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American, United CEOs Acknowledge Customers May Be Skittish Once 737 MAX Returns

May 23, 2019
3 min read
American, United CEOs Acknowledge Customers May Be Skittish Once 737 MAX Returns
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There’s still no timeline for when Boeing’s troubled 737 MAX might be cleared to resume flying. But, whenever that occurs, airlines that fly the plane may have a challenge in allaying travelers’ concerns about the aircraft's safety.

In the US, three airlines — American, Southwest and United — currently have 737 MAX jets in their fleets.

This week, the CEOs of two of those airlines have made some of their most direct comments yet about what they'll have to do to win over customers when MAX flights begin again.

At United, CEO Oscar Munoz acknowledged to the Chicago Tribune some customers may be skeptical about the MAX once it returns to service.

To help reassure those passengers, Munoz said he planned to be on United’s first 737 MAX flight when the jet resumes flying.

“Just because somebody says it’s safe, you as the flying public aren’t just going to get on the aircraft,” Munoz said Wednesday morning, making the candid comments after United’s annual meeting with shareholders.

He said United also intends to be clear with customers when their flight is on a MAX, adding: “If people need any kind of adjustments, we will absolutely rebook them.”

At American, CEO Doug Parker sat down with NBC Nightly News for an interview that aired Wednesday.

Parker talked with host Lester Holt about a "fix" for the MAX that will allow it to resume commercial flights.

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“There's one that we will all be comfortable with, or the aircraft won't be recertified. And our pilots are gonna agree with that, or the aircraft won't fly," Parker said.

Like Munoz, Parker conceded the MAX crashes may have created apprehension among travelers.

“Accidents like this, tragedies like this, are you know horrific,” he said. “Now in our case, we’ve always believed that, that airplane with our pilots, with our training was an airworthy aircraft. But … it’s not for us to decide whether or not the aircraft flies. It needs to be safe for everyone.”

“It's incredibly important to us, that we get to a point where the entire aircraft aviation community feels comfortable that this airplane is ready to get back in the air. And when it is, we'll be flying in it,” Parker added.

Southwest Airlines also flies the Boeing 737 MAX, though its CEO did not join American's and United's on the media speaking circuit this week.

However, Ryan Green -- Southwest's chief marketing officer -- told CNBC on Thursday that Southwest also would be willing to let customers request different flights if they're scheduled to be on a 737 MAX.

“If Customers are uneasy about flying on a Max aircraft, we’ll be flexible will them," Green said. "We’ll be understanding of that and allow them to fly on a different flight without paying any difference in fare.”

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