The Boeing 737 Max 8 was grounded for 20 months following the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March 2019. David Ryder/Getty Images

(CNN) --

Ed Pierson was flying from Seattle to New Jersey in 2023, when he ended up boarding a plane he never wanted to fly on.

The Seattle resident booked with Alaska Airlines last March.

He deliberately selected a flight with a plane he was happy to board, essentially, anything but a Boeing 737 Max.

“I arrived at the airport and verified again that it was not the Max.

I went through security and had coffee.

“I got on the plane and thought it was something new,” Pierson told CNN.

“Then I sat down and on the emergency card (in the seat pocket) it said it was a Max.”

he got up and go away.

  • Key screws were missing from the door cap of the Boeing that came loose on terrifying Alaska Airlines flight, report reveals

“A flight attendant was closing the front door.

I said, 'She wasn't supposed to fly the Max.'

She said to me, 'What do you know about the Max?'” she said.

"I said, 'I can't go into details right now, but I wasn't planning on flying in a Max and I want to get off the plane.'"

Pierson arrived in New Jersey;

After some back and forth, he explained that Alaska airport staff rebooked him on a red-eye flight that night on a different plane.

Spending all day at the airport was worth it to avoid flying in a Max, he said.

Pierson has a unique, first-hand perspective on the plane, manufactured by Boeing at its Renton, Washington state factory.

Now CEO of airline watchdog group Foundation for Aviation Safety, he previously served as a squadron commander, among other leadership roles, during a 30-year naval career, followed by 10 years at Boeing, including three as senior manager of production support in Renton.

There he worked on the 737 Max project before its launch.

The Boeing 737 Max 8 was grounded for 20 months following the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March 2019. David Ryder/Getty Images

But he is one of many travelers who do not want to board the plane that has been the center of two deadly accidents, such as the Jan. 5 incident in which part of the fuselage of an Alaska Airlines plane exploded in midair.

The piece, a door stopper, was missing four bolts that should have held it in place.

Further reports of "many" loose bolts and poorly drilled holes emerged from subsequent investigations into the Max 9 model after the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered the grounding of 171 Max 9 aircraft with the same fuselage plug. .

Experts agree that the Alaska incident could have been worse, and the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has warned that “something like this can happen again.”

The previous model, the Max 8, was involved in two fatal accidents in 2018 and 2019, in which a total of 346 people died.

The accidents were widely attributed to malfunctions of MCAS, an automated system on the Max designed to stabilize the plane's pitch, overriding pilot intervention in some circumstances.

Boeing accepted responsibility in 2021 for one of the accidents.

Weeks after the Alaska incident, Boeing CEO David Calhoun spoke to investors on a quarterly call.

“We will cooperate fully and transparently with the FAA at all times.

“This increased scrutiny, whether it comes from us or from a regulator or third parties, will make us better,” he said.

"We caused the problem and we understand it," Calhoun said.

“Whatever conclusion is reached, Boeing is responsible for what happened.

Whatever the specific cause of the accident.

An event like this simply should not occur on a plane leaving one of our factories.

We just have to be better.”

In February, in the wake of the Alaska incident, the company removed the head of the Max program from his position and reorganized other senior management positions.

The move comes at a time when critics have repeatedly said the plane maker is prioritizing profits over safety.

The FAA is now “taking a comprehensive look at quality control issues at Boeing to ensure safety is always the company's top priority,” a spokesperson for the government agency told CNN.

Representatives are on the ground evaluating production lines at the Boeing factory in Renton and Spirit AeroSystems, whose factory in Wichita, Kansas, made the door plug that exploded mid-flight in the Alaska incident.

On February 28, the FAA gave Boeing 90 days to come up with a plan to address quality and safety issues.

A Boeing spokesperson told CNN that “every day, more than 80 airlines operate around 5,000 flights with a global fleet of 1,300 737 MAX aircraft, safely transporting 700,000 passengers to their destinations.

“The service reliability of the 737 MAX family is greater than 99% and is consistent with other commercial aircraft models.”

Of course, many thousands of people board Max planes without worry.

