Boeing Co.’s best-selling plane is under a cloud. Regulators and airlines around the world suspended operation of the Boeing 737 Max after the fatal March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight, less than five months after the same type of plane flown by Lion Air plunged into waters off Indonesia. The plane continued to fly in the U.S., where the Federal Aviation Administration, often viewed as a global authority on air safety, said it saw “no basis to order grounding the aircraft.” But then the U.S. reversed course, ordering the 737 Max grounded, according to U.S. President Donald Trump. American travelers quickly joined those elsewhere in wondering whether the global action will impact their flights.
1. Will my flight be affected?
Probably not. The percentage of 737 Max jets in the global airline fleet is tiny at the moment. At the end of February, Boeing had delivered 376 to airlines and leasing companies around the world. The global airline fleet comprised 24,400 planes at the end of 2017, according to Boeing. You can find a list of customers for all Boeing 737 models here.
2. What are airlines doing?
They can operate a different type of aircraft, including earlier versions of the Boeing 737, if they have spares available. Airlines can also rebook passengers onto a different plane flying the same route. Globally, carriers have agreements that, if they are forced to cancel a flight for some reason, allow them to rebook their passengers onto another airline.
3. Have airports turned into no-go zones?
While widespread chaos hasn’t been reported, the longer planes remain grounded, the messier airports could get. Even before the U.S. grounded the plane, the ban applied to some of the world’s busiest hubs, including London Heathrow, Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore.
4. How do I know what aircraft I’m flying on?
Check your ticket; you should be able to tell from the booking details. If you are making a booking online, many sites indicate the plane model. If not, websites such as flightstats.com allow you to dig into details of flights at least a few days in advance, including the make and type. For those who want to change flights, most of the airlines permit you to do so but at a cost. Before Trump’s announcement, Southwest Airlines, which is the world’s biggest operator of the 737 Max, was allowing passengers to change flight bookings without penalty, only paying any fare difference.
5. How long might this go on?
This will depend on what the investigators in Ethiopia find and what corrective action, if any, is ordered. The investigation into the Oct. 29 Lion Air crash pointed to a malfunction of a software feature that repeatedly forced the plane into a nosedive. Investigators have already retrieved the Ethiopian Airlines flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder, and the world will be watching closely to see if they reveal any similar problem.
6. What was the FAA’s original view?
The agency had said it was too early to determine the cause of the latest crash, and that its extensive reviews on all available data hadn’t found any systemic performance issues. But the U.S. and Boeing were under increasing pressure as more global airlines and aviation authorities took action. The FAA and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board are observing the Ethiopian investigation.
7. When might the flight bans be lifted?
Aviation authorities are looking for any information that may be available to ensure these aircraft are safe to fly. With the black box having been found, some information could be available as soon as investigators analyze the events that led to the accident. They would also want assurances from Boeing and the U.S. authorities on what measures would be taken, if needed, to make the aircraft safe to fly.
The Reference Shelf
• A QuickTake on what the 737 Max 8 is.
• China gets tough on the 737 Max.
• Ethiopian Airlines casualties included UN officials and academics.
• Boeing’s 737 Max web page.
• The man who grounded the Dreamliner says ground the 737 Max, too, writes Bloomberg Opinion’s David Fickling.
• China leads the push against the Max.