Should Airlines Refund Future Boeing 737 MAX Bookings?

With the 737 MAX destined to return to our skies eventually, almost certainly by the end of the summer, Simple Flying consider how the paying public will react? For those who are, understandably, nervous to fly it, should carriers allow them to cancel their bookings and get a full refund? Or should they back Boeing and help the world to get over what happened?

Boeing 737 MAX 8 MCAS Update
Should carriers give refunds to passengers scheduled on the MAX? Image by Boeing.

Unless passengers are av geeks like us, most wouldn’t take much notice of the plane they are allocated to fly. The majority would be more concerned with bagging a bargain flight or travelling at a convenient time. However, since the two deadly crashes involving the 737 MAX, more people than ever are going to be checking their bookings to see what equipment has been allocated.

With the 737 MAX slowly edging through the process of being allowed back into the skies, Simple Flying are wondering how it will be received when it comes back into service? If people are unhappy about being allocated the MAX for their journey, should carriers allow them to change their booking at no cost?

Norwegian Air, for one, think not.

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The Scandinavian carrier has had its fair share of financial problems, and was the first airline to demand Boeing pay compensation for the grounding of the MAX. With money as tight as it is for Norwegian, it’s no surprise that they’re not keen to further burden themselves with additional administration.

At the moment, the question is purely hypothetical as the MAX is still a way off being allowed to fly. However, it’s a pertinent one to address and something all MAX operators will need to be thinking about.

What happened in the past?

When the 737 MAX first started to be grounded, most of those carriers who were still operating the plane did not allow passengers to change their flights without penalty. Most affected by far were the US MAX operators, as North America were the last region to ground the aircraft.

At the time, American Airlines did not allow customers to make fee free changes, unless they had booking policies or status which allowed them to do so. They did, however, allow cabin crew to refuse to fly the plane. United had a similar policy, with their standard fees for making changes to bookings still applicable.

Southwest 737 MAX
Southwest were the only airline to allow fee-free changes. Photo: Southwest Airlines

There was an exception to this stance, however. Southwest Airlines, the biggest operator of the 737 MAX in the world, allowed passengers to make changes to their bookings fee free if it was related to a lack of confidence in the MAX. With a fleet of 34 aircraft, making up around 7% of their capacity, this was a bold move by Southwest and was undoubtedly appreciated by their passengers.

Of course, all this became irrelevant on March 13th as the Trump administration finally took action and the 737 MAX was banned worldwide.

What about when it comes back into service?

Things are certainly moving along at Boeing, as the plane maker strives to get the MAX re-certified to fly. Already the MCAS update is ready for certification, and the FAA has said the aircraft is ‘operationally suitable’. However, re-entry to service is likely to be some way off, with most carriers taking it out of schedule until at least July or August.

When it does come back into service, carriers will need to make a decision on how they plan to handle those passengers who are, understandably, nervous to get on board. Alex Macheras (The Points Guy) has a pretty clear opinion on the matter:


However, I personally beg to differ. If the FAA, Boeing and national aviation authorities all agree that it’s safe to fly, shouldn’t we have some faith in their decision? If operators are to allow passengers to opt out of flying the MAX, why not let them opt out of other models with checkered histories too?

Considering airliner safety

According to figures from AirSafe, there are a bunch of aircraft with poor safety records out there. Fatal events, classified as any event where at least one person (excluding crew) died as a result, are numerous across both the Airbus and Boeing range. To pick a few examples:

  • Boeing 747-100/200/300: 26 fatal events
  • Airbus A300 (all models): 10 fatal events
  • Airbus A318/A319/A320/A321: 14 fatal events
  • Boeing 737-600/700/800/900: 9 fatal events

In contrast, the 737 MAX family has experienced just two. Granted, they were mass fatalities and absolutely devastating, but in context of other airline incidents, there are other aircraft which could be considered ‘unsafe’ too.

747-200
Older versions of the 747 had a much worse safety record. Photo: Wikipedia

If carriers start allowing passengers to get picky about the aircraft they fly on, the whole thing could become a logistical nightmare. How are airlines supposed to manage if passengers are allowed to chop and change flights at a moment’s notice?

Passengers who are concerned about which aircraft they are allocated should take care when booking their flights. Either that, or they should book the type of ticket that allows them to cancel or change their plans further down the line.

At some point we’ve all got to get over what happened and have some faith that Boeing and the FAA are doing the best they can to keep us all safe going forward. Of course, this is just my opinion (and probably a contentious one at that).

Agree? Don’t agree? Let me know in the comments!

10 comments
  1. This is a thorny issue. For example:
    – What happens if there’s a last-minute equipment change? Will passengers be allowed to cancel when they arrive at the gate, with the associated hassle of having to unload checked bags? I think not.
    – Same problem for airlines operating mixed fleets of 737s on a given route. I regularly fly a given route with Ryanair: sometimes I have brand new 737s, sometimes older ones, with no way of knowing in advance. Ryanair will soon have MAXs, and I may turn up to find one of those at the gate. What then?
    – BUT, we live in the age of social media hypes. It’s easy to post lists of airlines with MAXs in their fleets, and people can then choose to avoid such airlines ab initio. This happens with stock funds that trade in armaments or tobacco, for example. Such “blacklisting” would, in principle, avoid (part of) the refund problem…but it would be a potential pain in the neck for the airlines concerned.
    It will be really interesting to see where this goes…

  2. Boeing has many other problems besides the 737 Max disasters. Obviously the FAA is still Boeing’s lapdog. The FAA and Boeing also said this plane was safe to fly originally. Until it wasn’t. The US may allow this self-crashing plane to fly but don’t try to go anywhere else. Canada already says simulator training is required. Other countries take safety seriously like the US used to. FAA says simulator training still isn’t required due to cost!! Sort of like safety equipment is optional.

