I flew on the first Boeing 737 Max passenger flight in the US since its grounding. Here’s what it was like.

Author Chris Sloan
Author Chris Sloan waiting to board the Boeing 737 Max in Miami on Tuesday.

  • On Tuesday, American Airlines became the first US airline to fly the Boeing 737 Max since it was grounded in March 2019 following two crashes in a five-month span.
  • Writer Chris Sloan was onboard the three-hour flight from Miami to New York with 95 other people made up of press, bloggers, airline employees, and regular passengers.
  • Sloan says he felt completely safe and comfortable on the Max, and that the flight went smoothly save minor bumps during the descent into windy New York.
  • Some staffers on the flight were so comfortable with the Max’s return they brought family members along for the memorable event.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

On Tuesday, American Airlines became the first US airline to fly the Boeing 737 Max on route from Miami to New York, launching a new saga for the storied aircraft.

The 737 Max was once Boeing’s bestselling commercial aircraft of all time, peaking at over 5,000 orders and a runaway success for its 79 operators, according to data provided by Cirium. The Max made nearly 250,000 flights worldwide since it began flying passengers in May 2017. Then, the Max was grounded by the FAA in March 2019 following two ill-fated flights that crashed within five months of each other and took 346 lives. The aircraft hasn’t flown passengers in the US since, until Tuesday. 

After months of strenuous work to fix the quality control, cultural, and design flaws, Boeing has now readied the Max for passenger flights. American Airlines and other operators have also been working at warp speed to safely return the Max to flying. According to a statement from American Airlines, their tech operations team in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has put more than 64,000 hours of work into maintaining and upgrading the Max fleet over the past 20 months.

For years, I flew the Boeing 737 Max twice a month on one of American Airlines’ most profitable and well-traveled milk runs between Miami and New York. Flying doesn’t get much more routine than this route, and it became pedestrian for me as it did for many others.

Tuesday’s flight was the first step in rebuilding the trust that Boeing and the Max once commanded among its airline customers and the traveling public. (AA conducted a demo flight December 3.)

Here’s what it was like to be a passenger onboard the first Boeing 737 Max passenger flight.

American worked closely with Boeing on recertification and rewriting of new training protocols, with 1,400 of the company’s pilots undergoing required simulator training before flying the Max.

The Boeing 737 Max.
The Boeing 737 Max.

Source: American Airlines President Robert Isom.

As of the end of this year, American will have reactivated all 24 of its delivered Max airplanes and taken delivery of 10 more, according to American President Robert Isom, who was also onboard the flight.

American Airlines President Robert Isom speaking to the press in Miami before takeoff on Tuesday.
American Airlines President Robert Isom speaking to the press in Miami before takeoff on Tuesday.

Though Gol Linhas Aereas of Brazil and Aeromexico were first to return the Max to service, American became the first US carrier to bring the aircraft back with flight 718 from Miami to New York.

The Boeing 737 Max awaiting boarding in Miami
The Boeing 737 Max awaiting boarding in Miami.

American safely operated 18,962 Max flights from its launch in November 2017, but is restarting Max service with just one daily round trip per day – a far cry from the over 2,500 flights the Max operated for AA in its last month before the grounding.

Part of American Airlines' new routes for the Boeing Max.
Part of American Airlines’ new routes for the Boeing Max.

Source: Cirium

American safely flew more than 2.5 million passengers over 46,400 operating hours on more than 18,000 flights before the grounding.

Checking boarding passes before the flight.
Checking boarding passes before the flight.

Source: American Airlines

Read more: The FAA has cleared Boeing’s 737 Max to fly passengers again — here’s when and where each US airline will be flying it

American President Robert Isom said he’s “confident” the Max is “ready to go.” He and other AA employees and executives have been flying “flights to nowhere” designed to build confidence in the Max.

American Airlines President Robert Isom speaking to the press in Miami before takeoff on Tuesday.
American Airlines President Robert Isom speaking to the press in Miami before takeoff on Tuesday.

For all operators, the key is winning confidence, and customers haven’t shunned the Max as expected. “We haven’t seen any evidence that people are booking away from the Max,” Isom said.

