My experience flying the Boeing 737 MAX 8

Last Updated:

If you're flying short-haul with Singapore Airlines, an encounter with the B737 MAX may be inevitable. Here's my recent experience.

It’s not often that an aircraft model finds its way into the everyday lexicon, but when it does, you know it’s because it changed the world indelibly. The Wright Flyer, Clipper, Concorde, Jumbo Jet and Whale Jet all resonate in the popular imagination because they’ve revolutionised air travel in one way or another, be it capability, capacity, connectivity, or comfort.

And then there’s the MAX. 

Boeing 737 MAX 8

Enough ink had been spilled on the chain of events that led to two brand new aircraft plunging from the sky and claiming the lives of 346 people. There is so much wrong with this picture, from the lengths Boeing went to circumvent additional simulator training (including mocking a request from Lion Air, one year before JT610 flew itself into the Java sea), the damning internal mails revealing how employees joked about the MAX’s deficiencies (“designed by clowns, supervised by monkeys”), a crucial piece of equipment with a single point of failure, pilots in the dark about the existence of MCAS, and Dennis Muilenburg walking away with US$62 million instead of an orange jumpsuit (but hey, he gave up US$15 million of stock!).

Memorials will be held, politicians will pontificate, and the saga will be taught in business schools the world over as a toxic confluence of corporate greed and lax oversight, but when all is said and done, the MAX isn’t going anywhere. 

Grounded B737 MAX 8s

Following recertification by US regulators in November 2020, there are now more than  840 B737 MAX aircraft in service. And despite a rash of cancellations in the wake of the crashes, the lure of fuel efficiency has proven hard for airlines to resist- the order book numbers approximately 5,000.

Closer to home, the CAAS recertified the 737 MAX in September 2021, paving the way for Singapore Airlines to bring back its mothballed fleet. It now has 14 MAX 8s in active service, with a further 23 to come. All this to say, it’s only a matter of time before you encounter a MAX in the wild. 

Given its troubled history, the MAX is always going to divide opinion. Depending on who you ask, it’s either become the safest plane in the whole wide world, or a fundamentally-flawed monstrosity that should never have seen the production line. 

I personally tend to err on the side of pragmatism. While I’m shocked at how something like this could have happened in the modern aviation era, there’s just no way of avoiding the MAX forever. 

In fact, I recently flew on this aircraft on a trip to Vietnam, and wanted to share some thoughts on the experience. 

How is SIA dealing with the MAX issue?

Singapore Airlines B737 MAX 8 | Photo: Bloomberg

When Boeing was mulling strategies for getting the MAX back into service, its playbook included hiring “Global Engagement Pilots” embedded with airlines, a war room with 24/7 surveillance of B737 MAX flights globally, and distributing talking points for flight attendants to reassure worried passengers.

US carriers, which were among the first to reintroduce the MAX, also allowed customers to opt out if they wished. For example, American Airlines had the following policy:

✈️ American Airlines B737 MAX policy

If a customer doesn’t want to fly on a 737 MAX aircraft, they won’t have to. In addition to the elimination of change fees for most customers announced in August 2020, in the immediate term, we’ll provide additional flexibility to ensure our customers can be easily re-accommodated if they prefer not to fly this aircraft type.

And if their aircraft type ever changes to a 737 MAX, there is no end to the flexibility our customers will have to feel comfortable.

Customers can:

  • Rebook on the next available flight in the same cabin — free of charge.
  • Cancel their trip and receive travel credits redeemable with American Airlines.
  • Change their itinerary within a 300-mile radius at no extra charge if there is no alternative American Airlines flight available to get them to their destination.

Such policies are being quietly eliminated as the MAX’s return proves to be relatively uneventful, and most airlines have dropped the MAX label altogether, referring to the aircraft simply as the B737-8.

That has the potential to create some confusion, especially for airlines like SIA which operate both the B737-8 and B737-800 (inherited from SilkAir, when the brand was absorbed in 2021).

 B737-8B737-800
Total Seats154162
Business Class10 (Flat Bed)12 (Recliner)
Economy Class144150
Seatback IFEYesNo (IFE via wireless streaming)
In-Seat PowerBusiness Class onlyNo
Wi-FiYesNo

While the two aircraft are radically different beasts, the monikers look the same to the untrained eye (especially if you’re in the habit of dropping trailing zeros). If the average traveller can’t tell his A350 from his B777, how much less this?