    Only if they corrected the aerodynamics so MCAS isn’t needed (like every other airliner) and it’s recertified by someone other than Boeing and the FAA should it fly again.

    Another critical software flaw was found regarding the flaps. Boeing only checks for errors after crashes now? What else is wrong with it?
    How many other “flaws” are there that haven’t caused crashes yet?

    Boeing workmanship is so bad on the Air Force’s new tanker aircraft that they have refused any more deliveries. Tools and parts were found left inside sealed areas of the aircraft. Garbage has also been found in brand new 787s, including a ladder. Qatar Airways has refused delivery. Have the Max aircraft been inspected for garbage?

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/20/business/boeing-dreamliner-production-problems.html
    A Southwest plane had an engine failure as well and had to make an emergency landing. They were just trying to move the empty plane. CFM engine overheating and failure is another issue.

    Southwest had a deal with Boeing that no training would be required for the 737 Max or it would cost Boeing $1 million per plane. That explains why the bad aerodynamics and MCAS was kept a secret.

    Google and watch the video of a former Boeing operations analyst; cnn com/2019/04/05/business/boeing-737-max-production-cut/index

  3. The figure examples picked from Air safe are not suitable for an aircraft type safety comparison:
    • Fatal event figures should be presented as a promillage referring to the per aircraft family number of over their life time executed take offs;
    • In fact the figures should be cleaned up for typically non aircraft related incidents. For example the due to bad sight loss of two 747’s in one accident at Tenerife.
    By presenting figures in this way I guess an aircraft type comparison will not turn up as an advantage for the 737 MAX. And ‘ll certainly not miss its effect on passenger 737 MAX feelings.

    As it is rather obvious statistics presented as above will pop up very soon. That could be the worst smash for the 737 MAX program, in spite of all FAA and her sister organisations’ renewed approvals for the aircraft.

    So it’s a wise idea for airlines to consider a fluent aircraft type change policy for already booked tickets.
    For new bookings there is no problem where in a booking process the aircraft type is indicated, with the option of changing flight moment, perhaps carrier and so type of aircraft.

    More in general the impact on seat demand for 737 MAX will be the proof of the pudding for this aircraft type and more over, for Boeing and her competitors ! A hot summer in the 150 – 200 seat segment is coming up.

    Boeing should, together with its client carriers, strongly invest in passengers confidence in the plane.
    Todays rumours about Boeing’ production mishaps are contra productive to that goal.

  4. There is one way the consumer can be in complete control regardless of how their choice of airline bullies them, don’t book any airline that flies the 737 Max. There are at least 2 in the U.S. Delta and Jet Blue.

    1. I’ve booked my vacation tickets in advance, I have 2 MAX in my itinerary, one with Copa and one with American. I waa sceptical about the Max after the first crash. After the second one, as soon as it ia coming back to the skies I’m changing or refunding my tickets.
      Everybody should read the article from the software engeneer who is also a pilot. He added a new autopilot to his Cessna and had to do recertification, what did Boeing do? Lied.
      At least for another 4 to 5 years I will most defenetely not fly in a MAX, and now I’m sceptical about the 787 as well.

  5. Remember MH370 & MH17. Two unmitigated disasters for Malaysia Airlines. Lest we forget, but it didn’t stop many people flying with them.

    1. Neither of these 777 crashes was caused by a fundamental design flaw of the aircraft: one was shot down, and one was deliberately steered far off course.

  6. The 737 Max 8 is now the deadliest current airliner. Boeing hid the existence of the faulty MCAS system to avoid pilot training. What else has Boeing hidden about this “jury rigged” aircraft? It should be independently (not FAA) recertified as an all new aircraft before being allowed to fly again. Or scrapped. https://ca.finance.yahoo.com/news/the-boeing-737-max-is-now-the-deadliest-mainstream-jetliner-203441321.html https://futurism.com/pilots-complain-boeing-737-max-before-crashes

  7. “If the FAA, Boeing and national aviation authorities all agree that it’s safe to fly, shouldn’t we have some faith in their decision?”. Forgive me if I don’t share this optimism.

    I think it will be some time before Boeing, nay the FAA will be taken at their word by world airline regulators. The equity of integrity and safety that Boeing and the FAA had built over the past 70 years has definitely taken a beating in my opinion.

  8. Customer confidence is a fickle thing. The rebranding of the Max 8 by Ryanair was naive, and in all honesty, treats the customer as an idiot. They are not. They may flock to Ryanir for low fares, but they will not risk their lives, or those of their families, to fly cheaply. The truth is, and both AIG and Ryanair are going to find out the hard way, that not only will customers refuse to fly on this aircraft, but pilots and cabin crew will also. God forbid, but should a Ryanair Max 8 experience a fatal incident, it may well put this airline out of business

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