AA President Robert Isom and airport staff.
AA President Robert Isom and airport staff.

The airline is being very transparent when passengers are booking and flying on the Max. Currently, they’re offering free rebooking or cancellations for AA travel credits, at no cost if passengers are uncomfortable flying on the Max.

Tuesday's flight from Miami to New York.
Tuesday’s flight from Miami to New York.

American also pledges to alert passengers via text and app notification should there be an equipment swap for a Max.

The Max preparing for takeoff.
The Max preparing for takeoff.

Read more: US airlines are allowing passengers to avoid the Boeing 737 Max as it returns to the skies in the coming months

When we were boarding, the gate agent announced we were flying the 737 Max aircraft.

At the American Airlines' gate before boarding.
At the American Airlines gate before boarding.

No passengers I spoke to were uncomfortable flying the Max: “I trust the plane. It will be much better now that it’s been revised,” said Vilma Maldonado, who was traveling to see her daughter.

Vilma Maldonado.
Passenger Vilma Maldonado.

My seatmate, Eduardo Fernandes, flies every week. “It’s been tested and looked at now more than any other plane in history, so I feel completely safe,” he said.

Passenger Eduardo Fernandes.
Passenger Eduardo Fernandes.

As to be expected, others I spoke to had no idea what aircraft they were flying, nor did they care. “As long as it gets me there safely,” one passenger said.

Boarding the Max.
Boarding the Max.

The boarding was routine, with only 96 passengers made up of press, bloggers, airline employees, and regular passengers. Other than the presence of the airline’s president on the flight and news crews, nothing was unusual.

Passengers on board the Max.
Passengers onboard the Max.

The light load had more to do with flying in a pandemic to a cold, quarantined New York than it did with the aircraft. The return leg back to sunny Miami is oversold.

Onboard the Max.
Onboard the Max.

Once onboard, the Max felt like any normal flight, as normal as flying can be during a pandemic.

The author in his seat on the Max.
The author in his seat on the Max.

Our Captain Sean Roskey, a 29-year veteran, thanked his American and Boeing colleagues for their hard work in bringing the Max back to service, adding, “I feel so confident about the plane that I bought my mother along for the trip.”

The pilots posing with a flight attendant.
Captain Sean Roskey (left) and copilot posing with a flight attendant.

Adding to the family affair, First Officer Moraima Maldonado had her mom aboard, too. The cabin erupted into applause with these sentimental announcements.

The pilots of the American Airlines flight.
The pilots of the American Airlines flight.

As we pushed back six minutes early, the ground crew stopped, took selfies, and waved us off. We taxied quickly to the runway. I could sense no real anticipation or celebration that normally accompanies special flights.

The Miami ground crew before takeoff.
The Miami ground crew before takeoff.

The Boeing 737 Max’s quiet GE Leap engine take-off noise was interrupted by a short, “golf clap”-style burst of applause.

Passengers onboard the American Airlines flight
Passengers onboard the American Airlines flight.

Boeing and its Max operators hope no news is good news. In other words, Boeing’s longtime affectionate slogan became, “If it’s Boring, I’m Going.”

During the flight to New York.
During the flight to New York.

The flight itself was very smooth and uneventful, with only minor bumps into a gusty LaGuardia on the descent.

A view of the left wing of the Max.
A view of the left wing of the Max.

Read more: American Airlines just completed the Boeing 737 Max’s first passenger flight in the US since March 2019

All stakeholders can hope is the Max’s re-entry into service mirrors this first flight, especially as the relaunch kicks into high gear in the new year.

Landing in New York.
Landing in New York.

Brett Snyder of the Cranky Flier says all eyes will remain on the Max. “The media will make front page news of even the smallest incident like a medical diversion and plaster the headlines about it being a Max … but as the airplane quietly performs well flight after flight, the concerns will melt away and people will forget about this,” he said. “It just takes time.”

Pulling up to the gate in LaGuardia.
Pulling up to the gate in LaGuardia.

“We’re not going to build trust just sitting on the ground,” said David Seymour, AA chief operations officer.

The Max after landing in New York.
The Max after landing in New York.

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