Airlines around the world are grounding 737 Max 8 planes — here’s why the U.S. isn’t.


Update (Tuesday, March 12, 6:12 p.m. EST): The entire European Union has now banned the use of 737 Max 8 Planes. According to The New York Times, the E.U. prohibited Max 8 planes from entering the airspace of 28 nations. It also banned the use of the slightly newer Max 9. The United States has yet to take action.

On Monday, an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed just moments after takeoff, killing all 157 people on board. In the hours after the crash, even before officials recovered the plane’s black boxes, people began to call the safety of the aircraft into question — a brand new Boeing 737 Max 8 plane.

The Boeing 737 Max 8 had been heralded as the “future” of aviation thanks to its impressive fuel economy and futuristic touches like music in the cabin and new LED lighting throughout.

"It's all about the fuel [economy], really," aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group previously told NPR. "You're talking about double-digit savings relative to the previous generation."

However, in a matter of months, two 737 Max 8 plane crashes — Lion Air and Ethiopian — have left experts to figure out if the plane is part of the equation or if it’s just a horrible coincidence. Many countries’ airlines, however, aren’t waiting for the answer.

Mere hours after the crash, Ethiopian Airlines announced it would ground its 737 Max 8 planes. The entire country of China followed suit, then Singapore barred all 737 Max service, along with Australia, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, and more.

But, one place you’ll still find the 737 Max 8 in service is the United States.

“We continue to operate our 24 MAX 8 aircraft,” American Airlines told Travel + Leisure in a statement.

“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,” the airline spokesperson added. “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.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) shared its statement of support for both Boeing and the 737 Max 8 aircraft on Monday.

"External reports are drawing similarities between this accident and the Lion Air Flight 610 accident on October 29, 2018," the FAA's Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community read. "However, this investigation has just begun and to date we have not been provided data to draw any conclusions or take any actions."

The FAA did note that it mandated "design changes" to the aircraft to be done by next month. Those changes were a result of the Lion Air crash, however, not the recent Ethiopian crash.

Boeing itself stood up for its planes in a statement, reading in part, “Speculating about the cause of the accident or discussing it without all the necessary facts is not appropriate and could compromise the integrity of the investigation.”

Southwest, another U.S. airline currently operating 737 Max 8 planes, told T+L that it too plans to continue using the planes, but will closely monitor the ongoing investigation.

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-Max 8
Credit: JIM WATSON/Getty Images

“We operate 34 MAX 8 aircraft in our fleet of more than 750 Boeing 737s. We remain confident in the safety and airworthiness of our fleet,” a spokesperson said. “Our 34 MAX 8 aircraft produce thousands of data points during each flight which are constantly monitored. To date, we have operated more than 41,000 flights and have corresponding aircraft data that indicates the effectiveness of our operating standards, procedures, and training.”

But, Southwest is doing one thing to help squelch customer fears: It’s allowing people to change planes if they want to.

“Southwest is fielding some questions from customers asking if their flight will be operated by the Boeing 737 MAX 8. Our Customer Relations Team is responding to these customers individually, emphasizing our friendly, no-change fee policy.”