about flying. I’m sure they can fill the planes with $39 fares but I think most of us will take a pass.

  10. Why can’t a new airplane fly inself these days. I would love to hear answers from commercial airline pilots. They can ” practically fly themselves” just doesn’t do it for me. The Lochheed L1011 launched

    in 1972 could take off, cruise and land inself. Internet also says Boeing and Airbus airlines can’t fly themselves . Is this situation like the Boeing 767 that Boeing had to dumb down for Quantas so their unionized engineers on their 767s would still have a job? The space shuttle flys itself( I understand it’s more expensive). Please, some VALID reasons.

  11. Carolynne–Probably 99% or more of the time in an average flight the autopilot is flying the plane. From what I gather, the autopilot is switched on about 20 seconds after liftoff, and only turned off about 30 seconds before landing. The planes have auto-throttle and auto-brakes too. The pilots do provide inputs to the autopilot so it knows what to do, but it would be very simple to automate this, if it hasn’t already been done. I believe the autopilot could takeoff and land the plane too, but that is not the common practice. Makes one wonder about the ability of pilots to hand fly an airplane these days. My understanding of the Asiana 777 that crashed on landing at SFO several years ago is that the air controller asked them to do a landing pattern that they had not programmed the autopilot for, and they were not up to the task of manually flying the approach, even in clear weather.

  12. Boeing engineering has been sadly deficient for years. More than a decade ago (Feb 2009) a 737 landing at Schiphol crashed. It wasn’t a MAX, but it was a 737. The cause was traced to a faulty radio altimeter that thought the plane was on the ground so it set the throttle to idle.

    The root cause, though, is Boeing engineering. The plane in the Schiphol crash had dual radio altimeters and one was working correctly so they disagreed. The auto-throttle in the Schiphol crash unfortunately had the throttle controlled by the faulty sensor. Like in the MAX crashes, Boeing ignored a basic precept of fault-tolerant design so the plane had a single point of failure. Instead of detecting an error and notifying the pilots when a pair of sensors significantly disagree, one bad sensor led to a crash. The two failures above make it likely this was standard practice in the 737 design, and there are more latent failures yet to be discovered.

  13. Today’s airliners cannot takeoff by themselves. Airbus recently did a test of one of its wide body aircraft but it is not in use yet. They can climb, cruise, descend and land on autopilot but inputs must be put in by a pilot. Even in remotely piloted planes being tested the commands are input by someone on the ground. Not to say it won’t happen, but it’s not here yet.
    (retired Capt 21,500 hrs)

  14. Are you honestly comparing the beating of a man to the deaths of 346 people? If this was most other businesses the Max would have been pulled and abandoned. Passengers need to take back their privilege as paying customers and speak with their wallets.

  15. I am only a private pilot, but can comment on Carolynne’s question.

    The automation in modern airliners usually can land the plane at suitably equipped airports (with category III instrument approaches). I’m sure with modifications it could handle takeoffs as well, though I don’t think they can do that today (there is no equivalent instrument takeoff system like there is for landing). Keep in mind that many airports do not have category III approaches (including Love Field and Las Vegas, to pick two random examples), so this is not available everywhere.

    The biggest problem with automation is that air traffic control (ATC) is not setup to support it. ATC gives instructions to pilots verbally over the radio and the pilots then enter that information into the autopilot (or follow the instructions themselves). There are even times when airplanes (including airliners) operate in airspace without ATC and have to effectively control themselves by announcing where they are to all of the other aircraft in the area.

    Finally, it may surprise you, but all airplanes, even airliners, are expected to maintain visual separation from other aircraft whenever they are in visual conditions. That means that all pilots are supposed to be looking outside to watch for other airplanes. While all planes above 10k feet or in the vicinity of major airports have to have transponders (which make them visible to radar), your airliner flies through airspace all the time where it is legal and even common for aircraft to fly without transponders. In this case, it is up to the pilots to see and avoid other aircraft.

  16. @Gary … fair and balanced write up … thanks for doing this!

    The flight worthiness of the MAX will become clear enough soon enough. Good to wait and watch, but not be silly.

  17. Why would pilots fly it if not safe? From what I heard yesterday the pilot or first officer had his wife and mother onboard. Wouldn’t they be in the best position to know vs. what we hear and read third hand?

