After Boeing crashes: How to know what jet you're flying on, deciding if you want to

2 Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets crash in less than 5 months, killing everyone on board

The 737 MAX, Boeing's newest model, has been been grounded by aviation authorities throughout the world after the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
The 737 MAX, Boeing's newest model, has been been grounded by aviation authorities throughout the world after the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

By now, you’ve likely heard an abundance of concern over the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets. That concern has made more people aware of what plane they might be flying on. But how do you find out which jet you'll be traveling on, and what can you do if you don't feel safe about it?

If you need some catching up, here’s a quick rundown.

On Oct. 29, 2018, a Lion Air flight leaving Jakarta, Indonesia, crashed into the Java Sea 12 minutes after takeoff, killing all 189 passengers and crew on board. It was a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet.

Less than five months later, an Ethiopian Airlines flight leaving Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, crashed near the town of Bishoftu, Ethiopia, just six minutes after takeoff, killing 157 people on board. It, too, was a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet.

The jets were certified by the Federal Aviation Association in March 2017, and the first one was delivered to Malaysia-based Malindo Air in May 2017.

The jets were newer and more fuel-efficient and cost-effective, but some of the updates changed the way the jet handled certain situations.

Ultimately, some pilots were caught off guard by sudden descents in the aircraft due to a new system, according to Clint Ross, a former commercial airline pilot who is now a captain at a corporate flight company.

Ross said the 737 MAX 8 jets have an automatic trim system that works when it thinks it’s going to stall.

"Poorly trained pilots had no idea the system was even there, and when the nose pitched down, suddenly they didn't know how to stop it or fix it," Ross said.

Just Tuesday, a Southwest Airlines 737 MAX 8 plane had to make an emergency landing in Orlando.

"We just lost our right engine. Need to declare an emergency," a pilot said during the incident, according to tower audio obtained by News 6.

The issue on Tuesday is apparently not related to the problem that caused the jets to recently be grounded.

How to spot the plane you're flying on

Despite whom or what is to blame, many travelers are now uneasy about the types of planes they are boarding and how safe they may be.

And even though the FAA has ordered the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX 8, you might still be curious to know more about the plane you'll be taking on your next trip. Is it smaller than you're comfortable with? Is it just plain old?

Don't fret, because there are several ways to find out what kind of aircraft you’ll be flying on.

Airline analyst Gary Left told Popular Mechanics your aircraft make and model is typically listed somewhere on your itinerary or during your booking process online.

[MORE: Get safety ratings on specific airlines]

You can give your airline a call to speak with a customer service representative, use websites like SeatGuru or FlightStats, or go directly to the website for the airline you will be flying with.

Furthermore, if you're interested in which planes have had hull loss accidents -- the term most often used to describe the status of an aircraft that has been destroyed or has otherwise been determined to have been damaged beyond economic repair, according to the Skybrary -- check out our infographic below.


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Making changes to your flight

But now that people are more aware of what type of jet they're flying on, what if they decide they don't feel comfortable with one? What are the terms for canceling or rescheduling?

We checked with Southwest Airlines and American Airlines. Each company said it would follow its same guidelines in this instance as any other circumstance.

American Airlines' response: "American regularly monitors aircraft performance and safety parameters across our entire fleet, including extensive flight data collection. This data, along with our analysis, gives us confidence in the safe operation of all of our aircraft, and contributes to American’s exemplary safety record. Any changes would be voluntarily." 

Southwest Airlines' response: "Southwest doesn’t charge change fees, so a customer would only need to pay any applicable fare difference to change to a different flight."

However, if you would still like to change your flight, you can do so by following the steps below:

Step 1: Click on the login link or area for managing a reservation on the airline's website.

Step 2: Enter your confirmation, e-ticket or mileage rewards number, along with your name, to bring up your itinerary.

Step 3: Once your flight information is retrieved, select the option to change a flight. Depending on what airline you fly with, there may be some fees associated with changing a flight, in addition to an upcharge if the new flight is more expensive than your previous one.

You can rest easy for now when it comes to the Boeing 737 MAX 8. As of last week, 22 airline carriers had grounded the jet, per the FAA, including American Airlines and Southwest Airlines. The order came after the agency analyzed data and evidence from the most recent crash site, along with newly refined satellite data made available.

"With a shared value of safety, be assured that we are bringing all of the resources of The Boeing Company to bear, working together tirelessly to understand what happened and do everything possible to ensure it doesn’t happen again," Boeing officials said in a statement.

[Which airlines are still flying the Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets? Click here to find out.]

“The grounding will remain in effect pending further investigation, including examination of information from the aircraft’s flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders,” a statement from the FAA said.

U.S. airlines respond swiftly

Following the order from the FAA, Southwest removed all 34 of its 737 MAX 8s, which company representatives said accounts for less than 5 percent of its daily flights.

The Southwest flight that pilots were forced to make an emergency landing of on Tuesday had no passengers on board and was being ferried to Victorville, California, for short-term storage after the grounding was issued.

American Airlines also chose to proactively cancel all flights on which it was using the jet. Company representatives said it resulted in the cancellation of about 90 flights each day within the month of April.

Want to know more about the Boeing 737 MAX 8 issues? Watch the video below.

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