But how much do passengers care?

Seems like enough.

Found impressions

The last time the Max was grounded (for 20 months, following the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in a Max 8 in March 2019), 25% of the 1,005 Americans surveyed by Reuters/Ipsos said they “had no a lot".

or “no” confidence in the plane, compared to 31% who did and 44% who were unsure.

The survey was conducted in December 2020, shortly before the plane returned to the skies.

After being “told about the plane's safety issues,” another 57% said they would be somewhat likely or unlikely to fly on a Max, according to the report.

Nearly half (45%) said they would still be somewhat unlikely or unlikely to fly it after being back in the air for six months.

And 31% of all respondents said they had little or no confidence that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) “prioritizes the safety of passengers and crew when determining whether an aircraft is airworthy.” .

Most countries cleared the Max 8 to fly again in 2021, but three years later, there still appears to be negative public opinion about the Max.

Part of the fuselage of a Max 9 exploded in midair on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 on January 5.


“It's disturbing that there have been so many problems with this specific type of plane,” Stephanie King, a passenger on the affected Alaska Airlines flight, told CNN in January.

"I hope something is done so this doesn't happen again."

Then there's flight booking site Kayak, which has seen the use of its filter to deselect Max planes (models 8 and 9) during the booking process increase 15-fold since January, the company told CNN .

The site introduced the filter in March 2019, after the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

Doubts also persist throughout the sector.

After the Alaska incident, a February AP-Norc poll on air travel safety found that nearly a third of Americans surveyed answered “not at all” or “a little” when asked if they believe planes are safe. except for structural failures.

While airplanes were generally considered to be as safe as cars or trains as a means of transportation, fewer than two in 10 respondents strongly agreed that airplanes are faultless.

If it's Boeing, "I'm not going"

Belén Estacio has boycotted the Max since the January incident.

Shortly after the Alaska Airlines fuselage explosion, she was scheduled on a Max for a work flight.

"My boyfriend didn't want me to fly it, so I changed my travel plans to make sure I didn't fly any type of Max," she said.

"It doesn't matter what model, I don't want to blow them up."

For her, "the Alaska incident was further confirmation that Boeing is still not being thorough and solving its problems."

Estacio, who works in marketing and lives in Florida, now checks the type of plane before booking any flight. He has made two trips since January.

"That whole 'if it's not Boeing I'm not going' thing, now it's totally the opposite," he said.

"I am very happy when I know that I will fly with an Airbus."

She says she is not the only one in her circle and that she knows people who do both “soft” and “hard” boycotts.

“Some say, 'Of course not,' others say, 'If I can change it, I will;

If not, I'll just move on.'”

"It's not a plane I'd like to fly on."

UK communications consultant Elayne Grimes is another carrying out a personal boycott.

Grimes, who travels regularly for work, was concerned after the first Max 8 crash in October 2018: Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board.

The plane had only been in service for less than three months.

Grimes, who had previously worked in emergency crisis management, was immediately concerned about Boeing's new plane, which had been launched to great fanfare in 2017.

"I actively looked for airlines that didn't have the Max," he said.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which crashed in March 2019 and left 157 people dead, confirmed his determination.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed minutes after takeoff on March 10, 2019. All 157 people on board died.

Boeing accepted responsibility for the crash in 2021. Jemal Countess/Getty Images

In 2022, Grimes watched “Downfall: The Case Against Boeing,” a Netflix documentary directed by Rory Kennedy, which looked at the two tragedies and raised concerns about the work environment at Boeing.

“I saw that and thought [Boeing] was an organization that put profits before people, and I thought, ‘That's not for me.’ I don't see myself flying one in the near future,” he said.

While the FAA has cleared the Max to fly once again, Grimes believes "its problems are not resolved."

"When the door opened and they called [the planes] and found other planes in trouble, I thought 'Hmm,'" he said.

"It's just not an airplane I would want to fly."

Grimes is a self-proclaimed “avgeek,” or aviation fanatic, and she's not the only one who follows the industry closely and has reservations.

Elliot Sharod, who says she took 78 flights last year, is undecided.