  18. Of course, someone on the ground has to input into the airplanes computer where they want it to go correctly. I distinctly remember seeing in the popular weekly Newsweek magazine article and photograph of a British Airways L1011-500( 500 is the long range version) taking off from Heathrow going to LAX and the article states it was the first plane that could take off, fly, and land inself and they just had pilots on board if they needed them. I was F.A. for Pan Am at the time and was devastated that Pan Am didn’t have the first L1011-500. We did get some later, but British Airways had the first. Article in Newsweek archives the year L1011-500 introduced in 197O’s. I have seen many jets flying on the transatlantic” highway” from N.E. to Europe while checking in to see if pilots were ok. One of my girlfriends was checking a P.A. cockpit on a night flight from JFK to LAX and everyone in the cockpit was asleep. They overshot Lax and were out in the Pacific. It’s been 40years since L1011, surely a future in this line of work is not looking bright …

  19. Comparing 346 deaths with a man being dragged off an are craft is a bit insensitive, dontcha think? I know you know a lot about travel but, your opinion on the safety of this aircraft is exactly that. Wasn’t the first one safe as well.? Anyone who endorses this this “flying hearse” is giving the middle finger to the passengers and crew who needless perished.

  20. As a pilot and engineer, I’d fly a MAX tomorrow. In fact I’d like too. What I would do is fly with some airlines that have substandard training.

    For those comparing to the shuttle, I suggest you read the Columbia and Challenger accident investigations. The shuttle was a hack from the beginning. Never met its goals from any perspective.

    By the way, those who claim the MAX is not steady by design completely misunderstood the issue which was related to type rating.

    That said, both the FAA and Boeing screwed up bad.

    As with most things engineering, it is a series of compromises, nothing is black and white. If we tried to make it perfect, we’d be walking.

  21. As for the comment that the Space Shuttle could land itself…….I happen to know several former Shuttle pilots and they told me that NASA tried to auto land the Shuttle but it wasn’t stable. It never happened. Any Boeing or Airbus plane made today is capable of auto land. When I flew, we were required to do an auto land every month for proficiency.

  22. AA’s densification, plus their insistence on pushing MAX into our lives will bankrupt them sometime next year (2021). We don’t want to be crammed into a can, with no leg room, flat narrow seats, etc. I’m speaking with my wallet. I’ll stick with Delta and Airbus from here on out.

  23. @D.B Cooper: I would love to fly on a Boeing 737MAX as soon as possible. With the updated software, engineering updates, and extensive additional pilot training, this aircraft should have an excellent future safety record.

    My original comment was about “vicarious psychological trauma” caused by events happening to different people and out of their control, such as an aircraft crash or an unexpected passenger beating when a ticketed passenger was unboarded by force. For example, when Dr. Dao was beaten unconscious, some people choose not to fly with United Airlines until United changed their policy regarding removing ticketed passengers because they wanted a seat for an employee.

    After two 737MAX aircraft crashed, some people choose not to fly on a 737MAX before aircraft upgrades, and further pilot training was completed. In both of my examples, the outcome was that passengers avoided the aircraft or the airline even though they did not themselves experience an aircraft crash or an on-board passenger beating.

  24. Who the hell is Gary Leff to say I now believe they’re safe to fly. Like Biden telling u the COVID vaccine is safe.

  25. 99% of Americans are too stupid to know the difference between a MAX and a 777, let alone a MAX and another 737.

    Will I avoid the AA MAX? Of course I will. Not because of the aircraft’s safety record, but because AA made them cramped and uncomfortable.

  26. AA 737 Max is the safest aircraft to fly.
    It’s been under the microscope and ready to fly.
    Every pilot i speak to has NO Hesitantations on flying it.
    It fact, your beloved Delta is looking to pick some up at Bargain prices.
    Yes, with the same small bathrooms and cramped seats!
    Why?
    AMERICAN’S WANT CHEAP,CHEAP, CHEAP!
    SO, if your looking for luxury, Emirates type suites and gourmet meals? book a flight to the middle east on Emirates.
    Airlines are a business and need to make profits.
    It’s difficult when you have people who want ultra cheap fares and gourmet meals aboard widebodies loaded with amenities.
    THATS FACT!
    NOT FICTION!
    Oh yeah, FREE UPGRADES!

  27. @John Luffred …

    Yep … it’s the airlines’ own fault. They trained customers to expect caviar for burrito prices.

    And, judging from weekend load factors (… high … I was there …), they also don’t see any risk in the flying experience right now.

