Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

There's rarely been a week in which airline passengers have thought more about the sorts of planes they fly.

After a crash in which 157 died, and the subsequent grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX series of planes, the safety of a particular type of plane has been in the public eye.

One had always imagined that the Boeing 737 was one of the most stable staples of all the world's planes.

It seems, though, that not every airline pilot is comfortable flying it.

I spoke to a captain at a major airline that flies 737's and the Airbus A320. He told me: 

I fly the A320, and the cockpit is so much more comfortable, and the ergonomics are modern. I also refuse to fly the 737, strictly for personal comfort, because very little has changed in the cramped 737 cockpit from the original 1960s design, including the absence of a modern overhead panel with sleek switches and automation.

I'd never thought about planes this way. This captain, however, suggested that the lack of a modern overhead panel was more than a nuisance. He said: 

This requires crew to activate and monitor individual switches which, in turn, are an opportunity to inject human error. Boeing could have enlarged the cockpit to allow standing room like the A320, and installed sleek switch panels, with automation and computer monitoring of key systems as part of the avionics package.

Many will have no idea that captains at big airlines could refuse to fly certain planes. 

Moreover, I flew in both a 737 and an Airbus A320 this week and didn't notice any complaints from the pilots.

I contacted Boeing for its thoughts. A spokesman told me: 

Our new 737 model, the MAX, has a new flight deck/cockpit.

This captain told me he thought Boeing would charge for such an upgrade and that Southwest Airlines' need for a single crew type rating -- Southwest only flies 737's -- meant that there was little prospect for true change.

Still, he finds it all confounding: 

Boeing makes great planes. Why they haven't upgraded the cockpit of the 737 along with all the other modifications to the -700, -900, and MAX is a mystery to me.

Usually, there's money at the heart of such considerations.

Published on: Mar 16, 2019
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