"I wouldn't exactly refuse to fly it, but ideally I would fly an Airbus if I had the option," he said.

A former aviation journalist, who wished to remain anonymous for professional reasons, says they lost trust after the second crash.

"After the first one, the predominant topics of conversation were: 'Oh, it has to be pilot error or the weather; it can't be the plane,'" they say.

“It was Boeing.

He believed that everything that came out of Boeing had been tested and retested;

It had to be something else.

“Then the crash happened in Ethiopia and there was a bit of the same message, but eventually it turned out that it was actually the plane.

At that moment I lost all confidence in the Max.”

They say they still love flying the “older style of Boeings: the original 777s and 737s.”

"They were all designed in the days when engineers ruled Boeing," they say.

"I feel like I can trust them more than the Max."

"Bad design"

“Would you put your family on a plane trained with a Max simulator?

I would not do it".

They sound like the words of an anxious passenger in 2024. In fact, they were written by one Boeing employee to another in February 2018, eight months before the Lion Air crash.

(In internal communications, his coworker responded simply, "No.")

In April 2017, in internal messages from Boeing employees working on the soon-to-be-launched Max, another employee wrote: "This plane is designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys."

The same exchange included a reference to "poor aircraft design."

One design adjustment was labeled "patch the leaky ship."

These internal communications were released as part of the 18-month investigation into the Max by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

In a 238-page report, published in September 2020, the committee described “the serious failures and errors in the design, development and certification of the aircraft.”

The report highlighted five key issues, including “production pressures that jeopardized the safety of the flying public” and a “culture of concealment” at Boeing.

At the time, Boeing said the communications “do not reflect the company we are and should be, and are completely unacceptable.”

The company issued a statement acknowledging the committee's findings and saying the crash victims were "in our thoughts and prayers."

Max is manufactured at Boeing's Renton plant.

FAA representatives are now investigating the production process.

David Ryder/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Boeing said that when the Max 8 returned to service it would be “one of the most scrutinized airplanes in history” and so they had “full confidence in its safety.”

"We have worked hard to strengthen our safety culture and rebuild trust with our customers, regulators and the flying public. We have made fundamental changes to our company and continue to look for ways to improve," he added.

The U.S. House committee report also included concerns about the FAA and its “grossly insufficient oversight” of Boeing during the Max design process and in the period between the two accidents.

The report said “gaps” in the FAA regulatory system allowed this fatally flawed aircraft to enter service.”

An FAA spokesperson told CNN that "The FAA has made significant improvements to its aircraft delegation and certification processes in recent years and took immediate action following the January 5 Alaska Airlines door stopper incident to address the concerns." concerns about the quality of the aircraft that Boeing and its suppliers produce.”

'Vindicated' after security breach

Rory Kennedy followed the investigation from start to finish.

The “Downfall” director told CNN that she didn't have a “firm opinion” about the plane until she started making the documentary in early 2020.

But, he said, "I was surprised by what we discovered... [it was] really disturbing."

His film is a forensic investigation of the two accidents.

“Downfall” interviews former Boeing employees and concerned pilots, who paint a picture of an accident waiting to happen.

Follow congressional hearings held as part of the House investigation and interview victims' families.

Kennedy says that during the design process Boeing "took a lot of effort to hide [the MCAS] and how powerful it was."

The stabilizer system was designed specifically for the Max, as the fuel-efficient engines added to the aircraft designed in the 1960s affected the finish.

The House committee concluded that Boeing concealed its existence from the FAA, airlines and pilots.

Additionally, after the Lion Air crash, FAA analysis in December 2018 predicted that without a software fix, a Max could fail on average once every two years during use.

However, the plane was not on the ground at the time.

“Both Boeing and the FAA were committed to public safety,” House committee Chairman Peter DeFazio said in a 2020 statement.

In September 2020, after an 18-month investigation, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee concluded that Boeing had made "serious failures and errors in the design, development and certification of the aircraft."

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

"We are already undertaking important initiatives based on what we have learned...these initiatives focus on improving overall aviation safety by improving our organization, process and culture," the FAA said in a statement following the commission's report.

