As most are unfortunately aware the Boeing 737 Max 8 is receiving very bad press after two fatal plane crashes in five months.

China suspends commercial operations of Boeing 737-8 planes

At the time of writing this, not all the 737 Max’s have been grounded. Indeed until only a couple of hours ago Ethiopian Airlines insisted they would continue to fly the aircraft. They have since revised their position.

What recourse will a passenger who is scheduled to fly commercial on that model of plane have if they refuse to board because of safety concerns? Do airlines handle such issues under airline specific ticket contract or there exists some general global aviation rules cover such well founded fears of catastrophe?

well found·ed adjective (especially of a suspicion or belief) based on good evidence or reasons.


Methinks a well run airline like Ethiopian Airlines and major country like China both deciding to ground the aircraft based on two catastrophic events in a short period of time fits the textbook definition of well founded. Catastrophic plane crashes are not a dime a dozen.


Global civil aviation authorities have banned all flights using the aircraft, everywhere. The issue about the fear not being well founded is dead in the water, kaput.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Willeke
    Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 16:48
  • I'm voting to close this question because it's over. The 737 MAX has been grounded.
    – user4188
    Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 0:05
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    @chx It seems unlikely that the answers will be any different the next time there's a problem with a model of commercial aircraft. Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 0:32

8 Answers 8


Here's an excerpt from a recent BBC article:

Can I ask to fly on a different plane?

Some passengers scheduled to fly on a Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft may wish to transfer to a different flight, but they will have no rights to do so without incurring extra costs under the current regulations.

With regulators in the US declaring these planes safe and flights continuing in the UK and Europe, wary passengers would have to buy a ticket for a different flight and would have no right to a refund, according to consumer group Which?. Any pay-out from travel insurance policies would also be extremely unlikely.

Some airlines are grounding particular planes, but still running scheduled flights on alternative aircraft.

If airlines with these planes do cancel flights, passengers would have the same rights to refunds or re-routing to their destination as they normally do when any flight is cancelled for whatever reason.

The above was quoted 2019-03-12 13:27 GMT

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    Correct. And now that EASA has closed the European airspace as of 2000 CET 12/03/2019 for the 737Max airlines are scrambling to reschedule and rebook passengers.
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 4:44
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    @jwenting yeah, I expect a lot of these answers will be slightly outdated seeing as how quickly countries/companies are grounding the planes.
    – BruceWayne
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 4:53

What recourse will a passenger who is scheduled to fly commercial on that model of plane have if they refuse to board because of safety concerns?

None. The airline and the relevant regulators are the competent authorities to determine what types of planes are safe to fly, not the passengers.

Of course, in many cases, airlines will do things such as rebooking or refunding tickets that they're not obliged to do, because it's good PR. However, I would expect that the collateral "Airline admits passenger who refused to fly on one of their planes might have a valid point" would be worse than the PR of "Airline won't help passenger who refused to fly on the plane that was provided."

As of 12th March, the BBC reports reports that Southwest is allowing customers booked on a 737 MAX-8 to change their reservation, but not offering refunds. However, this is just Southwest's standard policy of not charging fees for rebooking, which applies to all their flights.

And, as of 13th March, Boeing has grounded all 737 MAXes. From this point, the question is somewhat moot. Passengers whose flights are cancelled or rescheduled as a result of this have the same rights as they would for any other cancellation/rescheduling.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JoErNanO
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 15:32

If a regulator has ordered that aircraft grounded and an airline continues to fly it, contact the regulator. Beyond that, you would have a hard time arguing that the fears were "well founded". They may not be baseless, but still not "well founded".

At that point, it would be a passenger voluntarily refusing to board. No recourse.


Simple, No recourse. You may always politely ask for rescheduling to different equipment. "It doesn't cost anything to be nice" -- Bear Bryant

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    I disagree, @dan-klasson. The answer is there: No recourse. That's an answer. The rest is commentary, but it doesn't detract from the answer: in fact, it adds to it
    – TRiG
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 15:30
  • In this particular case there was a legitimate safety issue, which the manufacturer documentedly knew about for at least 5 months (quite possibly longer), and neither adequately fixed nor revised their pilot training simulators. "No recourse" is a meaningless generality. There is obviously passenger recourse through refund and rebooking requests, cancellations, credit-card refunds/chargebacks, also Boeing would be feeling major heat from their airline clients for this.
    – smci
    Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 5:20
  • @smci The airline is under no obligation to refund or rebook just because the passenger doesn't want to fly on a particular plane, so there is no recourse there. A credit card chargeback would be a breach of your contract with the airline and leave you liable to being sued. Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 10:25
  • @DavidRicherby: why are you totally ignoring what I said? There has been a known safety issue since at least 2018 with the 737MAX MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) that killed 157 people on LionAir + 189 people on the Ethiopian Airlines crash, also US pilots had been complaining about it in 2018, and now Boeing officially acknowledged it. It's not a question of passengers not "wanting" to fly on a particular plane model; as of 3/13, airlines are not legally able to fly the 737. Hence unable to fulfil their end of the contract
    – smci
    Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 12:43
  • But since at least 3Q/2018, many airlines have been knowingly selling tickets on a known-dangerous plane that has had two fatal accidents plus more near-accidents (in the US). (I personally avoided flying LionAir last Christmas for exactly this reason). You're suggesting passengers had no legal right to demand a change or cancellation on those grounds. I repeat that this answer is nonsense (as per my earlier comment that somehow got deleted).
    – smci
    Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 12:50

NPR.org reports that:

The Federal Aviation Administration says it plans to require a series of design changes to the Boeing 737 MAX fleet after a pair of fatal plane crashes including one yesterday in Ethiopia that killed all 157 people on board.

