Travelers nervous after Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes in Ethiopia

Some travelers may be nervous about flying in a Boeing 737 MAX 8 after a deadly crash in Ethiopia, the second crash for that type of aircraft in five months.

All 157 people aboard the Ethiopian Airlines aircraft were killed this weekend and another 189 people were killed in October 2018 when a Lion Air plane crashed in the Java Sea.

So, should travelers be nervous?

"I can absolutely see why people are uneasy. I do trust U.S. airlines that this aircraft is safe," said airline industry expert Brian Sumers, He said he's confident in the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX 8.

What should nervous travelers do?

"If you are a consumer and don't want to fly on that plane I would argue you don't have to'" said Sumers, the aviation business editor at Skift.

There are no official policies requiring airlines to change your flight based on a plane model, Sumers said. However, he said: "Airlines probably do not want you to fly on an airline you are not comfortable flying on so the best course of action call the airline, they'll them what you are feeling, tell them you are nervous about flying and the likely hood is that someone on the phone will say, 'OK customer, you can switch to another flight for no fee,' but people need to remember that this is not an official policy."

Most airlines will tell you the type of plane before you book but that is never a guarantee because the type of plane can change, even the day of the flight.

"Even if you book on one type of airplane, there is no guarantee that when you get to the gate at O'Hare that that type of plane will be there," Sumers said.

None of the U.S. airlines have grounded the MAX 8s and the Federal Aviation Administration issued a statement backing the safety of them. However, carriers and authorities in Britain, Germany, Australia, Malaysia, China, Mongolia, Latin America and other countries have grounded the aircraft.

Currently, there's no evidence of a link between the two crashes, but some travelers may not want to risk it.

"U.S. airlines are not in the business of flying unsafe aircraft," said Sumers. "If they have worries about the airplane, they would ground it."

Most of the major airlines told the I-Team that they are not offering any changes or waivers.

Many airlines issued statements.

Southwest Airlines
"Our heart goes out to the families and loved ones of the passengers and Employees on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. As Southwest operates a fleet of 34 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, we have been in contact with Boeing and will continue to stay close to the investigation as it progresses. We remain confident in the safety and airworthiness of our entire fleet of more than 750 Boeing 737 aircraft, and we don't have any changes planned to 737 MAX operations."

Southwest Airlines said it's working with customers on "an individual basis."

American Airlines
"American Airlines extends our condolences to the families and friends of those on board Ethiopian Airlines flight 302. At this time there are no facts on the cause of the accident other than news reports. Our Flight, Flight Service, Tech Ops and Safety teams, along with the Allied Pilots Association (APA) and Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), will closely monitor the investigation in Ethiopia, which is our standard protocol for any aircraft accident. American continues to collaborate with the FAA and other regulatory authorities, as the safety of our team members and customers is our number one priority. We have full confidence in the aircraft and our crew members, who are the best and most experienced in the industry."

American Airlines said it does not fly the planes to or from Chicago. They also will not offer a waiver for travelers seeking to change their reservations.

United Airlines
"We are deeply saddened by the tragedy involving our Star Alliance partner, Ethiopian Airlines. Our sincerest condolences remain with the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Our top priority is always the safety of our customers and our employees. We are monitoring the investigation in Ethiopia and are in close contact with the NTSB, FAA and other regulatory authorities as well as Boeing. United does not have any 737 MAX 8 aircraft in our fleet. We do operate 14 737 MAX 9 aircraft. We are proud to say that we have the best pilots in the industry, and we have complete confidence in their ability to fly this aircraft safely. United Airlines currently has 14 MAX-9 and no MAX-8 or MAX-10 aircraft in our fleet."

Delta Airlines said the planes in question aren't in its fleet.

Boeing also issued a statement:

"The Boeing Company is deeply saddened by the loss of Lion Air Flight 610, which has weighed heavily on the entire Boeing team, and we extend our heartfelt condolences and sympathies to the families and loved ones of those onboard.

Safety is a core value for everyone at Boeing and the safety of our airplanes, our customers' passengers and their crews is always our top priority. The 737 MAX is a safe airplane that was designed, built and supported by our skilled employees who approach their work with the utmost integrity.

For the past several months and in the aftermath of Lion Air Flight 610, Boeing has been developing a flight control software enhancement for the 737 MAX, designed to make an already safe aircraft even safer. This includes updates to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) flight control law, pilot displays, operation manuals and crew training. The enhanced flight control law incorporates angle of attack (AOA) inputs, limits stabilizer trim commands in response to an erroneous angle of attack reading, and provides a limit to the stabilizer command in order to retain elevator authority.

Boeing has been working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on development, planning and certification of the software enhancement, and it will be deployed across the 737 MAX fleet in the coming weeks. The update also incorporates feedback received from our customers.

The FAA says it anticipates mandating this software enhancement with an Airworthiness Directive (AD) no later than April. We have worked with the FAA in development of this software enhancement.
It is important to note that the FAA is not mandating any further action at this time, and the required actions in AD2018-23.51 continue to be appropriate.

A pitch augmentation control law (MCAS) was implemented on the 737 MAX to improve aircraft handling characteristics and decrease pitch-up tendency at elevated angles of attack. It was put through flight testing as part of the certification process prior to the airplane entering service. MCAS does not control the airplane in normal flight; it improves the behavior of the airplane in a non-normal part of the operating envelope.

Boeing's 737 MAX Flight Crew Operations Manual (FCOM) already outlines an existing procedure to safely handle the unlikely event of erroneous data coming from an angle of attack (AOA) sensor. The pilot will always be able to override the flight control law using electric trim or manual trim. In addition, it can be controlled through the use of the existing runaway stabilizer procedure as reinforced in the Operations Manual Bulletin (OMB) issued on Nov. 6, 2018.

Additionally, we would like to express our deepest condolences to those who lost loved ones on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. A Boeing technical team is at the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. It is still early in the investigation, as we seek to understand the cause of the accident."
Copyright © 2019 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.