"[They] decided to keep the plane in the air, to save money and try to fix it before the next plane crashed," Kennedy said.

“I interviewed [the victims' relatives] because they believed that they knew this.

You can imagine?"

"I absolutely would not fly that plane," he told CNN.

"I haven't noticed that Boeing's culture has changed from prioritizing finances over safety."

She says one of the factors that prompted her to make the documentary was "talking to pilots who told me, 'Of course, don't get on that plane.'"

And although she initially received criticism about the film, including from family and friends, "When the plane door broke, people told me, 'You're so vindicated.'"

Her investigation also highlighted production problems on the 787 Dreamliner, Boeing's flagship long-haul aircraft, which debuted in 2011. As a result, she avoids that, too, suggesting that instead of limiting her investigations to individual planes, the FAA and The NTSB should investigate Boeing as a whole.

An FAA spokesman said it has blocked the expansion of Max production and "is conducting enhanced oversight of Boeing and its suppliers."

The agency is examining all aspects of Boeing's three manufacturing lines and Spirit AeroSystems' supplier activities.

A dedicated team of approximately two dozen aviation safety inspectors is conducting these reviews at the Boeing 737 MAX facility in Renton, Washington, and at Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Kansas.”

Kennedy wants a “proper hearing” in Congress, similar to the one that investigated the Max crashes.

"To me, what's really needed is an investigation into Boeing's culture, what's happening at the board level and what kind of decisions are being made to continue to prioritize financial interests over consumer safety," says.

“Your numbers game cost me my friend.”

Critics say Boeing's merger with McDonnell Douglas in 1997 changed the culture from one that emphasized engineering prowess to one that attempted to keep an eye on the bottom line.

Cursing its “broken safety culture,” DeFazio said after the 2020 investigation that “Boeing, under pressure to compete with Airbus and generate profits for Wall Street, escaped FAA scrutiny, withheld critical information from pilots and, in Ultimately, he put planes into service that caused the death of 346 innocent people.”

In 2021, Boeing agreed to pay $2.5 billion to resolve criminal charges that it defrauded the FAA when the Max was first certified.

“The reason [Boeing's] culture is so harmful is because they are in a numbers game and want to make as much profit as possible at any cost.

And that cost me my friend,” says Deveney Williams.

Samya Stumo (far left) was one of the 157 people who died on Etopian Airlines Flight 302.

She was to move in with her friend Deveney Williams (center left).

Deveney Williams

In March 2019, Williams' friend Samya Stumo was on board the Ethiopian Airlines flight.

They were going to move into an apartment together in Washington, DC.

"I avoid Boeing as much as I can; I try to get on an Airbus even if it costs more or is a different route," Williams said.

“Before this I never knew about airplane models, but I learned to see the model when buying a ticket.

I have friends who ask me how they can change flights or figure out how to avoid flying on this one.

“I have learned a lot and I don't want this to happen to anyone else.”

For Williams, the Alaska incident was a “strange relief” because it occurred in the United States.

The slander hurled at the pilots in the two crashes did not occur in January.

"This time, it's on American soil, I guess he was an American pilot, so they have no other fingers to point at."

"Airlines do not facilitate change"

Torleif Stumo, Samya's brother, had a similar incident to Ed Pierson, in which he says his plane was changed to a Max at the last minute.

Like Pierson, he only realized it when he saw the security card in the seat pocket of his flight from Panama City to Bogotá in August 2023.

"I don't really have anxiety, I've never had panic attacks, but that was one of the hardest times I've ever been in," she says.

“The team was incredible.

The plane had already disconnected from the sleeve.

They initially offered to change my seat to first class.

But then I explained to them why I wanted to get off.

“They immediately understood and brought the plane back [to the gate].”

Stumo ended up spending the night in an airport hotel.

The airline he was traveling with agreed to rebook him free of charge after overhearing a phone call he had made to customer service when he originally purchased the ticket.

In it, they had assured him that he would not be in a Max.

