Eleven plaintiffs have signed onto a proposed class action lawsuit over what they allege is a decades-long collusive relationship between Southwest Airlines and Boeing that was so profitable the airline worked with the airplane maker to conceal what ended up being a fatal flaw with the 737 MAX 8 jetliner.
The sprawling 124-page RICO complaint alleges that Southwest has for decades propped up the embattled airplane maker “in seemingly economically irrational ways.” These allegedly included:
“…[S]ending signals to the market with strategically timed orders for new 737 airplanes; locking itself to a single aircraft manufacturer and type of aircraft; spending millions of dollars to avoid flying non-737 airplanes acquired in a merger; creating a trust designed to hide delays and cancelations of aircraft orders; and releasing airplanes it had ordered to its own competitors in order to allow Boeing to meet demand for new airplanes.”
Described in the lawsuit is an apparent “unwritten but strictly-adhered-to agreement” between the companies in which Boeing, in exchange for Southwest’s unwavering backing, would give the airline early access to the now-globally-grounded 737 MAX 8 aircraft, as well as allow for input into the planes’ design process and a steep price discount on purchases. According to the case, Boeing is Southwest’s sole airplane supplier and the agreement between the companies, particularly with regard to the 737 MAX 8, allowed Southwest to streamline its operations with only one type of aircraft and without fear of Boeing increasing prices, the plaintiffs allege. This, the complaint says, reduced Southwest’s costs and increased its profits “dramatically.”
“No other airline has such a deal,” according to the suit.
As the lawsuit tells it, the myriad problems and hundreds of deaths linked to the 737 MAX 8 jetliner has critically strained the relationship between Southwest and Boeing. To protect the reportedly very profitable partnership, Southwest, according to the suit, “worked with Boeing tocover upthe defect” that’s been blamed for 2018’s Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. The airline allegedly assured the public that the planes were safe and that the deadly flaw with the 737 MAX 8’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) was fixed. According to the plaintiffs, Southwest stuck with this Boeing-friendly narrative because it “could not risk its special relationship” with the company, nor its “45 straight years of profits.”
Though Southwest publicly acknowledged the problem with Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 jets after the government ordered the planes grounded, the airline, according to the lawsuit, knew for some time that the jetliner was fatally flawed yet continued selling seats—and withholding the MCAS flaw from pilots—in the time leading up to the mass grounding.
“From August 29, 2017, through March 13, 2019, Southwest knowingly risked the lives of its customers, pilotsand its other employees,” the case charges. “And Southwest reaped revenues that it never would have received had its customers known they were potentially buying seats on defective planes that could easily have killed them—as it has killed hundreds of other flyers.”
The plaintiffs each bought a ticket to fly on the 737 MAX 8 under the belief that the plane was safe, the lawsuit says, stressing that none would have paid the amount they did for their Southwest tickets had they known the 737 MAX 8 possessed a potentially fatal design flaw.
“Put simply, Southwest and Boeing conspired to cover up this indisputable fact: The 737 MAX 8 was so defective and poorly designed that it could easily kill you,” the complaint reads. “[The plaintiffs] want their money back.”
The lawsuit looks to certify classes of consumers who bought tickets to fly on a Southwest or American Airlines aircraft between the date Southwest first took delivery of the 737 MAX 8, August 29, 2017, through the date that all 737 MAX aircraft were grounded, March 13, 2019. Similarly, the suit asks to certify subclasses of consumers in California, Florida, Nevada, New York, Arizona, Indiana, and Georgia who fit the same criteria and live in those states.