Travellers willing to pay more to avoid Boeing's 737 Max plane

14 June 2019 3 min. read

A new study among 2,000 travellers has found that confidence in Boeing’s 737 Max has hit rock-bottom. Less than one fifth of flyers would be willing board the plane in the first six months after it is allowed to return to service. 

After two fatal air disasters in Indonesia and Ethiopia, killing over 300 people, all of Boeing's operational 737 Max aircraft have been grounded. The regulators investigating the crashes, among others the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), have since determined shortcomings in Boeing's software, warning systems and pilot training. Safety experts are meanwhile questioning how thoroughly the FAA and Boeing vetted the plane before it received the green light to fly, and how well pilots around the world were trained for Boeing's 737 Max specifics when their airlines bought new planes.

The Boeing 737 Max is the company's latest plane in its successful 737 line. The plane, which can carry a maximum of 210 passengers and has a range of around 6,500 kilometres, is the fastest-selling in Boeing's history. More than 4,500 have been ordered (350 delivered so far) by 100 different operators, including Air Canada, Lion Air, Ryanair, Turkish Airlines, tour operators TUI, Qatar Airways and United Airlines. 

“Only after a year without any technical problems could the Boeing 737 Max rebuild some confidence with travellers,” said Henry Harteveldt from Atmosphere Research Group, a US research and advisory firm for the travel industry. However, he said that for Boeing, much more damaging is the reputational damage it has suffered. “Alongside the billions in damages due to loss of production and claims from airlines, Boeing’s reputation is [for the moment] ruined.”Travellers willing to pay more to avoid Boeing's 737 Max plane

Blunders in development

According to the study, public confidence in Boeing has largely disappeared. “We see that respect for the company has plummeted because Boeing has – in the eyes of the society – taken an irresponsible and arrogant attitude. Only complete openness and clear communication can help the globe’s largest aircraft manufacturer restore confidence,” remarked Harteveldt.

He added that people in the top of the company will have to be axed for the wrongdoings. “Because it is becoming increasingly clear that blunders have been made during the design, development and certification phase of the Boeing 737 Max.” Boeing is led by chief executive Dennis Muilenburg, and so far the company has not made any high-ranked layoffs following the string of errors made in its internal organisation. 

In a statement, top boss Muilenburg said the company is doing everything it can to regain confidence. “We are working closely with the inspections in America and other countries to update the Max so that it can fly safely again. Our engineers and test pilots are working on this on a daily basis. The systems and sensors on board must never lead to accidents like this again.”

The survey by Atmosphere Research Group found that many air travellers are willing to buy more expensive tickets, settle for less comfort or longer journeys to avoid the Boeing 737 Max. Nearly half of leisure passengers would for instance be willing to pay $80 more for a round trip with another plane. “Of course, that feeling will gradually fade. But even if only one in ten passengers would really fear the Max in the coming year, that would translate into a huge extra burden for Boeing and the dozens of airlines that fly with the plane," said Harteveldt.

Waiting for green light

It is still unknown when the Boeing 737 Max will get clearance from the authorities to return to the skies. Boeing says that the plane is ready and safe to return into action, but the regulators FAA (America) and EASA (Europe) are less impressed. Safety experts expect that the ban will be lifted after the summer.