Flyers Trying To Avoid Boeing's 737 Max Planes Could Unknowingly Book A Flight On One

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A Boeing 737 Max 8 airplane being built for India-based Jet Airways lands following a test flight, Wednesday, April 10, 2019, at Boeing Field in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
A Boeing 737 Max 8 airplane being built for India-based Jet Airways lands following a test flight, Wednesday, April 10, 2019, at Boeing Field in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Consumers who want to avoid flying Boeing 737 Max jets after they return to the skies could still unknowingly book flights scheduled for those models.

Max jets remain grounded in the United States, following two deadly crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia. American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have removed the 737 Max from their schedules through August and United has removed the Max through July.

But what happens in September and beyond?

A review of flights scheduled on Max planes in the fall found airline websites do not clearly identify which aircraft model passengers will be flying on, according to two primary sources of airline schedule data, Diio Mi and ch-aviation.

However, the online search site Kayak did indicate Max planes would be used for those same flights, as did TripAdvisor's SeatGuru site.

For example, the airline websites showed:

  • American Flight 1201, scheduled for Sept. 8 from Miami to Boston on a Boeing 737 Max 8, had no equipment type listed, which is unusual because American typically lists aircraft types for its flights
  • For that same day, United Flight 1046 from Houston to Las Vegas, was scheduled on a Max 9, but showed simply a "Boeing 737," which is unusual because United typically lists the specific type of 737
  • And Southwest Flight 5407 from Fort Lauderdale to Chicago, scheduled on a Max 8, showed a "Boeing 737-800"

For all three, Kayak and SeatGuru indicated Max jets: Max 8s for American and Southwest, Max 9s for United.

Now, a few caveats: No flight will operate with Max jets in September or beyond unless the Federal Aviation Administration recertifies the Max.

Airlines also routinely swap aircraft from one flight to another because of ordinary issues related to weather and maintenance, so a consumer can never be certain that a scheduled aircraft will actually operate a flight.

In the past, that mattered little because most travelers didn't care what kind of aircraft was scheduled, American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein tells Here & Now. Although by custom, airlines publish the aircraft type scheduled to operate a flight, a U.S. Department of Transportation spokesperson couldn't immediately verify whether the department requires these disclosures, or whether missing or incorrect aircraft information violates any DOT rules.

Officials at American and United airlines told Here & Now that their systems will be updated so that customers will be able to again see if a Max is scheduled on any given flight. By Wednesday morning, United's website was updated to correctly show, for example, that a Max 9 is scheduled for Flight 1046 on Sept. 8.

Southwest did not respond to requests for comment.

Feinstein, the American Airlines spokesman, says the airline initially removed information about the aircraft model from flight searches not to cause confusion, but to eliminate it. When the FAA grounded Max planes on March 13, American had to quickly cancel some flights and move non-Max aircraft onto other flights.

American's online booking system was designed to provide information for future bookings, not to reflect real-time "equipment swaps," as they're known, Feinstein says.

Some consumers who thought they were scheduled to fly on Max planes based on information they saw online either didn't want to fly or wrongly assumed their flights were canceled.

"So we quickly suppressed that [incorrect] information," Feinstein says.

This segment aired on April 24, 2019.


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Seth Kaplan Transportation Analyst, Here & Now
Seth Kaplan is Here & Now's transportation analyst. Previously, he was the managing partner and founding editor of Airline Weekly.



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