Debunking myths about plane involved in two disasters

Southwest Airlines Hawaii flights: $49 tickets are gone

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A Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed in Ethiopia killing everyone on board. The crash of the Ethiopian Airlines plane marks the second deadliest accident involving a Boeing 737 in the past five months. So is there a problem with this particular model?
USA TODAY

When it comes to booking a flight, airline passengers generally focus on fares, flight times and, maybe, in-flight entertainment.

Normally travelers wouldn’t know the type of plane they’re flying without pulling the safety information card from the seat back in front of them. But in the wake of two deadly crashes involving the new Boeing 737 Max 8, they’ve suddenly taken a keen interest in aircraft types.

Skittish travelers worried about the safety of the 737 Max have been bombarding Southwest, American, United and other airlines with questions and concerns about the plane since the Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157 on Sunday.

There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about the plane and the crash aftermath, so here are five things travelers need to know:

1. No, a Boeing 737 Max 8 is not the same thing as a Boeing 737-800. The Max 8 is more fuel efficient, has quieter engines and lower operating costs. Southwest Airlines called it the future of its all-Boeing 737 fleet when it introduced the plane in October 2017. On Southwest, both planes have the same number of seats: 175. Travelers can find out what type of plane they are flying by checking the airline’s website. Note that last-minute aircraft swaps are common.

2. No, this isn’t the plane Southwest Airlines is flying to Hawaii when service begins on Sunday. That is a Boeing 737-800. Southwest plans to eventually use the Max 8 on some Hawaii flights but there is no timetable and the airline hasn’t begun the certification for over-water flights with the plane, a Southwest spokesman said. Southwest’s first Hawaii flights will be between Oakland and San Jose, California, and Hawaii.

3. Yes, U.S. airlines use the Boeing 737 Max. Southwest and American have the Max 8 in their fleets, United the bigger Max 9. No, U.S. carriers haven’t joined Ethiopian Airlines and a number of foreign carriers and governments in grounding them. There is a growing chorus of calls for U.S. carriers to follow suit

4. A grounding would not cripple Southwest, American or United’s operations, throwing the air travel system into chaos. The Max 8 may be Boeing’s best-selling plane but it represents a small percentage of the fleets of Southwest and American. Southwest has 34 Max 8s in its fleet of more than 750 aircraft. American has 24 in its fleet of nearly 1,000 mainline aircraft. United has 14 Max 9s in its fleet of 779 mainline aircraft.

5. Airlines are publicly sticking to their usual ticket-change policies in the wake of the crash, but behind the scenes they appear to be working with concerned travelers when possible. A Southwest passenger due to fly from Los Angeles to Nashville on a Max 8 Tuesday reached out to Southwest and was able to change her flight to another nonstop flight on a different plane without penalty, the passenger told USA TODAY. Southwest initially said it was not changing its policies. The airline never charges a ticket change fee but does usually charge any difference in fare since the ticket was booked. 

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