Southwest and American Airlines to Continue Flying Boeing 737 Max 8s

Here's what passengers can do if they are uncomfortable flying on the aircraft.
Mar 12, 2019

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[Update March 13, 2019: The Federal Aviation Administration on March 13, 2019, ordered the temporary grounding of Boeing 737 Max aircraft operated by U.S. airlines or in U.S. territory.]

Southwest Airlines and American Airlines haven’t grounded planes or changed cancellation or rebooking policies in the days after the crash of a second Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft in less than six months. The two carriers are the only U.S.-based airlines that currently fly the Max 8 model in their fleets.

Boeing officials have said that the company will issue a software update to the aircraft and has confidence in the safety of the 737 Max 8. But as the Ethiopian Airlines crash investigation continues, airlines and aviation authorities around the world are taking precautions by grounding or banning the aircraft from their airspace, including throughout the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has issued an airworthiness notification mandating flight control system enhancements no later than April 2019.

The FAA has allowed the aircraft to remain in operation over U.S. airspace. And as of publication of this post, both American, which has 24 Max 8s in use, and Southwest, which has 34, haven’t announced plans to ground the aircraft.

What are my options if I fly Southwest or American?

A Southwest spokesman told NerdWallet on March 12 that the airline is in close contact with Boeing, the FAA and other carriers as the investigation of the Ethiopian Airlines crash progresses.

"We operate 34 Max 8 aircraft in our fleet of more than 750 Boeing 737s. We remain confident in the safety and airworthiness of the Max 8. We don’t have any changes planned to our Max 8 operations," the spokesman said.

American Airlines echoed Southwest’s statement. "We have full confidence in this aircraft and our crew members, who are the best and most experienced in the industry," the carrier wrote on Twitter on March 12.

Passengers who want to avoid flying on a 737 Max 8 can see the aircraft model when booking tickets or they can call the airline to find out the equipment for their flight. For passengers who want to adjust or cancel their travel plans, the standard cancellation policies for both Southwest and American Airlines apply.

For Southwest, this means you can cancel your flight and receive full credit toward a future flight with the carrier. A spokesman told NerdWallet that it is working with customers individually who wish to rebook their flight to another aircraft type.

At American, same-day flight changes are free for business and first class and cost from $75 to $150 if you’re in the main cabin. If you change the ticket before the day of travel, the cost can be from $200 to $750. Additional details for American passengers weren't available at publication since the airline didn't respond to NerdWallet's request for comment.

As well, credit card travel insurance may not apply to this situation. In most cases, travel insurance kicks in only if the airline cancels your flight or if your plane is delayed by a certain number of hours.

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