Passengers ‘scared’ to fly 737 MAX

Two US consumer surveys suggest Boeing and airlines which operate the grounded 737 MAX could face difficulties convincing passengers to board the aircraft once regulators give it the all clear.

A study of 2,000 US travellers by the Atmosphere Research Group found 70% would hesitate to book a flight on the Boeing 737 MAX.

A separate UBS Evidence Lab survey of 1,000 respondents similarly found 70% would think twice about flying on the aircraft.

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In the Atmosphere study, 40% said they would book a higher-priced flight rather than board the 737 MAX.

Only 14% said they would fly the 737 MAX within six months of its return to service.

The survey suggested two-thirds of passengers – both business and leisure travellers – would hesitate to fly the aircraft a year after its return.

The 737 MAX was grounded following two crashes in which 346 passengers and crew died.

A Lion Air flight crashed into the sea soon after take-off from Jakarta in October last year, and an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed in March.

Atmosphere found seven out of 10 passengers were aware the 737 MAX was grounded and just one in five business travellers and 14% of leisure passengers said they would “definitely” fly the aircraft in the first six months it returned to flying.

Atmosphere president Henry Harteveldt said: “Travellers aren’t merely scared of the 737 MAX, they are terrified of it. The 737 MAX is for now a plane that passengers do not want to fly.”

However, the UBS survey offered at least one positive point for Boeing, suggesting two-thirds of passengers seldom or never check the type of aircraft they will fly on before booking a flight.

It also suggested there could be less opposition to boarding the 737 MAX once the aircraft has operated safely for a period, with 60% saying they would consider boarding after six months or more of safe operation.

One in ten said they could consider flying within three months and only 8% said they would never fly on the aircraft.

Boeing declined to comment on the survey results, but chief executive Dennis Muilenburg insisted recently: “We’ll do everything possible to re-earn trust and confidence from our airline customers and the flying public.”

No schedule has yet been agreed for the aircraft’s return.

In the US, Southwest Airlines has said it will let passengers switch from the MAX to other aircraft without incurring a fee when the latest version of the 737 does return to service.

The Atmosphere survey comprised an online survey of 2,000 adults who had taken at least one return flight in the past 12 months. It was carried out between April 27 and May 1.

The UBS survey of 1,000 respondents was conducted on May 17-22.

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