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February 8, 2012

Ten air travel tips that could save your life

by: Mary F. Schiavo

As the former Inspector General for the Department of Transportation, a pilot, aviation professor and being an aviation lawyer for decades, I get a lot of questions. Here are some of the most common, and possibly the best bits of information for air travelers to know:

  1. Where are the safest seats on a plane? Near the greatest concentration of exits. If there is an emergency, your best bet is being able to get out of the airplane quickly. Read the emergency instruction card when you sit down. It could be the best use of one minute of your life if it results in you saving yourself (and possibly others) after a crash.
  2. When is the safest time to fly? Summertime is the safest season to fly. Earlier in the day is the safest time of day to fly. More accidents occur later in the day when the pilots are tired, especially when the weather is bad and there have been delays.
  3. How does weather influence air safety? Weather is a factor in a majority of accidents. Fair weather flying is safest. The most dangerous weather conditions are icing and Level 5 or 6 thunderstorms.
  4. What is more dangerous, flying over land or water? Water is more dangerous because there are fewer alternative landing strips. Also, there are areas of dangerous turbulence over parts of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
  5. Where are the most dangerous airports? Airports with short intersecting runways are the most dangerous. The general rule is that older airports have the more dangerous taxiway and runway configurations. Midway in Chicago is more dangerous than O’Hare, for example. Long runways with clearly marked taxiways that do not cross active runways and have no hazards at the ends, such as water, buildings or mountains are the safest.
  6. What is the most dangerous portion of a flight? Takeoff and landing - the first 3 minutes and the last 3 minutes of your flight.
  7. Which planes are the safest? The newer, bigger jets are the safest, by an overwhelming majority. If you get on a new, big airliner, after the first 3 minutes, you can take off your shoes, put on your sleep mask and relax—until time to land, then put on your shoes. Newer planes not only have the best technology, but they also have new parts that break less often.
  8. What can a passenger can do to protect him/herself during a crash? Know where the exits are and be prepared to get out. Fast. I have represented many air crash survivors and they have one thing in common, they got themselves off of the plane, through smoke, fire, rain or hydraulic fluid, whatever it took. Several saved other lives too.
  9. How should a traveler at the gate react if they are told that their plane is delayed due to mechanical difficulties? With patience and understanding, but switch to another flight if you can. Practically speaking, you can usually get booked onto another flight if the reason for the delay is mechanical. Mechanical delays often lead to cancellations. Also, the best mechanics are not always located at the airport, nor do they have the equipment needed to make the appropriate repairs.
  10. What are the odds of being a victim of a fatal airline accident? On a regularly scheduled commercial airline, your risk of being in an accident is about 3 in 100,000 takeoffs. The numbers vary from source to source, but generally speaking, your risk of dying is about one in 90 million. This article on the risks of air travel from PBS breaks it down even more.

So what does that mean? It means people DO survive airplane accidents-- 95 percent of air travelers survive a crash. So, help yourself and the brave flight attendants who are charged with helping you to survive (not just bring you beverages), by dressing and acting appropriately.

By the way, I don’t drink alcohol on planes for that reason. I wear slacks and sensible shoes. I carry a flashlight and a smoke hood. I am going to get that emergency exit open and if you are seated next to me, I will drag you out with me because I want to live and I want you to live also.