After a second deadly plane crash on Sunday, travelers are concerned about flying on Boeing’s recently introduced 737 MAX 8 jet. Here’s what to know about the controversial aircraft, which airlines are using it, and how those who want to avoid flying on it, can do so.
The MAX 8, one of Boeing’s latest models, crashed in Ethiopia on Sunday, killing all 157 passengers and crew on board. It’s the second of this new model to meet a similar fate. In October, another MAX 8 went down in Indonesia. All 189 people aboard that flight, operated by Lion Air, died.
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Twenty-two international airlines and several countries, including China and Indonesia, have grounded all MAX 8s, pending further investigation, according to the New York Times.
However, several North American carriers including Southwest, American Airlines, Air Canada, and WestJet continue to fly the controversial plane.
Southwest, American and WestJet all issued statements to PEOPLE expressing their confidence in the safety of their fleet, noting that they are monitoring the investigation in Ethiopia and will heed any advice from the FAA, should the regulating body issue a ban on the plane. No such warning has yet been announced. Air Canada did not immediately reply to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Travelers who would rather avoid the aircraft regardless have a few options.
Two major domestic carriers do not have the plane in their fleet: United Airlines does not operate any MAX 8s, though they do fly other planes in Boeing’s newest range, including 14 MAX 9s, a spokesperson confirms. Delta does not fly any 737 MAX planes.
If you’re planning to fly in the near future, make note that most major airlines allow customers to see what aircraft model they are scheduled to fly. Here’s how to check when booking a flight, or for flights that have already been booked, on the airlines that fly the MAX 8:
On Southwest’s site, the plane type can be found by clicking on the hyperlinked flight number, located in the results for any flight search.
On American’s site, this information is displayed under the flight times on every search results page.
On Air Canada, it can be accessed by clicking “Details.”
And on WestJet, it can be found by clicking “Flight Details.”
However, a representative for WestJet tells PEOPLE that the type of plane can change after booking.
“When booking guests can see the aircraft scheduled to operate on a route, however, that is always subject to change,” the spokesperson said.
A representative for Southwest told PEOPLE on Monday, “We are 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.” They also encourage passengers to check the model via their booking tool when choosing a new flight, but didn’t offer guidance about what to do if the aircraft is changed after booking.
“Your aircraft could very well change between the time you book and actually arrive at the airport, so it’s a good idea to call in the days prior to your flight to verify,” Tracy Stewart, Content Editor at the travel deal site Airfarewatchdog.com confirms to PEOPLE.
However, even calling ahead doesn’t guarantee the plane confirmed by the airline will be the one at the gate when it’s time to board.
“Airlines have been known to change out equipment at the very last minute, and will sometimes substitute one aircraft for another for various reasons,” Stewart explains. “If that happens and you suddenly see you’re on a 737 MAX 8, there may be language in your airline’s contract of carriage that would allow you to request a different flight, just as you would be allowed to if the airline suddenly changed the flight times.”
As they stand by their planes, airlines are not currently issuing waivers, but, Stewart says “that could change as the investigation continues. If you do discover that your upcoming reservation is aboard a 737 MAX 8 and would feel safer flying a different aircraft, you’ll be expected to pay the change fee along with the fare difference.”
A spokesperson for Boeing — which did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment — told the Washington Post via email, “The investigation is in its early stages, but at this point, based on the information available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators.”
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“Boeing is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a 737 MAX 8 airplane,” Boeing said in a statement on Sunday. “We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board and stand ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team. A Boeing technical team will be traveling to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.”
Boeing shares dropped by over 12 percent after trading opened on Monday.
Investigations in both crashes are ongoing.
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