Airline travel requires passengers to make a leap of faith, entrusting their lives to pilots, airlines, air traffic controllers and others who regulate air travel.
Even after the recent tragedies in worldwide aviation, “There isn’t much that we can do to manipulate how we fly as passengers. But we also shouldn’t worry too much,” says Phil Derner, founder of the aviation enthusiast website NYC Aviation.
One passenger plane was shot out of the sky and two crashed during storms in July.
“One of the things that makes me feel better when we look at these events is that if they all were the same type of event or same root cause then you would say there’s a systemic problem here, but each event is unique,” said Jon Beatty, president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation, an airline industry-supported nonprofit in Alexandria, Va., that promotes global aviation safety.
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And there are some steps that passengers can take to be well-informed, select solid airlines and practice good safety habits. Among them:
Assessing the airline: The European Union keeps a list of airlines prohibited from flying to Europe. If an airline makes that list, avoid it wherever it flies. ec.europa.eu/transport/modes/air/safety/air-ban/index_en.htm
It’s also a good idea to see if a carrier is a member of the International Air Transport Association, the trade association for the world’s airlines. If they’re not, they might not have met the group’s safety standards. iata.org/about/members/pages/airline-list.aspx
Safety records: AirSafe.com offers airline-by-airline and model-by-model information on fatal plane crashes and other fatal events. It also shows crashes by regions of the world. Aviation-safety.net, a service of the Flight Safety Foundation, lists recent safety problems, offers information on emergency exits and other safety information, and has a database of safety issues stretching back to 1921.
Good habits: AirSafe.com, run by former Boeing safety engineer Todd Curtis, offers 10 tips for safe flight. These include choosing larger aircraft and nonstop flights. Once onboard, listen to the safety briefing, keep overhead bins free of heavy items, keep seat belts fastened during flight, listen to flight attendants, don’t bring hazardous materials, let flight attendants pour any hot drinks, don’t drink too much, and keep your wits about you.
Track flights: FlightAware.comcan show what path a specific flight has flown the past few days, which can give passengers an idea of what to expect on their own flight. However, flight plans typically aren’t loaded until an hour or two before a flight, and change all the time.
Within the United States, passengers can track a flight’s planned path with the WindowSeat flight tracker app.
And take some comfort in statistics.
Less than 1 in 2 million flights last year ended in an accident that damaged a plane beyond repair, according to the International Air Transport Association.
That includes accidents involving cargo and charter airlines as well as scheduled passenger-airline flights.
However, the three recent disasters within a week in July have the potential to push airline fatalities this year to more than 700 deaths — and 2014 is just half over.
The misfortunes began July 17 when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine with 298 people on board.
A TransAsia Airways plane crashed in Taiwan on July 23 in stormy weather trailing a typhoon, killing 48 passengers, injuring 10 passengers and crew, and injuring five more people on the ground.
Then an Air Algerie flight with 116 passengers and crew disappeared in a rainstorm over Mali on July 24 while en route from Burkina Faso to Algeria’s capital.