Review: my first flight in the Boeing 737 MAX (Tui fly from Brussels to Ibiza)

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.

Late September, I was supposed to travel to French Polynesia for a holiday of a lifetime. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing pandemic, that trip was cancelled two weeks prior to departure, so I had to look for a last minute holiday elsewhere. In the end, I choose Spain as a travel destination, where I enjoyed a wonderful time, despite some unusually rainy and dreadful weather. You can read my trip reports here:

  • Review: Tui Boeing 737 MAX from Brussels to Ibiza (today)
  • Review: W Ibiza Hotel
  • Review: Six Senses Ibiza Resort
  • Review: Hacienda Na Xamena
  • Review: Mandarin Oriental Barcelona
  • Review: Hotel Arts Barcelona, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel
  • Review: Four Seasons Hotel Madrid

Today: My first flight in the Boeing 737 MAX (Tui fly from Brussels to Ibiza)

On September 18th, I flew with TUI from Brussels to the Spanish island of Ibiza. The flight was operated by one of TUI’s 4 Boeing 737 MAX jets (it was my first flight in this aircraft type). TUI is the largest leisure, travel and tourism company in the world, and it owns travel agencies, hotels, airlines, cruise ships and retail shops. The group manages five European airlines: TUI Airways (UK), TUI fly Germany, TUI fly Belgium, TUI fly Netherlands and TUI fly Nordic. These 5 airlines combined operate the largest holiday fleet in Europe and serve more than 180 destinations around the world.

Have you ever flown with the Boeing 737 MAX? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.

I made a YouTube video with my impressions during the flight, which you can watch here:

  • Trip: Brussels (BRU) to Ibiza (IBZ)
  • Airline: TUI fly Belgium
  • Aircraft type: Boeing 737 MAX
  • Aircraft registration number: OO-MAX
  • On time departure: Yes (5pm)
  • On time arrival: Yes (7 pm)
  • Miles: 884 miles
  • Flight time: 2 hours
  • Seat: 15A
  • Class: Economy Class

In this review (there is more information & photos below my YouTube video):


PRICE OF MY TICKET

I paid 105 euros for my one-way ticket from Brussels to Ibiza. An addition, I also paid an extra fee of 8 euros to select a window seat.

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BOEING 737 MAX: SAFE TO FLY?

In 2010, Airbus announced the launch a more fuel-efficient version of its best-selling A320 aircraft, called the A320Neo. In response, its competitor Boeing urgently considered an upgrade of its workhorse Boeing 737 aircraft and within months, the Seattle-based company introduced plans for the Boeing 737 Max, which engines that would yield similar fuel savings as the A320Neo. The Boeing 737 MAX performed its first flight in January 2016, gained Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification in March 2017, and made its first commercial flight in May 2017. Compared to the older generation B737s, the MAX features different engines, aerodynamic improvements (including distinctive split-tip winglets), and airframe modifications. There are four variants of the Boeing 737 MAX, the most common of which are the B737 MAX-8 and B737 MAX-9 (the 8 and 9 indicate the size of the plane). The B737 MAX plane sold quickly based on features that passengers crave — a quieter cabin, more legroom — and bottom-line benefits to airlines, like fuel efficiencies. In fact, the B737 MAX is the fastest-selling airplane in Boeing’s history with about 5,000 orders from more than 100 airlines worldwide.

In light of what happened next,  it’s important to have knowledge of two particular features of the Boeing 737 MAX:

  • To compensate for the larger fuel-efficient engines on the 737 MAX, Boeing silently added a computerized system, called Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System(MCAS), which prevents the plane’s nose from getting too high and causing a stall. MCAS operates independently from pilot input and uses airspeed and other sensor data to detect a dangerous condition; it automatically activates and trims the aircraft nose down when the angle of attack is too high (suggesting an approaching stall), when the autopilot is off, when the flaps are up, or during a steep turn (cf graphic below).
  • Boeing persuaded its airline customers and the FAA that the new 737 MAX model would fly safely and handle enough like the existing B737 models and that airlines’ B737 flight crew did not have to undergo costly pilot re-training. In addition, both Boeing and the FAA decided that pilots did not need to be informed about MCAS, that was specifically developed to counter the risk that the size and location of the engines could lead the B737 MAX to stall under certain conditions. As a result, the MCAS system is not mentioned in the flight crew operations manuals, which is the basis for an airline’s documentation and training of a particular aircraft.