    Advice: don’t tell customers what they want … they’ll disappoint you every time.

  28. Well if you intend to boycott the MAX, that’s more room for me and my family. The aircraft type shows up when you book flights. Also all you have to do is look at the wingtips to determine if you are on a MAX. I would be more worried that the other passengers are properly vaccinated for COVID-19 Band Measles that whether or not my plane is a MAX

  29. I do believe I’ll pass on this aircraft. The inherent structural problems with the initial design of the MAX was to be corrected with software. Now that is so comforting. No thanks. Airbus from the east coast to sfo and from there to hnl. But not on 737 MAX. They really have a pr problem with this plane.

  30. When something starts wrong… ends the same way.. I don’t trust the Max actually Never called me as other Models has been a Airline personal.

  31. > no plane has gone through
    > more scrutiny in history. I
    > believe it is now safe to fly
    >.Many people disagree
    > with me,

    Unbelievable hubris Gary.

    It’s not that people disagree with you. But the fact of the matter is the MAX is a flawed design which is inherently unstable under certain conditions. That has NOT been fixed.

    Name for your audience another commercial jetliner with such a design defect. We’ll wait.

    Also, you should probably disclose how much Boeing and or American paid you to write this article.

  32. Don’t like any of the 737’s. All go narrow at the front end and have less width n space than the A320/1. So avoiding the max is easy. I avoid all 737s

  33. @Bob, December 30, 2020 at 1:41 pm

    > By the way, those who claim the MAX is not steady
    > by design completely misunderstood the issue
    > which was related to type rating.

    Absolutely NOT. You have ZERO idea what you are talking about.

    Yes Boeing implemented things so that the MAX wouldn’t drive a new type rating — which would have in turn increased costs to the airlines.

    MCAS, which Boeing purposefully hid from both the FAA and the airlines, was such an feature to avoid generating a new type rating.

    The “issue” Bob, as you so incorrectly state otherwise, is that the MAX has center of gravity problems. That is engineering/design… NOT type rating. MCAS was implemented, covertly, to overcome the engineering/design defects.

    > As a pilot and engineer,

    Not a very good one apparently.

    > As with most things engineering, it is a series of compromises
    > If we tried to make it perfect, we’d be walking.

    A pilot or engineer would never say that. You sound like a project manager.

  34. Surviving Covid-19 and then dying in a horror airplane crash because of structural issues, software problems or human error or combination, no thanks confidence in the rest of the species is at a formidable low currently and stay at home alone therefore.

  35. Eventually we’ll all fly on a Max?
    Bogus.
    Is the author unaware there are several airlines in the US that use ONLY Airbus fleets?

    Let’s remind folks that the A-320 family of aircraft has never been involved in a fatal accident in the United States.
    The same cannot be said for the 737’s.
    Boeing may have tweaked the software for the MAX, but they didn’t fix the company culture, or the cozy relationship with the FAA.

  36. I’m confident it’s safe now. But avoiding it with AA like the plague.

    Flew AA max in first LAXMIA before it was grounded. Worst experience ever. Cramped and could feel the seat frame on my back.

    Let alone the microscopic toilet.

  37. @CAROLYNN. Sorry Carolynn, your stewardess (and yes I was an airline pilot when they had them) gave you some faulty information. The L-1011 Tristar was never capable of “auto-takeoff” back then just as there are no commercial airliners certified for that flight mode today. I flew the Tristar and like all pilots that did have nothing but praise for the airplane. But it needed a pilot to takeoff and to disengage the autopilot after landing and taxi to the gate.

  38. @CAROLYNN. Sorry Carolynn, your stewardess (and yes I was an airline pilot when they had them) gave you some faulty information. The L-1011 Tristar was never capable of “auto-takeoff” back then just as there are no commercial airliners certified for that flight mode today. I flew the Tristar and like all pilots that did have nothing but praise for the airplane. But it needed a pilot to takeoff and to disengage the autopilot after landing and taxi to the gate.
    As for the B-737 Max. It’s much more a basic training and experience issue than an engineering issue. First rule when dealing with an emergency: Fly the Airplane! Unfortunately many foreign airline pilots are button pushers rather than “stick and rudder” pilots.

  39. I think the airlines should, for the first 10-years of ‘Max-flying’ include unlimited contingency liability in the name of the passenger within the ticket price, say $25m per head. This should be sibsidised to them by Boeing.
    If they put their money where their mouth is that’s the acid test.

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