After nearly two years on the ground, Boeing’s 737 MAX is becoming an increasingly common sight once again. This is particularly evident in the US, where four airlines have flown the type since its recertification. This week, Simple Flying had the chance to speak to Bryce Rea, who flew as a passenger on each of these milestone journeys.
Post-recertification return to service
Last November, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) became the first authority to grant the MAX recertification. This brought an end to a 20-month grounding period forced by the crashes of Lion Air flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, which bore striking similarities.
Despite this, the US was not the first country to see the type return to commercial service. This took place in Brazil, where low-cost carrier GOL flew the world’s first post-recertification MAX flights on December 9th.
Since the FAA’s recertification, four US airlines have flown the MAX: Alaska Airlines, American, Southwest, and United. Bryce Rea, who runs the YouTube channel Skylite Productions, was a passenger on all of these sectors, and shared his experiences with us.
The grounding and recertification period was a long and difficult process for Boeing. However, Rea is confident that the manufacturer and the FAA used their time well. He states:
“Now that the recertification process has finished, and the aircraft has been cleared to fly again, I have complete faith that the FAA’s process was thorough and has addressed the issues that needed to be fixed. It’s also worth mentioning that the airlines have a lot invested in this aircraft as well.”
Pre-grounding MAX operations in the US
Of course, it is important to remember that all of these carriers except Alaska Airlines had already flown the MAX before its grounding. Indeed, Bryce had already flown on the type once before, from Miami to New York LaGuardia in June 2018. He observes that:
“This was the original route that American introduced the aircraft on, on November 29th, 2017. Interestingly, we never made it to LaGuardia, as we diverted to Charlotte-Douglas International. The diversion was not due to an aircraft fault, but a passenger medical emergency.”
Transparency when booking
Despite the MAX’s successful recertification, some passengers may still be wary of the aircraft. As such, carriers have taken steps to inform passengers on MAX services that the type will operate their flights. This is evident as early as the booking stage, as Bryce explains.
“It was abundantly clear on all four airlines that you were booking a flight on a 737 MAX. I specifically booked these flights, but even a passenger who knew little about commercial aircraft would have realized they were booking a flight on a MAX. All four airlines were ultra-transparent during the booking process.”
For example, Rea notes that American featured a note about the MAX at the top of the reservation whenever it was opened on the airline’s website or app. There was perhaps a particular emphasis for American, as it was the first US carrier to re-introduce the MAX. Its first post-recertification flight with the type flew from Miami to LaGuardia on December 29th.
Alaska and American stand out
While all four airlines were similarly transparent during the booking process, their levels differed a little when it came to the flights themselves. Two carriers stood out for Bryce, who notes:
“Both American and Alaska made multiple announcements at the gate, informing everyone that their flight was operated by a 737 MAX. They also informed everyone that if they were uncomfortable flying on a Max, they would be happy to move them to another flight free of charge.”
As we have established, one might have expected American, as the first carrier, to have been conspicuous about the MAX’s presence. It is interesting that Rea also notes that Alaska Airlines made a particular effort.
However, this is also understandable, given that its MAX flight was its first-ever with the type, let alone just in the post-recertification era. The carrier’s inaugural MAX service flew from Seattle to San Diego on March 1st. Bryce reports that Alaska also “had two captains in the cockpit, inducing their Director of Flight Standards and Fleet Captain” for the occasion.
Less conspicuous on Southwest and United
On the other hand, Rea states that it was a much more subdued affair for Southwest and United. Southwest’s first post-recertification MAX flight took place most recently when it flew from Denver to Chicago on March 11th. Meanwhile, United had joined the party exactly a month before, flying its first post-recertification MAX service from Denver to Houston. Rea notes:
“Aside from both airlines making one quick announcement that this was their first MAX flight since the grounding, I never heard any other announcements about the aircraft, or passengers’ ability to switch to a different flight if they wanted. On the United flight, the fact we were flying on a MAX wasn’t mentioned onboard until after we had landed in Houston.”
A successful re-introduction across the board
Despite the carriers’ differing approaches, Bryce told Simple Flying that “all four flights went without a hitch. In the end, they were four domestic US flights, and, once you got past the cameras, they were just like any other flight.” This is good news for MAX operators, who will surely want flying on the aircraft to be just as safe and comfortable as any other.
While on the subject of passenger comfort, this is also something that Rea touched upon. He states that “with the new Boeing Sky interiors, and their signature mood lighting and larger overhead bins, you could tell it was a new, more modern, aircraft.” That said, Bryce observes that airlines may retrofit older 737s with these aspects, making them harder to tell apart internally.
Having traveled on these four flights, Rea hopes that his Skylite Productions videos will help inspire confidence in the MAX. As someone who frequently receives comments from people with a fear of flying who use his videos to get used to air travel, Bryce states:
“I wanted people who might still have hesitations about the MAX to be able to watch the videos and see that these flights were just like any other commercial flight they’d normally take. Flying on the MAX is just as smooth and uneventful as any other flight, on any other aircraft.”
Having successfully re-introduced the type, or inaugurated in Alaska’s case, US carriers are increasingly ramping up their MAX operations. This will hopefully signal the start of a brighter period for Boeing, closing the book on a difficult few years. Bryce Rea echoes these sentiments, stating: “I feel like this is the closing of the ‘grounding’ chapter, and it’s onward and upward for the Boeing 737 MAX.”
What are your thoughts on the 737 MAX’s return to service in the US? Have you flown on the aircraft with any of the airlines mentioned? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!