US airlines try to calm nervous travelers after fatal crash of Boeing 737 MAX jet in Ethiopia

Wang Shoubao | Xinhua News Agency | Getty ImagesRescuers work beside the wreckage of an Ethiopian Airlines’ aircraft at the crash site, some 50 km east of Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, on March 10, 2019. All 157 people aboard Ethiopian Airlines flight were confirmed dead as Africa’s fastest growing airline witnessed the worst-ever incident in its history. The incident on Sunday, which involved a Boeing 737-800 MAX, occurred a few minutes after the aircraft took off from Addis Ababa Bole International Airport to Nairobi, Kenya. It crashed around Bishoftu town, the airline said. (Xinhua/Wang Shoubao) (Xinhua/ via Getty Images)

U.S. airlines attempted Monday to assure nervous customers that the Boeing 737 MAX jets they fly are safe, a day after one of the new jets operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed outside of Addis Ababa and killed all 157 people on board.

The crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 shortly after takeoff from the Ethiopian capital was the second deadly crash of a months-old Boeing 737 MAX 8, a top-selling plane, in less than five months. The same type of plane, operated by Indonesian carrier Lion Air, plunged into the Java Sea minutes after taking off from Jakarta in October, killing all 189 aboard.

Following the Ethiopian crash, airline regulators in China and Indonesia told local carriers Monday to temporarily ground Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes, a move that was followed by Ethiopian Airlines and small carrier Cayman Airways.

The crash has sparked concern among some flight attendants and members of the public, who asked airlines on social media whether these planes are safe and in some cases, whether they can switch their flights.

“We have not relaxed our fare rules or restrictions at this point,” said Southwest Airlines spokesman Chris Mainz. Southwest had 34 of Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes in its fleet of about 750 as of the end of last year and remains “confident in the safety and airworthiness” of its aircraft, the carrier said in a statement.

Southwest doesn’t charge flight-change fees like other airlines but passengers flying on different days and flights will have to pay a difference in fare.
American Airlines issued a similar statement and said it had full confidence in its planes and crewmembers. The airline has 14 of the Boeing 737 MAX 8s in its fleet and has not changed its ticket-change polices as of Monday morning.

Some cabin crewmembers have expressed concerns about the crash.

The Association of Flight Attendants, which represents 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines including United, said it was formally requesting that the Federal Aviation Administration investigate the plane. United operates a larger model of the Boeing 737 MAX.

“While it is important that we not draw conclusions without all of the facts, in the wake of a second accident, regulators, manufacturers and airlines must take steps to address concerns immediately,” said AFA’s international President Sara Nelson.

United, which has also expressed confidence in its growing fleet of Boeing 737 MAX planes, told Twitter users it operates a larger model of the Boeing 737 MAX, not the model that was involved in the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes. It also made a distinction between older and newer Boeing narrow-body jets that have similar model numbers.

Boeing shares were down more than 6 percent in morning trading, while airline shares were mixed. Southwest was off 1.4 percent, while United was down 0.3 percent. American shares rose close to 0.8 percent and shares of Delta Air Lines, which doesn’t operate any Boeing 737 MAX planes was 2.2 percent higher.

For its part, Boeing said it is in communication with both customers and regulators.

“Safety is our number one priority and we are taking every measure to fully understand all aspects of this accident, working closely with the investigating team and all regulatory authorities involved,” the Chicago-based plane manufacturer said in a statement. “The investigation is in its early stages, but at this point, based on the information available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators.

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