At first, it looked like Singapore Airlines would mirror the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies seen elsewhere. When it unveiled its new narrowbody aircraft cabin products, the press release made no mention of the MAX. Likewise, its fleet page uses the B737-8 terminology. 

But to its credit, SIA has been upfront with customers as far as aircraft types are concerned. The booking screen clearly labels the Boeing 737-8 MAX and Boeing 737-800 NG (albeit hidden under the “more details” dropdown), ensuring there’s no confusion about what you’re getting into. 

💡 Protip: How to tell SIA’s B737-8 and B737-800 apart
  • If the Business Class section is configured 2-2, 1-1, 2-2 with 10 seats, it’s the B737-8
  • If the Business Class section is configured 2-2 with 12 seats, it’s the B737-800
  • If the last row of the Economy Class section is 64, it’s the B737-8
  • If the last row of the Economy Class section is 65, it’s the B737-800

In any case, the B737-800s will eventually disappear from the fleet in the near future. They are currently only deployed on the shortest of regional routes, such as:

  • Kathmandu (4h 35 mins- and certainly an outlier)
  • Kuala Lumpur (40 mins)
  • Medan (1h 30 mins)
  • Surabaya (1h 55 mins)

This means that if you’re on a narrowbody Singapore Airlines plane, odds are it’s going to be a MAX. 

My experience with the MAX

I recently flew the B737-8 to Da Nang, in order to finally redeem my Banyan Tree Lang Co voucher (trip report to follow).

Singapore Airlines B737-8

This wasn’t my original plan. At the time of booking, flights to Da Nang were operated by the B737-800, and in a weird sort of way, I was actually looking forward to flying SIA’s “worst” aircraft, if only because it’s not long for this world (if that sounds insane to you, consider how I once booked a flight to Bangkok just to try SIA’s 2-3-2 Ultimo seats).

However, two weeks prior to departure, I received an alert that my seat assignment had changed. The aircraft had been swapped to a B737-8. 

To be clear, I have no misgivings about flying the MAX. I’m well aware there’s a higher chance of dying in the car ride to the airport than on a plane, and although it doesn’t sit well with me that 346 people lost their lives while one man got much richer, I won’t go out of my way to avoid it. 

Singapore Airlines B737-8 Business Class

I was, however, curious as to how Singapore Airlines would approach the matter. As it turns out, it was a complete non-event. From boarding to disembarkation, there was no special attention paid to the aircraft. Pilots sometimes make mention of the aircraft type in their welcome address, or the flight crew may mention it during the post-boarding announcements, but there was nothing of that sort.

I was on the lookout for any literature that might have been slipped into the seat pocket for jittery passengers, but found nothing beyond the standard safety card labelled “B737-8”; no MAX in sight. 

Singapore Airlines B737-8 safety card

And maybe that’s the right approach to take. Before returning to service, the MAX was subject to some of the most intense scrutiny in the history of commercial aviation. Fixes were made. MCAS now relies on two sensors, activates only once, and will never override pilot inputs. Pilots have undergone additional training, including time in a flight simulator. 

There have been more than a thousand test and check flights, a multilateral validation effort overseen by not just the United States Federal Aviation Administration, but also the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, Transport Canada Civil Aviation, and Agência Nacional de Aviação Civil Brazil. 

Boeing has also addressed some other non-MCAS related issues, such as software updates to address a potential horizontal stabiliser issue, modified wiring, and inspections for foreign object debris. 

Long story short, this is as safe as the MAX will get. If the regulators have been suitably placated, then drawing attention to the matter would only be counterproductive. There’s enough superstition about flying as it is— Singapore Airlines still omits row 13 — and the last thing we need is to add to it.

That’s not to say we pretend it never happened. The enhanced safety features we now enjoy came at the cost of 346 lives, and anyone who’s ever stepped onboard an aircraft (or ship, or car) has been the beneficiary of safety enhancements written in blood. 

Why are wind-shear detectors standard equipment on planes now? Delta 191. Why do we have fuel-inerting systems with nitrogen gas? TWA 800. Why are smoke detectors and automated fire extinguishers mandated in the cargo hold? ValuJet 592. Why do we have standardised phraseology in radio communications? Tenerife. 