Williams and Kennedy say they have had similar experiences with their planes changed to a Max at the last minute.

Stumo believes it is not easy for consumers to know if they have reserved a Max.

Michael Stumo, Samya and Torleif's father, wants the aircraft types to be "prominently displayed" during the booking process, he tells CNN.

Following the January 5 incident, Alaska and United, the US airlines that use the Max 9, issued waivers allowing flexibility for passengers who do not wish to fly on a Max.

These have since expired, but Alaska told CNN that concerned passengers can be rebooked on a different plane for free by calling reservations.

A Max 9 model plane suffered a door stopper explosion on January 5.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

"We have complete confidence in the safety of all our aircraft," they added.

A United spokesperson said the airline “does not charge change fees on most tickets.

“We are happy to work with customers who have concerns to find a solution that works for them.”

The Pierson Foundation for Aviation Safety, established in 2023 as a watchdog for both the aviation industry and the government entities that regulate it, in February added a page to its website for passengers reluctant to fly in the plane.

Explains how to check the aircraft assigned for your flight before booking, refuse to board, and rebook at the airport.

Pierson says the foundation receives many requests from the public asking if the Max is safe to fly.

The former Boeing employee has been critical of the Boeing company since the plane first hit the production line.

During the summer of 2018, he sent several messages to senior management at Boeing, having noticed what he now calls an “unstable production line.”

In emails that he has since shared publicly, Pierson warned of his concern that the intense pressure to get planes out of the factory was driving exhausted workers to take shortcuts.

He feared it could end in tragedy, he wrote.

After retiring early in August 2018 – “I knew it was an unhealthy work environment and I could no longer support leaders,” he told CNN – he wrote again to Boeing's board of directors, as well as the FAA, after after the Lion Air accident and did so again after the Ethiopian Airlines accident.

He later testified at the congressional hearing.

"I definitely wouldn't fly on that plane," he says now.

“The same problems I saw in 2017 and 2018 have not been resolved.

“The factory still puts enormous pressure on the employees who build the planes, and they have had many production quality defects that have just come to light.”

"We don't want a third accident"

Although the Max is flying again, its future seems to be up in the air.

The FAA limited production of new airplanes and launched an investigation "to determine whether Boeing failed to maintain its quality system in accordance with federal regulations."

It also launched an analysis of “potential safety-focused reforms around quality control,” a spokesperson told CNN.

As part of their “enhanced oversight,” FAA teams are reviewing Boeing's Max production system and Spirit AeroSystems' production system for the plane's fuselage.

It is also reviewing employee training and qualifications, increasing its presence at Max manufacturing facilities and watching "how Boeing transfers unfinished work from suppliers to its production lines," a spokesperson told CNN.

Meanwhile, the NTSB investigation into what happened on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 continues.

A preliminary NTSB report does not blame Boeing or find probable cause, which is typically included in the NTSB's final report, which could take a year or more.

Spirit said after the incident that it was cooperating with the NTSB, adding that "as a company, we remain focused on the quality of every airframe that leaves our facilities."

For Michael Stumo, the Alaska incident demonstrated his fears.

"We've had nine years of [Boeing] getting caught, promising to do better, and they don't," he said.

"Now we have this: where they can't even put plug-in doors on a plane, they can't fix the bolts."

Stumo wants Boeing to "bring in people who know how to do complex manufacturing processes."

“These people exist.

Boeing has a lot of money.

Let them hire them,” she said.

A Boeing spokesperson said the company has "invested heavily in the workforce over the past several years."

Engineering staff has increased by 10% and manufacturing staff by 11%, they said, while they have "increased the number of commercial aircraft quality inspectors by 20% and have said we will continue to hire."

“We have also invested in quality throughout the company, increasing the number of quality employees by more than 25%, exceeding 2019 pre-pandemic levels,” they added.

Stumo says the company urgently needs change.

“The first accident should not have happened.

At the time they were fully aware of [the MCAS malfunction], it shouldn't have happened at all.

“We don't want a third accident.

And we want Boeing to transform itself back into the superior aeronautical engineering company that makes amazing, safe products like it was.”