Aash Shravah, a former travel management company executive, and now a podcast host at BusinessTravel360.com, submitted the following guest column advocating for better aircraft disclosures, as once-grounded 737 Max aircraft return to service. A 2019 article in The Beat covered sensitivities among corporate travel buyers regarding aircraft involved in fatal crashes and reviewed the state of aircraft disclosures in point-of-sale tools.
About a decade ago, airlines used to play a game with airfares and would show travelers only the base fare when advertising prices. The base fare was before taxes and fees. Yet, when booking on their websites, the total fare presented later in the process often could be twice the amount of the one initially marketed.
This prompted a rule from the U.S. Department of Transportation that required airlines to tell you the real price of the trip and not to string you along.
As once-grounded Boeing 737 Max aircraft return to service, we are ready for another such rule, this one on aircraft disclosures.
Travelers have a right to know what aircraft type they are booking. It is time to standardize aircraft type display and terminology and require upfront disclosure. Aircraft type should be displayed in the same way and at the same time regardless of airline website or point of sale.
For many people, this is an important piece of information. Just ask friends and family of the 346 passengers who died in two crashes on the Boeing 737 Max. There was a massive cover-up of a known defect by Boeing and lapses in the certification by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
As a matter of fact, I publish and update a list of Boeing 737 Max routes and airlines flying the aircraft to help others know what they are booking.
There has to be a better way. If you were one of those people who booked a flight on the 737 Max, how would you know? Should you know what aircraft type you are booking?
Not everyone thinks you should, and it is difficult for passengers to be able to recognize aircraft types when shopping for flights.
There is no standardization of aircraft type nomenclature. Different airlines can call the same plane by different names. And they are taking advantage of the complexity to do that. But at what cost?
This is why I'm introducing the "Transparent Aircraft Act of 2021."
For clarity purposes, this is not yet a law, but I'm simply introducing the idea and the reasons it should become a requirement for airlines and travel sellers.
The first issue to be addressed is standardization and consistency in categorizing aircraft information.
The truth is that the Boeing has manufactured thousands upon thousands of aircraft in the Boeing 737 family over a long history. There have been different series, from the 737-100 all the way to 737-900. The Max has its own series: 737 Max 7, 737 Max 8, 737 Max 8200, 737 Max 9 and 737 Max 10.
It's important to grasp that each generation of the aircraft has either a stretched or shrunk variation. For example, WestJet flies the Boeing 737-600. Southwest Airlines is the largest operator of Boeing 737-700s in the world and also operates Boeing 737-800s and Boeing 737 Max 8s. Sriwijaya Air Flight 182, which crashed in the Java Sea on Jan. 9, was a 737-500.
The Boeing 737 Max is being displayed by different airlines and websites in different ways. Here are a few: B37M, B7M, 7M8, B38M, 737-8.
This should be consistent and clear.
Once the name is standardized, it is important to clearly display aircraft type on the initial search results page. Websites and booking systems don't clearly present this. They often require extra steps or bury the information. On my website, I reviewed how some airline sites and corporate booking tools display aircraft information. This information should not be hidden. It should be displayed next to the flight number and in every place the flight number and/or airfare appears.
Surely, you can see how hard it can be for passengers to understand which aircraft they will be flying when they book.
Many may never choose the 737 Max when they travel. They have a right to know which aircraft type they are booking.