It’s no comfort at all to those who have lost a loved one in an accident, but aviation is an iterative process. All we can do is pray we don’t make the same mistake twice.

What about the cabin experience?

Given the bigger issues at play, it seems almost flippant to talk about the comfort and premium cabin experience. I’ll save this for a separate post, suffice to say it was more than adequate for the <6 hour routes the aircraft is designed to ply.

This may not be the best Business Class seat that Singapore Airlines has to offer, but I’d certainly choose it any day over a recliner on a B737-800.

Singapore Airlines B737-8 Business Class
Singapore Airlines B737-8 Business Class
Singapore Airlines B737-8 Business Class

For some brief thoughts on the matter, refer to the post below. 

Conclusion

It’s been almost a year since the 737 MAX was recertified by the Singapore aviation authorities, and with more aircraft joining fleets every day, you’re bound to encounter it sooner or later.

I personally don’t have any safety concerns about flying this plane, and I don’t think it’s practicable to avoid it altogether anyway- though I understand it can be an emotive issue for some. It’s important to keep the bigger picture in mind, however, and flying remains one of the safest activities you can do.

I think that’s something to be thankful for. 

Would you be willing to fly the B737-8?

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

Similar Articles

Comments

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

39 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
tikopeh

Good to know you survive the plane ride, this give me more confidence to take it next time

flymetothemoon

No. I accept a certain level of risk associated with flying, but I won’t accept anything more to fly the MAX. Let’s not forget that it took 2 full casualty crashes (Lion Air then Ethiopian Air) to “fix” the same issue.

Mona

Exactly

Paul

Passengers need to feel safe when flying. I too accept that there are always risks when flying. Those risk should not come from a failed certification process. Hopefully the right lessons have been learned by Boeing and the FAA.

Anthony

Was there any predeparture drinks offered?

Looking forward to your Banyan Lang Co review! I’m redeeming it for November

123

No 7M8 or 738 thanks. There are better options.

Anthony

Just flew it yesterday too and the there is no hooha as you mentioned. Most people don’t even know what model they are flying as long as they get to their place. The only thing though is the flight is delay for an hour and we have to board from the ground at T4.

chk

It’s actually a nice plane to fly in. Flew in SQ 737-8 in June & July 2022 Economy. New plane too compared to the old SilkAir 737-800NG with no IFE.

asprino

A320neo surely is a nicer thing to fly

Mike

Fair review and statements Aaron. I also fly them a couple of months ago from Phuket, here is the video review, it seems very similar with your experience: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhOzW-yY-v4

AKKA

If I see it’s max, I will avoid them surely. That’s what I have been doing. Else No turning back.

Chris

I don’t have much of a choice at my second home airport (IND)…what I can say is that it’s way more comfortable than the A220.

Alian

Yup sometimes silence is golden. Took the family to Penang and only asked wife what she thought about the MAX when we returned home

She went on a freaking rampage that I endangered her life blah blah blah and did not talk to me for a while.

It’s hard to convince people. To me it’s the disappointment with how the echelons on society get away with things while the rest of us have to slog it through to make things work and fix their problems

Mona

Boeing just want to make business as usual they want to make money as fast and cheap as possible for example latest now they want to go around rules and they have never cared about the lost of people

Ice

Loss, not lost.

Rema

Get a life

Mona

And one more thing I would never fly with Boeing I simply don’t trust them

CH Lim

How much did Boeing/SQ pay you for this sponsored post? I lost my trust in you

JHH

LOL

Anon

This article itself is self evident no?

Richie

Thanks for sharing Aaron, i find this article very interesting since it is sort of like love and hate relationship between your experience and worries about the max type. We may question about Boeing’s concern about preserving this type of aircraft but where i put my trust is on the airlines themselves. I personally trust the decision from SIA, AA, United, Turkish Airlines and others in bring back and flying this aircraft concerning their company reputation shall not be compromised just because of 1 type of aircraft whereby they can just simply park or return it to the lessor when… Read more »

Anon

Brilliant piece.

Just had to scroll down to write this and I haven’t even gotten to the part of the actual review.

Consultant, blogger and u probably can add journalist.

Can see His beauty and peace in your words.

#blessings.