Boeing confirms it's in the process of enhancing the flight control software for the plane, including the MCAS software.

CBC.ca reported that:

The Air Canada Pilots Association, the union for Air Canada and Air Canada Rouge pilots, sent out a statement urging Transport Canada "to take proactive action to ensure the safety of the Canadian travelling public."

Not exactly clear what they meant by that but the Transport Minister (of Canada) would consider it "premature" to ground the 41 planes of that model owned by Canadian airline companies according to CBC.

I'm afraid that doesn't provide further options for the consumer. So I guess all that's left is for people who think the precautionary principle requires them to not fly in such planes would be to cancel their bookings, try to get a refund from the seller and purchase new tickets trying to ascertain what plane they'll be flying on. If as some people have stated it's possible to guarantee that you'll fly in the plane described when booking, then you may choose a direct flight with an airline which doesn't operate the said plane...

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    "take proactive action" just means "do something" I'm afraid. It's nothing more or less than "ok, we want you to do something, doesn't matter what, as long as it takes the problem off our backs"
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 5:01
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    I was surprised to (mis)read that Canada had a union for rogue pilots.
    – user29097
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 0:40

If an airline has scheduled a flight using a particular aircraft, then it means they deemed it safe enough to fly. Acknowledging that a passenger who refuses to board has "well-founded fears" is basically admitting that they are knowingly putting other passengers and the crew in danger. So no, that won't happen: either they cancel the entire flight, or you will have to refuse to board.

The recourse you have as a customer (whenever or not you end up boarding a 737 Max) is to take note of the airline whose safety standards are lax enough to keep flying that model while everyone else grounds it, and avoid using its services in the future, with optional public shaming in social media.


In many places around the world the point has become moot because the entire EU has suspended the Boeing 737 Max flights. Even before that Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Oman, Singapore, Turkey and the United Kingdom have announced suspending of the flights. The UK, Oman, Singapore, Australia, Ireland and France and Norwegian Airlines suspended the whole Boeing 737 Max range while India, Dubai, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Iceland, Germany and the airlines LOT Polish, TUI Airways, GOL Linhas Aereas, Aeromexico, Aerolíneas Argentinas, Cayman Airways, Comair Airways, Eastar Jet, Jet Airways, Mongolian Airlines, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Lion Air and Silkair have suspended the Max 8 model. Turkey suspended Max 8 and 9 models (CNN.com, US and Canada are the only two nations still flying many Boeing 737 Max planes). A different source adds Royal Air Maroc to the bunch and includes individual reports for each.

Because some of the decisions bar a variant of the plane from entering the airspace, the effect is far ranging despite some countries/airlines still flying the plane; which therefore will have to be domestically, or from non-ban countries/zone to non-ban countries/zone and outside the airspace where the model is barred from flying, for instance from the continental U.S. to Hawaii or to Canada surely still works for the time being...

  • As far as I can see, "the whole Boeing 737 Max range" is exactly the same thing as "Max 8 and Max 9 models": those are the only two models currently in service. Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 13:10
  • It doesn't seem like you're answering the question here.
    – Sneftel
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 15:21

Since it is easy to determine what aircraft model is on a particular flight, when you buy the ticket, you are effectively approving that model. So you have no grounds for refusing it and even fewer grounds for making any demands. On the other hand, it doesn't hurt to ask.

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    It's actually virtually impossible to guarantee what aircraft model you'll end up flying on. Some booking sites will tell you what's scheduled, but those can change at no notice. Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 0:36
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    Also if you booked more than two days ago you would not have known what you know now. Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 1:01
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    For many people the first time they know what aircraft they're going to fly on is the moment they head the safety briefing after the doors close. For others it's when they recognise the aircraft type as it stands at the gate. And the differences between a 737Max and an older 737NG are subtle enough a lot of them won't be able to tell.
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 5:05
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    "Easy"? Every flight I've booked in the past 15 years has been scheduled on some flavor of Boeing 737, but the actual aircraft have been anything from an A320 to a CRJ-100 (and yes, mostly 737s). I didn't discover that I'd be flying on the CRJ until I started reading the safety card (all I knew was that I'd been rebooked on a commuter airplane to cover the airline's scheduling mixup).
    – Mark
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 22:35
  • Of course they can change it. But I haven't seen any of mine change in the four years I've been wandering. If it does change, your recourse depends on the text of the "conditions" and the laws of one or more of the countries they operate in. Figuring out who has jurisdiction may be a challenge. And @jwenting is right that most people don't notice or don't understand the aircraft type on the documents, but that won't stop the airline from using the info's availability as a defense.
    – WGroleau
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 1:05

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