Launched in 1967, the Boeing 737 became the most widely operated aircraft in commercial aviation history by 1987.
Now spanning more than half a century of production, the 737 has undergone several major updates and includes many variants, several of which are currently in use today – most notably the 787-800 and 787 MAX.
Is Boeing 737-800 the Same as 737 MAX?
The 737 is in its fourth generation and most passenger models in the skies today are members of either the third or fourth of these generations. (We wrote about the different Boeing 737 generations here.)
Examples of the third generation – formally known as “Next Generation” and often abbreviated as 737NG – began entering service in 1997 and served to upgrade older 737 “Classic” fleets, while fourth generation models – members of the 737 MAX family – entered service in 2017.
The 737-800 is a member of the Next Generation family, and is itself the most produced of the Next Gen models, with nearly 5,000 civilian deliveries between 1998 and 2019. Among the 737 MAX family, the 737 MAX 8 is the 737-800’s most direct replacement, although 787-800s are still widely operated.
Boeing 737-800 vs. 737 MAX: How Do They Differ?
Because the 737 MAX 8 is the intended successor of the 737-800, we will consider it most closely as we draw comparisons between the two variants.
Both variants feature a similar number of seats. Although exact seat count can vary somewhat depending on the airline’s chosen configuration, Boeing states that 737-800s seat 162-189 passengers, while the 737 Max 8 can seat between 162-210 passengers (210 seats are possible only with the MAX 8-200 variant).
External dimensions are similar as well; the 737-800 is 39.5 m (129’ 6”) long, while the MAX 8 is only two inches longer. Likewise, the MAX 8’s wingspan is only five inches longer than the 737-800’s, at 35.8 m (117’ 5”).
Despite such similar dimensions and seating capacities, the 737 MAX 8 wins out significantly in range, capable of 3,550 nm (6,570 km), compared to the 737-800’s 2,935 nm (5,436 km). The MAX 8 manages to extend its range while retaining similar dimensions and seating capacities thanks to improved engine efficiency and aerodynamic design improvements that make the aircraft fly much further on less fuel.
The MAX 8 also features updated displays and avionics in the cockpit, as well as a redesigned cabin, featuring sculpted sidewalls and customizable LED lighting intended to enhance the passenger experience.
The 737-800 is the most produced example of the larger 737 family, and as such, is used by most major airlines that utilize 737s worldwide to this day. A full listing of operators would be too exhaustive for our purposes here, but major operators include American Airlines with 303, Ryanair with 229, Southwest Airlines with 207, United Airlines with 141.
The 737 MAX 8 is still growing in popularity, especially after early accidents and incidents involving the MAX generation. Nonetheless, many of the same major operators of 737-800s are also among the largest operators of MAX airframes. These include Southwest with 121 (all of which are MAX 8s, although 35 MAX 7s are on order), United with 70 (27 MAX 8s and 43 MAX 9s) in service and 43 on order, American with 42 (all MAX 8s), Ryanair with 38 (all MAX 8s) in service and two on order, and Air Canada, with 40 (all MAX 8s).
Should You Be Worried About Flying Either the 737-800 or the 737 MAX?
While both the 737-800 and the 737 MAX made it into the news in recent years due to the tragic accidents they have been involved in, Boeing made changes designed to prevent any similar accidents in the future.
Major 737-800 Incidents
The 737-800 has had at least seven major crashes, although most of these are attributable to factors not related to the construction or functionality of the aircraft itself. These mostly include crashes due to runway skids or overruns during landing, but also include a tragic incident in which a Ukrainian commercial flight was shot by a missile while flying over Iran.
Another such incident may include a China Eastern flight that crashed earlier this year after entering a nosedive from 29,000 feet, crashing into mountains below. Although investigations have not fully concluded, black box data suggests that the flight may have been downed intentionally by someone in the plane.
The only major incident caused by problems with the 737-800 itself took place in 2018, when an engine fan blade broke, causing part of the engine’s covering to hit and shatter a cabin window in-flight, killing one passenger. Following the incident, Boeing agreed to a minor redesign of the engine covering recommended by United States’ National Transportation Safety Board.
Major 737 MAX Incidents
The 737 MAX has had a more turbulent history, primarily due to two accidents that took place in late 2018 and early 2019. In the first accident, a Lion Air flight dove into the Java Sea 13 minutes after takeoff, only two months after the plane was delivered to the airline. The second accident, in 2019, was similar; an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed six minutes after takeoff, only four months after the plane was delivered.
Both crashes were attributable to a faulty angle-of-attack sensor (provides data that can warn of an impending stall), which configured the aircraft’s flight control system to put the plane into a near dive. In the event a stall was actually imminent, lowering the nose of the aircraft would help to gain airspeed and avoid the stall, but in this case, the faulty data forced the planes into the ground.
In both cases, flight crews were unable to manually override the erroneous flight control configuration, which was the ultimate cause for the accidents. Immediately following the second crash, 737 MAXs were grounded worldwide, and remained grounded for 20 months.
During this time, Boeing redesigned the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), and investigations were launched into several other areas of the plane’s design that were also corrected before returning to service.
The two 737 MAX accidents were undeniably troubling, and understandably made many travelers nervous about flying on a MAX once they were cleared to fly again in 2020. Nonetheless, passengers can take comfort in the intense scrutiny Boeing and its design teams faced following the accidents from aviation authorities, airlines, and investors around the world. This scrutiny led to perhaps the most thorough testing and recertification a commercial airliner has ever faced.
Members of one of the most successful families of commercial aircraft to ever fly, the 737-800 and 737 MAX are capable, modern aircraft that are widely utilized by airlines around the world for short-and-mid-range operations. Despite some notable – though resolved – safety incidents specific to the MAX, 737s have a long history as a safe airframe.
The 737 MAX, and more specifically the MAX 8, is very similar to the 737-800 because it is the 737-800’s predecessor. While the average passenger might not notice many major differences between the two, the MAX is a major improvement over the 737-800 especially in terms of overall efficiency and range, and passengers can expect to continue seeing more MAX aircraft over the coming years as Boeing continues to fill its backlog of orders to airlines around the world.
5 thoughts on “Is Boeing 737-800 the Same as 737 MAX?”
Are the passenger seats the same size for the 737-800 vs the 737 MAX8?
The general layout is the same in economy class – three seats on each side of the aisle. The actual seat size/pitch/etc. depend on the airline.
I recently flew on a Southwest Boeing 737MAX 8bfrom Columbus ohio to Orlando . This aircraft is quiet and smooth
How many crashes has the 737-800 had in the last 5years?
I just flew a 2 hour flight in a 737-800 and returned the next day on a 737- Max 8. Both were nice uneventful flights. Overall the Max 8 seemed quieter and the seat more comfortable. The Max 8 also seems to have mood lighting for lack of a better word. It’s nice.