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LI-bound Max 8 passengers directed to another flight 

"Not that I don't care - I don't want to lose my life - but what am I going to say? 'I want a non-Max 8 model?' " said Flight 1254 passenger Lou Rupnick

Long Islanders at MacArthur Airport reacted to the news that all Boeing 737 Max 8, planes were grounded nationwide following the recent crashes of those models. (Credit: Newsday)

Passengers who were supposed to fly from Baltimore to Long Island on a Boeing 737 Max 8 said they weren't worried Wednesday before such planes were grounded nationwide and airlines had to swap in other jets.

At Baltimore/Washington International Airport, Southwest Airlines Flight 1254 travelers were directed to another gate without any explanation, they said, and they had little or no idea that a Boeing model with a crash history was originally going to be their ticket to Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma.

"Not that I don't care — I don't want to lose my life — but what am I going to say? 'I want a non-Max 8 model?' " said Flight 1254 passenger Lou Rupnick, 73, of New Mexico, a former Greenport resident visiting his girlfriend here.

The Max 8 was expected to depart from BWI shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday, but the Southwest aircraft never got off the ground after President Donald Trump announced the airplanes were grounded if they were not already in midair. 

Long Island MacArthur Airport Commissioner Shelley LaRose-Arken said Southwest's jet at BWI was replaced with a Boeing 737-700 twin jet. It landed about 5:30 p.m., about 20 minutes late. The 737 Max 8 was also slated to fly out of MacArthur about 6 p.m. Wednesday. Flight records showed that airplane was also replaced by the Boeing 737-700.

Only about 5 percent of Southwest's fleet of 737s flying into and out of MacArthur were Max 8 jets, LaRose-Arken said. The aircrafts land and depart from MacArthur about every other day, she said.

"I'm not really worried," said Vernon Williams, a vice president at Bethpage Federal Credit Union, after returning on Flight 1254 from a business trip. "Air travel is the safest form of travel."

That was the sentiment of many travelers at MacArthur. They said pilot training and plane maintenance standards in the United States are higher than in other countries such as Ethiopia and Indonesia, the origins of the recent Max 8 crashes. But they agreed with the grounding of the planes, saying the cause of the fatal crashes must be unearthed.

As for the major New York City-area airports, Port Authority spokeswoman Cheryl Ann Albiez said Wednesday night that there would be minimal disruption there. 

“The impact of today’s FAA grounding of Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 aircraft has had minimal impact on Port Authority airports,” she wrote in an email. 

She said that American Airlines canceled six flights to or from LaGuardia Airport, and Southwest canceled two flights scheduled to depart Newark Liberty. No flights to or from JFK were affected.

At MacArthur, many flyers said they didn't even bother to check the type of plane they were booked on. But three generations of one Suffolk family returning from a Florida vacation made sure they wouldn't be stepping into a Max 8.

"I was having a panic attack," Lauren Perrone, 30, of Smithtown, said as she watched son Luca at MacArthur's baggage area. "This is my son's first trip on a plane."

Luca will be turning 1 Monday, she said, and the family had celebrations planned.

Perrone's mother, Christine Paolillo of St. James, said she was told by a flight attendant that their aircraft was not going to be a Max 8, so with relief, they flew Southwest home from West Palm Beach, Florida.

"Maybe with my husband and I, I would have taken a chance," Paolillo said. "But not with my grandson."

With Antonio Planas and Matthew Chayes

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