The Boeing 737 Max returns to US skies next week with American Airlines — here's how to tell if you're flying on one


The Boeing 737 Max will fly paying passengers in the US for the first time in 21 months next week as American Airlines is set to fly the first scheduled flight from Miami to New York on December 29. 

American is arguably the most eager US airline to get the ill-fated jet back in the air, beating out rivals United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Southwest Airlines to reintroduce the plane by over a month. The weeks following the aircraft's ungrounding saw American waste no time in taking delivery of new models, begin demonstration flights for employees and the media, and plan for a Max resurgence in 2021.

By the end of February, 91 daily American flights will be flown by the Max, according to Cirium, with United, Southwest, and Alaska also resuming service in the first quarter of the year. Soon, it will be harder to avoid the Max.

All airlines flying the Max are touting its safety features, but after two fatal crashes and a scathing report from the US Senate criticizing Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration's handling of the aircraft's return to service, some passengers are understandably skeptical of stepping back onboard.   

Here's how to tell if your next flight is operated by a Boeing 737 Max. 

Only three airlines in the US currently fly the Max

Boeing 737 Max
Boeing 737 Max aircraft of Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Gol Linhas Aéreas.
LINDSEY WASSON/Reuters

Flyers on American, United, Alaska, and Southwest are the only ones that need to be concerned about potentially flying on the Max. American begins Max service on December 29, United on February 11, 2021, and Alaska on March 1, 2021, according to Cirium data, while Southwest hasn't yet announced a start date. 

Flyers on Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Allegiant, Air, Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Silver Airways, and Sun Country Airlines, among others in the US, don't need to worry about flying on the Max.

In Canada and Mexico, only four airlines fly the Max including Air Canada, WestJet, and Aeromexico. In the Caribbean, Cayman Airways currently flies the Max with Caribbean Airlines slated to fly the Max in upcoming years.  

Check your reservation before flying

AA
A Boeing 737 Max 8 indicator on an American Airlines booking.
Thomas Pallini/Business Insider via American Airlines

Each airline tells flyers exactly what plane they're flying on during and after booking and it's as easy as checking your reservation details online and checking the aircraft type. Some airlines will even give an explicit warning that you're booked on a Max when reviewing the booking details. 

If you've found yourself inadvertently booked on a Max, fret not, as airlines are allowing passengers to ditch the jet if they feel uncomfortable. American, Alaska, United, and Southwest have all vowed to work with customers to rebook them free of charge to another non-Max flight.

Check the plane markings

Air Canada Boeing 737 Max 8
An Air Canada Boeing 737 Max 8.
JL IMAGES/Shutterstock.com

Airlines will often brand their aircraft with a placard that reveals its model. These markings are typically placed under the last few windows, under the cockpit windows, or even on the front landing gear door. 

Not all airlines place these markings on their aircraft and some airlines also may not include the Max name, simply writing "737" instead. If that's the case, a quick Google search of the registration number will also quickly identify whether the plane is a 737 Max. 

The engines are larger on a Boeing 737 Max

Boeing 737 Max
A Boeing 737 Max 7.
Andreas Zeitler/Shutterstock.com

The telltale sign that you're flying on a Boeing 737 Max is going to be its engines. The CFM International LEAP-1B engines are larger than on the 737 Next Generation, which is part of the reason Boeing had to install the quasi-autopilot Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System that inadvertently caused the fatal crashes, and slightly rounder.

What gives them away, however, are the chevrons on the back edge. No other Boeing narrow-body jets are equipped with this type of engine or have chevrons on the engine, letting you know that this is a Boeing 737 Max engine.

Larger aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner or 747-8i do have these engine chevrons but those planes are markedly larger. 

The winglets have a special add-on

Boeing 737 Max
The advanced technology winglet of a Boeing 737 Max.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Most modern airplanes have wing extensions, known as winglets on Boeing 737 aircraft, that help improve the plane's aerodynamics. They're not found on every aircraft but they look like someone took the last few feet of the wing and pointed it upward.

All Max aircraft come standard with winglets, known as "advanced technology" winglets, that feature an extra add-on pointing toward the ground at an angle, creating almost a sideways Y-shape at the end of the wing. 

This type of winglet, however, can be easily confused with the split scimitar winglet found on some updated 737 Next Generation aircraft flying for Southwest, United, and Alaska, so this method of identification should only be used in conjunction with another identifying feature. 

The cockpit is highly advanced

Boeing 737 Max Cockpit
An American Airlines Boeing 737 Max cockpit.
Business Insider/David Slotnick

If you're still unsure about whether you're flying on a Max when you step onboard the plane, a quick peek into the cockpit will help. The Max jets have been updated with new high-definition display screens for pilots that are markedly larger than the four cube-like displays on the 737 Next Generation.

Put simply, if the cockpit looks more high-tech with larger screens than you're used to seeing when flying an aircraft like the Boeing 737, it may be a Max. 

The safety card (sometimes) tells all 

American Airlines Boeing 737 Max Flight 8
An American Airlines Boeing 737 Max safety card.
David Slotnick/Business Insider

Each aircraft has its safety procedures outlined in a safety card that will also inform passengers of the aircraft on which they're flying. As most flyers will know and the flight attendants will reiterate during their briefing, they can be most often be found in the seat-back literature pocket. 

Since the Boeing 737 Next Generation and 737 Max have so many similarities, however, many airlines have resorted to a single safety card for both types, so it's best to clarify with a flight attendant if you think you're on a Max. 

Just ask an airline employee

American Airlines Boeing 737 Max Flight 13
An American Airlines Boeing 737 Max cabin.
David Slotnick/Business Insider

Any pilot, flight attendant, or customer service agent can tell you the type of aircraft on which you're flying and they often have the most up-to-date information. When in doubt, just ask.