After an almost 2-year investigation in the wake of two deadly crashes, the Federal Aviation Administration has cleared the Boeing 737 Max to resume flying as soon as next month.
But a coalition of consumer and business travel groups is calling on airlines to adopt a series of policies that protects travelers who may be wary of boarding a flight on a reinstated Max plane.
"The circumstances surrounding the Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 are unprecedented in the history of commercial travel and call for extraordinary protections for understandably concerned consumers," Kurt Ebenhoch, executive director of Travel Fairness Now, said in a statement. "While we appreciate the initial accommodations that some airline officials have shared through public comments, we look forward to them formalizing those plans into binding commitments consumers can depend on before committing to purchase a plane ticket.”
The airliners were grounded in March 2019 following the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet just five months after another Max operated by Lion Air crashed into the Java Sea outside Indonesia. A total of 346 passengers and crew died in the two incidents.
Following the FFA’s decision (PDF) on Wednesday, the coalition of travel groups asked the leaders of four airlines to adopt a plan to protect passengers. A letter (PDF) sent to the CEOs of Alaska, American, Delta, and United airlines, asked them to agree to five separate protections:
- Allowing passengers concerned about flying on a 737 Max to change to flights operated with other aircraft without any financial penalties.
- If no other flights match a passenger's itinerary, offering them the option of either a full refund or the ability to apply the full value of the ticket to a ticket to a different destination without any fees or penalties.
- If a consumer is so concerned that they'd rather not travel at all, provide them with a full refund.
- Make the changes binding by updating the airlines’ contract of carriage.
- Making the type of aircraft that will be used on a flight easily viewable to allow consumers and travel agents to make a decision about whether to choose that flight before booking.
“Many travelers now dread the thought of getting on a 737 Max and understandably will go out of their way to book travel on another kind of aircraft,” the coalition wrote in its letter. “Having gone to the trouble of making their preferences known, these travelers should never face last-minute aircraft substitutions that would land them on a 737 Max.
“We believe travelers with these concerns should have the right to switch to another aircraft when possible, paying no more than they did for the same type of ticket and class of service, or be given a full refund or credit if no alternative is available.”
The coalition includes the Business Travel Coalition, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumers League, and Travel Fairness Now.
Following the FAA’s action Wednesday, U.S. airlines will be able to fly the Max once software and computers are updated by Boeing and pilots receive training in flight simulators. This could happen as soon as next month. See all our Airports and Flying coverage here, plus our travel news and tips.