Sometimes you have to wonder who’s in charge at Corporate Central. Certain airlines aren’t being very sympathetic to customers who are nervous about flying — no doubt unnecessarily — on the Boeing 737 Max 8 after two of them have crashed over the past five months.
Neither crash involved an American carrier. Both Ethiopian Airlines, a Kenyan carrier whose Boeing 737 crashed Sunday shortly after take-off in Addis Ababa, killing all 157 aboard, and Lion Air of Indonesia, whose Boeing 737 crashed into the Java Sea in October, have generally good reputations for reliability and safety. Questions have been raised about Lion Air’s passion for maintenance.
But airline passengers judge their own prospects for safety in the skies through a filter of emotion, and when the government ordered the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max 8 operated by every airline in China, many passengers understandably figured that Communists or not, the Chinese must know something somebody doesn’t want to talk about. Who among us has not sat with white knuckles at the start of a take-off roll, and through clenched teeth and with paralyzed brain reconsider belief in the theory of heavier-than-air flight. Foolish, of course; air travel is the safest way to go. But fear is often irrational.
Some passengers holding reservations on future flights have asked not to fly aboard a 737 Max, and want the airline to suspend the fee for changing flights. This is impractical from the airline’s point of view; planes are not assigned to specific flights until close to departure time, and what’s a customer for if not for squeezing?
Nevertheless, when an airline spokesman says something like “the company remains confident in the safety and airworthiness of our fleet,” he misses the point. It’s the customer whose confidence is at issue.