Airlines, Boeing Aim to Restore Customer Faith After Deadly 737 Max Crashes

May 1, 2019

mark ralson/alp]
mark ralson/alp]

Update: According to an NPR story on May 6, Boeing knew there was a problem with one of the safety features on its 737 Max planes as early as 2017 but did not disclose the issue until after the Lion Air crash in October 2018.


In the aftermath of two fatal crashes in five months, Boeing’s grounded 737 Max passenger jets will be “among the safest planes ever,” said CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who also said that he’ll fly on one immediately when they return to service.

Last October, 189 passengers were killed when a Lion Air flight crashed. Then, this March, 157 people died in a downed Ethiopian Airlines flight. Muilenburg said Boeing accepts responsibility for the 737 Max’s faulty software that led to the disasters but claims the crashes themselves were due to “multiple contributing factors.”

While all 737 Max jets remain inactive — the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily grounded them on March 13 — once the aircrafts are cleared for flying, it will take time for travelers not to fear the worst when boardng a flight. 

Southwest, American and United — the U.S. airlines that fly the 737 Max — have connected directly with customers to ease their concerns. When one Twitter user tweeted anxiously at Southwest to ask about the plane she just boarded, Southwest responded: “Don’t worry, Courtney. The 737-800 and 737 MAX 8 merely share the same onboard materials — you are on a 737-800.”

Whereas airline companies at this time only need to assuage passenger fears that they aren’t traveling on a 737 Max, Boeing will need to do much more by giving stakeholders a reason to be confident in its products again.

For Michael Meath, professor of public relations at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, the key to repairing Boeing’s reputation is acknowledging the complexity of its crisis. This means forgoing any slick videos or full-page newspaper ads for “good, honest, straightforward communication.”

“Even if everybody comes out and says, ‘Hey, we got the fix. It’s all good. We’ve tested it. Everybody’s happy; we’re good to go,’ it’s going to take time,” he told USA Today. “When you damage a reputation like that, it takes time to build it back up.” — Dean Essner


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