Nearly 400 Boeing 737 MAX passenger airliners were grounded in March
2019. As a traveler, hearing that a widely used plane from a respected manufacturer has been grounded due to suspected safety issues can be troubling. Here is what you need to know about the recent events:
What Caused the Grounding?
Two Boeing 737 MAX crashed within a five month period.
On October 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea 12 minutes after takeoff carrying 189 passengers and crew. All were killed. On March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed a mere six minutes after takeoff, killing 157. Both were 737 MAX 8 airliners.
Similarities between Flight 610 and Flight 302:
- Both planes were less than four months old.
- Both planes showed multiple upward and downward fluctuations while pitching down repeatedly as pilots fought for control.
- Both pilots radioed they were trying to return to the airport.
- Both pilots appear to have experienced issues with the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), the automated anti-stall flight control system.
What was the U.S. Government Response?
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been under scrutiny
following the two fatal crashes and is in the process of re-reviewing the
safety of the 737 MAX. Given the global use of the 737 MAX, international regulators will participate in the review. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has also ordered an audit of the FAA’s approval of the 737 MAX, including its safety review and certification processes.
What Caused the 737 MAX Planes to Crash?
Initial findings indicate that the crashes may have been due to a combination of factors, including: inaccurate data being fed by sensors to the planes’ computers, MCAS commands, autopilot/autothrottle malfunctions, and possible pilot error. It cannot be known for certain what caused the planes to crash until experts have reviewed the crash data in detail.
Though the investigation is still underway, the comparison of the flights seems likely to implicate the MCAS, which was developed to prevent stalls. Following the Ethiopian Airlines crash, Boeing notified the industry of a pending software upgrade and additional pilot training materials associated with the MCAS.
What Does This Mean for Your Next Flight?
The 737 MAX have been grounded and are likely to remain so for several
more months (or longer) while the FAA and international regulators review the safety of the fleet and the proposed software and training updates. With nearly 400 planes grounded worldwide, there is greater potential for canceled or delayed flights given that so many large airliners have been temporarily taken out of service.
In terms of travel insurance coverage, since the Boeing 737 MAX grounding is now a known event, it likely won’t be covered by travel insurance policies purchased after the grounding date. Having said that, Travel Delay coverage typically does offer coverage in the event of delays due to mechanical failures or issues on an aircraft, and travelers affected by such delays should file a claim with their travel insurance provider. In addition, fears of flying or worries about flight safety aren’t a covered reason for trip cancellation coverage. Travelers who wish to cancel their trips due to worries or fears do have one option – a Cancel For Any Reason upgrade, which would allow them to cancel their trip for any reason and receive up to 75% reimbursement, depending on the policy purchased and taking into account the eligibility requirements.
Given the uncertainty that exists with travel, including canceled and delayed flights, it is always a wise decision to compare and purchase travel insurance before your next trip and before the next unforeseen event happens. Safe travels!