There’s a word for how well the Trump White House handled issues surrounding the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 and their possible connections to a Lion Air crash in October. Unfortunately, using that word would filter this story from many readers. Concerns about the plane being flown at the time of both crashes—the relatively new Boeing 737 Max 8—caused airlines and nations around the world to ground the jet following the second crash. But, as news graphics kept showing, the planes were still flying over the United States long after they had been locked down everywhere else.
But as Transportation Secretary and Mitch McConnell spouse Elaine Chao was demonstrating her faith in the plane by booking a flight on a 737 Max, behind the scenes Donald Trump was dissing the design—but not because of its safety record. According to the Washington Post, Trump’s feelings about the plane were all about the aesthetics. He prefers the 757, which he uses as a personal jet, and his informed technical opinion on the 737 is that “It sucked.” Trump also stated that he couldn’t understand why Boeing made the 737, and that he “never would have bought a 737 for the Trump Shuttle.”
And that’s certainly true. Because the Trump Shuttle went bankrupt in 1990 just months after it was launched, and ceased operations completely in less than two years. The current generation of 737 wasn’t introduced until 2011, and the Max planes not until 2016. While Trump might not think the planes worthy of being his personal air whip, someone certainly does—Boeing has sold just four short of 7,000 of the 737 Next Generation planes. They are the mainstay of air fleets around the world.
That absolute ubiquity is what makes possible issues with a plane in this series such a big deal. And what makes an order to put them on the deck after two deadly crashes not only obvious, but something that has to be done with planning and coordination to minimize both risk and disruption to the transportation net. Instead, it was handled with a combination of bizarre stubbornness, a disregard for public welfare, and capricious action that only incidentally stumbled on doing the right thing. In the wrong way.