Here’s how MCAS is supposed to work (graphic by Mark Newlin & The Seattle Times):

17 months after its first commercial flight, the Boeing 737 MAX was grounded worldwide from 2018 to 2020. The reason for the grounding were the two tragic accidents with 737 MAX aircraft of Indonesian Lion Air and of Ethiopian Airlines. It is believed that faulty data from an ‘angle of attack’ sensor may have activated MCAS in both flights, pushing the aircrafts’ noses down; the pilots repeatedly counteracted it (unaware of the MCAS system) and pulled the nose back up again, only to be overridden by the system again, until they lost their battle with MCAS.

During the two years of grounding, manufacturer Boeing worked with the regulators on a safe return of the Boeing 737 MAX. For that purpose, an extremely meticulous procedure was followed in cooperation with the authorities. The adjustments made to the software of the aircraft and the requirements that airlines and their pilots must meet in order to be allowed to use the 737 MAX again have been approved by the international aviation authorities.

After the recertification by FAA in the US and EASA in Europe, the Boeing 737 MAX is one of the most and best tested commercial aircraft ever. All parts of the control system have been recertified. A number of adjustments were made to the control system, including the so-called MCAS system. This system will in the future work with two sensors instead of one and the pilot can always overrule the system. In addition, a number of operational procedures were adjusted and an additional training course was developed for pilots who fly this type of aircraft. More information about the adjustments is available on the website of Boeing. You will see an infographic and a short animated video in which the adjustments are explained. You can alsow atch TUI’s YouTube video below:


TUI BOEING 737 MAX: CABIN + SEAT

TUI’s Boeing 737 MAX features 189 slim line seats arranged in a single Economy Class configuration. All seats are 17 inches (43 cm) wide and have a pitch of 28 inches (71 cm), with the exception of the seats in the exit row which feature some extra legroom. Each seat is equipped with a USD port, which is great if you want to charge personal devices. Unfortunately, none of the seats are equipped with entertainment screens, which might be a bummer on longer flights. The Boeing 737MAX cabin features the new Boeing Sky Interior, highlighted by modern sculpted sidewalls and window reveals, LED lighting that enhances the sense of spaciousness and larger pivoting overhead storage bins.

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TUI BOEING 737 MAX CABIN
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TUI BOEING 737 MAX CABIN
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TUI BOEING 737 MAX CABIN
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TUI BOEING 737 MAX CABIN

ONBOARD SERVICE

Well, I can be very short about this. TUI’s onboard service on narrow-body aircraft (such as the Boeing 737 MAX) is limited to an assortment of snacks & drinks which can be purchased (nothing is offered on a complimentary basis) and duty-free shopping.

ONBOARD MENU

ONBOARD MENU

ONBOARD MENU

ONBOARD MENU

ONBOARD MENU

ONBOARD MENU

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2 Comments

  1. The Max was grounded, in the USA, from March 13, 2019 to November 18, 2020. By March 19, 2019 all 737Max models were grounded worldwide. Flights did not resume until Dec. 2020. So the grounding was about 20 months. Also Malindo Air took possession of their first May 16, 2017 and entered service 6 days later. Again the aircraft was in service 18 months before the first crash, not 7 months.

  2. We flew in a TUI Boeing 737 max to Tenerife from Aberdeen and back yesterday. On the outward journey 2 of the overhead monitors were not working and on the return trip the entire right hand side were not working. Not good for a pretty new aircraft. I found that there was not any more legroom than previous 737 versions. The engines were very noisy and the cabin was nothing to write home about. All in all it was a bit disappointing. My personal opinion is that the build quality was not great.

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