Tom

This piece of s£it aircraft should never have been recertified. As a commercial pilot flying for over 15 years..I am aghast why Boeing management is not in jail . The recertified s£it plane now takes inputs from 2 sensors instead of 1..and wait …how many AOA sensors do all other Boeing aircraft take inputs from? Answer: 3 . EASA was right in asking for 3 sensors to be incorporated. This aircraft still doesn’t have EICAS which is available to every other Boeing aircraft but since this is a 1960s certificate they get away with it and recent order from airshow… Read more »

urb

nice article… but i would realy like to get a perspective from a pilot that knows boeing and airbus machines and alternatives. you actualy did not fly the max . . you were the passanger.

G S

Its’ not simply the case of “two unfortunate crashes and now they managed to fix it”. My problem with them is they fixed it after it happened (twice) and after many attempts to say the plane is safe (I wonder who actually believed it). It shows the way they do things are flawed fundamentally, and such practice will not make good products. I avoid the 737max since the first incident and now 737 series completely after the Chinese flight crashed this year. Simply not worth when A320 series are flying most of the 737 routes too, just as fast and… Read more »

G S

To be honest, if after the first unfortunate crash of 737max and proactively admitting it (am sure they already knew the problem), provide solutions and work with the families to do their best to help, I just might convince myself that perhaps this is an one-off “accident”. Now, I just can’t trust them and I don’t believe they can change so quick. No matter how well they try to sell the safety stories now, I just don’t believe it and my hard-earned money isn’t going to support such people. Am “Boeing-free” for the next few years as much as I… Read more »

Rema

Not unfortunate at all. Boeing knew It was matter of time when a accident would happen. And of course they happen in Indonesia and Africa. Not in USA. Therefore, I will avoid the Max even though they may be the safest aircrafts now. Airbus for me.

flymetothemoon

Same. Boeing has shown time and time again it has no regard for safety or lives of passengers, doing the bare minimum to placate regulators to re-certify their aircraft.

IAN ASSUMPTION

Clear and brave.
Thank you.

Ecee

Just finished watching Downfall on Netflix and saw this post of yours…how coincidental…

737max-flyingcoffin

Airline passengers should reflect carefully about the conduct of boeing in its 737max chain of events and boycott 737max flights even if it is inconvenient to do so. Lower the review rating of your airline a few notches automatically if there are too many 737max flight offerings crowding out your options for safer travel: 1.More problems are recently reported. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.news.com.au/travel/travel-updates/incidents/new-midair-emergencies-revealed-in-boeing-max-investigation/news-story/209f8eb5fbc69eac8274c4e40c164ee5%3famp 2. After Lionair crash, the first thing boeing did was blame the airline & pilot. 3. After Lionair 737max crash & before Air Ethiopia 737max crash, boeing was already aware of deficiencies in the design & intentionally cover up in… Read more »

Kenneth

Wasn’t there an issue with 2classic version 737/200/300serious aircraft,,the rudder control jammed,USAir and united airlines,,it took a few years for this issue to b found.inbtween these 2 crashes no 737s wear grounded.. the issue was fixed and in the past 25+years no 737classic,Ng,or max have had any problems with the rudder control..the 737/8max has been through more safety checks and has more backups than any other aircraft Boeing or Airbus..the theory with the last china plane crash is pilot suicide.

737max-flyingcoffin

The point is that boeing & f.a a. bet with passengers life just to keep the unsafe aircraft operating, resulting in loss of 346 lives. If the american system does not punish boeing adequately, we the paying passengers ought to make an example of the 737max so other aircraft manufacturers will not be tempted to toy with passengers’ safety. BOYCOTT 737max & let the this model become a commercial failure.

Tony N

Oh, I thought you were a PILOT and telling us about flying the MAX. That’s what people want to know I think.

Last edited 4 months ago by Tony N
Paul

This article is so annoying. Most people don’t fly business class but these types of articles just keep coming. Ideally there needs to be more economy class videos, a lot more.

Johhy Simmons

If you are still scared of flying the max, you are dumb. The issue wasn’t the fualt of the plane, but was the fault of Boeing who didn’t tell airlines about MCAS to save money and time through less pilot training. The issue has been fixed, and the max is now one of the most safest aircrafts

CREDIT CARD SIGN UP BONUSES

Advertisment

Featured Deals

Advertisment

Follow us

7,110FansLike
2,641FollowersFollow

TAGS