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Poll Shows Travelers Still Fear 737 Max As Boeing Tries To Get It Back In The Air


American Airlines now says it's keeping its Boeing 737 Max jets parked until after the summer travel season. The Max has been grounded for three months. Airlines have asked regulators around the globe to hold a unified press conference when they're confident the planes are safe to fly. That may not restore passengers' confidence.

NPR asked our listeners and online readers, if and when the Federal Aviation Administration allows the 737 Max back in the air, will you fly on it? As NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports, the replies came in so fast we had to close the poll after just 24 hours.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Out of the 1,600 people who responded to our questionnaire with their name, email address and phone number, more than a thousand said in a variety of iterations, no, I won't fly on the 737 Max even if the FAA says it's good to go.

MAURA BRADSHAW: I'm a pretty - I'm a nervous flyer in general, and so just hearing something like that, it was something that I followed and paid a lot of attention to.

GOODWYN: Take Maura Bradshaw, for example. She's an administrative associate at Montana Technological University in Butte.

BRADSHAW: I feel like there's a lot of faith involved in flying, and any sort of chip in that, it just - it kind of takes away your belief that that system is working safely.

GOODWYN: Bradshaw is disillusioned with Boeing's management, but she's particularly upset at the FAA for failing to protect passengers.

BRADSHAW: We have these institutions that are supposed to ensure our safety, and they're serving a massive company like Boeing, and they kind of let us down in that process. It just felt very wrong to me that they waited so long to ground them.

GOODWYN: Jeanne Pelletier, the chief operating officer for Indigo Pets, says she was stunned to learn that Boeing deliberately removed information about the Max's new flight control software from the plane's manual. She feels that keeping the pilots in the dark is unforgivable. She flies about two dozen times a year, and Pelletier says she's going to avoid the 737 Max going forward.

JEANNE PELLETIER: Absolutely, positively, and I am not someone who is - typically looks to see what kind of plane she's on. The most I might check is to see if it has Wi-Fi. But I'm going to France. And I know it's not flying yet, but I'm going to be watching to make sure that if it is released before my flight date, that I'm not on that plane.

GOODWYN: Before the Max came along, Boeing had a reputation for building planes that were pilot-reliant. U.S. pilots even had a joke about it. If it ain't Boeing, I ain't going, throwing shade Airbus's emphasis on computerized flight controls. With nearly 350 people and four colleagues dead, pilots aren't joking about Boeing's software anymore. But while most of the respondents to NPR's poll said they wouldn't fly the Max, hundreds of passengers said they would.

JAMES MCKEITH: I wouldn't hesitate to do so.

GOODWYN: Dr. James McKeith is the medical director for the United States Antarctic Program and a very frequent flyer. McKeith says Boeing has too much at stake not to get it right the second time.

MCKEITH: To a certain extent, I think it was safe to begin with. I mean, the 737 - it is one of the safest aircraft we have. And frankly, you know, in my day-to-day life, one of the safest things I do is get on a commercial aircraft.

GOODWYN: Daniel Mill Tyson (ph) in Tucson, Ariz., is currently working on getting his flight instructor certification. His faith remains unshaken. He believes Boeing and the FAA will learn from this tragedy, and he'll happily fly on the 737 Max.

DANIEL MILL TYSON: 'Cause Boeing makes generally safe airplanes, and the FAA runs the safest airspace system in the world.

GOODWYN: Remember Maura Bradshaw, the anxious flyer in Montana? Although she refuses to consider flying on the Max now, when asked if that might change down the road, she says this.

BRADSHAW: I think yes. If a year goes by and the pilots are good with it, they don't see any new problems cropping up, then I think that I would feel safe.

GOODWYN: Boeing and the airlines undoubtedly hope there will be a lot more passengers like Bradshaw who might be willing to give the 737 Max a chance after they wait and see. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.