two men in a plane

Flying United Airlines and American Airlines B737 MAX

4 airlines in the US are currently flying scheduled passenger flights with the 737 MAX; American, Alaska, Southwest and United.

I recently flew domestic flights with both United on their B737 MAX 9 and American on their B737 MAX 8.

My United 737 MAX 9 flight was from Miami to Houston. After I booked on the MAX Flight United made it very clear that passengers have the flexibility to change their flight, due to being booked on a MAX.

At the gate, the aircraft type was clearly displayed on the screen.

a screen with a sign and information

Cabin Interior of United B737 MAX 9

a diagram of an airplane seat
United B737 MAX 9 seat map

The United 737 MAX 9 has 20 First Class recliner seats, 48 Economy Plus seats and 111 Economy seats, for a total capacity of 179 seats.

As you can see here, the United 737 MAX 9 First Class is a fairly basic arrangement. The seat does however have a decent recline, with seat being able to slide forward, unfortunately row 5 is missing a window. The best 737 MAX 9 interior I have travelled on was with Copa Airlines.

a table with text and numbers

The 737 MAX comes with a much bigger overhead bin. There are no seatback PTVs in any of the seats, as the airline is encouraging passengers to stream content on their personal devices.

a row of seats in an airplane
a man wearing a face mask
Row 5 is missing a window, but you can lean forward for some views.

Cockpit and Pilot Training

United mentioned that all pilots who fly the 737 MAX have undergone FAA-approved training; to learn how the updated software will impact the flight controls, also to practice how they should respond to given scenarios they may encounter in the sky. The training includes:

  • Computer-based instruction
  • Hands-on training in a full-flight simulator
  • A systems briefing, checklist and quick-reference handbook

I met up with the pilots in the flight deck, whilst they were preparing for departure. The captain was kind enough to talk me through all the features of the MAX; including the bigger display screens, the new engine, the stabilizer trim and the MCAS. Watch the video for the interaction.

two men in a plane
a close-up of a control panel

United has a dedicated site for the 737 MAX, which has some excellent graphic features and video on what's changed in the 737 MAX.

a diagram of a flight control system
a screenshot of a computer

My flight UA704, took-off on-time from Miami runway 30. Flight time to Houston was scheduled for 2 hours 30 minutes with a cruising altitude of 30,000 ft, this was due to some expected turbulence above this altitude. The take-off and the cruise of the entire flight was very smooth.

an airplane wing and a body of water

During the flight, I was served beverages of my choice. United First Class has a full beverage selection available including hot drinks, sodas, juices, beers and other alcohol. This is an area where their offering is superior to that of Delta's. For a flight of over 2.5 hours, a choice of a hot sandwich or a snack box is offered.

a box of snacks and crackers
United First Class Snack Box

The rest of the flight was completely non-eventful. It is worthwhile to mention that United did not block any middle seats, as flights to/from holiday hotspots such as Florida can be totally full.

an airplane wing in the sky

The landing was very smooth. We arrived at Houston on a sunny morning.

In summary, as a passenger I did not feel any real difference flying on a 737 MAX. The only difference on this flight was the updated cabin interior over the B737-700/800/900 (NGs) and a bigger overhead bin. It was also slightly quieter on the MAX.

I think time will tell, the MAX has some way to go before it proves itself in the eyes of the general public. Any further incident on the MAX from this point onward will be met with full media scrutiny in this digital age.

an airplane wing and a parking lot


Flying American B737 MAX 8

My AA 737 MAX flight was a very short one, from Orlando to Miami. Most of the American Airlines 737 MAXs are based in Miami, serving short to medium haul domestic flights including the Caribbean and Central America.

an airplane parked on a runway

The cabin of the American 737 MAX 8 was pretty ordinary. Similar to United, it also has no seatback PTVs. It has a total of 172 seats, which is quite dense for a 737 MAX 8.

a screenshot of a computer
American Airlines 737 MAX 8 seating

In First Class, there is a tighter seat pitch, with 16 seats total. There was no divider curtain or bulkhead to Economy. In Economy the seat pitch is 30", which is about the same as a low cost carrier with the exception of Main Cabin Extra (where I was seated).

a man wearing a mask on an airplane
American Airlines B737 MAX 8 Main Cabin Extra
the seats in an airplane
American 737 MAX 8 Main Cabin Extra seating behind First Class
a man sitting in an airplane
American 737 MAX 8 Main Cabin Extra seating behind First Class

Given that the flight was so short, being just 40 minutes, there was no food no drink no service, just sitting down during the entire flight. The taxi time and waiting at arrival for a gate in Miami was about the same as the flight time.

an airplane wing and engine of an airplane

We flew past Fort Lauderdale and the coast of Florida, it was a beautiful day for flying.

Conclusion of Flying 737 MAX

“The history of aviation is built around a chain of safety… When the chain of safety breaks it’s up to those of us in the industry to mend it and bring it back.

Captain Peter Gamble

You won’t be able to rebuild the confidence of an airplane unless it is back on flying. It won’t re-build that confidence if it is grounded.” American Airlines Chief Operating Officer David Seymour

I enjoyed both of my MAX flights. Both of my flights were smooth and event-free and I simply took in the views from my window seats.