The past few years I’ve made an effort to review some unique airlines that some would consider to be off the beaten path. One of the questions I get constantly is whether I’m ever scared of flying on any of these airlines.
It’s an interesting question, and something my perspective has evolved on over time. So I thought that would be an interesting topic to address in this post. While I wrote a similar post over two years ago, my thoughts have even changed since then, which is why I wanted to write about it again.
I used to be terrified of flying
Before I get too deep into this, let me note that while I’ve been in love with airplanes since a young age, there was a period where I was terrified of flying. Every time we took off my palms would get sweaty and I’d take deep breaths. I’d think about all of the things that could possibly go wrong.
What if there’s an explosive in the cargo hold? What if one of the pilots is suicidal? What if some maintenance wasn’t done correctly, and that last screw holding a piece of the plane together finally comes loose? It’s easy to think about these things given the lack of control we have when flying.
In my case, my fear of flying started after an awful Royal Jordanian flight in 2013 where I thought I was going to die. I’ve flown millions and millions of miles, and to this day that’s the only flight where I actually thought we were in danger (I’ll never know if we really were).
It took me over six months before I was even remotely over my fear of flying.
I’m not not scared because I don’t think about things
I know that’s a lot of negatives, but I think it’s the best way to express how I feel. I’m not over my fear of flying because I’ve taken an “ignorance is bliss” approach, and just don’t think about things.
For example, whenever I fly a new airline or to a new airport, I look up the “accidents & incidents” page for the airport and/or airline, because I find it interesting.
I also have concerns about the practices at some airlines based on firsthand reports I’ve heard from pilots and other employees there, as well as the records that airlines have. I don’t want to name and shame here, but just to give a few examples:
- There are some airlines where I have serious concerns about their maintenance practices
- There are some airlines where I have serious concerns about their pilot training, pilot experience, and pilot fatigue
- There are some airlines that have very bad safety records, though in some cases they’ve improved over time
- Probably my biggest general concern is the mental health of pilots, and arguably that has led to at least a couple of the major air disasters we’ve seen in the past few years
Just to give one example of something that’s concerning, on James’ post about the lives of expat pilots in Asia, one reader left the following comment (and I know who this is, so can vouch for the credibility of it):
As someone who spent several months at the training center of a major Asian airline, I find most of the above points to be accurate and match my experience. I want to also share some of my thoughts/observations, in no particular order:
– The quality of pilots (much more so with regional carriers) can be extremely wacky. In my case I was flying with 2 trainees from a smaller company who were grossly unprepared, and even crashed in the sim during many of the exercises
– Money and class can indeed help with recruiting and/or medical exams
– The instructors I’ve worked with spoke little to no English. Foreign pilot trainings are conducted with the presence of a translator, who has little to no aviation background and often struggle to communicate too
So I truly believe there are plenty of airlines that don’t exactly use “best practices,” and frankly I’m shocked more things don’t happen.
Why I “couldn’t care less about airline safety”
So, having said all that, I’d fly just about any airline in the world without hesitation. Why don’t I care about airlines’ safety records? Because to me it seems silly to try and make judgment calls between airlines. When it comes down to statistics, even the less safe airlines in the world are safer than just about any other form of transportation.
I don’t do in-depth research as to the safety ratings of the car types that various Uber drivers are in, and similarly I don’t do that for airlines.
I simply hope for the best, and put my life in the hands of the pilots and whatever higher power, because anything else would just be silly, in my opinion. If I ever do die on a plane, then I just have really bad luck, and so be it. I died doing what I love (not to be grim here, but it is how I feel).
But if I actually wanted to overanalyze the safety record of every airline, I’d be left with very few airlines to fly.
That’s not to say that I won’t keep looking at safety records as I choose airlines, but they won’t change what I book. Though I will say that when I flew TAAG Angola earlier in the year, I couldn’t help but shriek a bit at the fact that the airline had to “write off” a third of their 737-200s. Ouch.
At least that’s how I’m feeling as of now. Who knows, maybe if I have another Royal Jordanian-esque experience my opinion will change again.
You want to know what actually concerns me? The abysmal job the TSA has done during tests, where they’ve consistently missed a vast majority of weapons. Unfortunately you’re subjected to their incompetence no matter which airline you fly out of the US.
I’m curious how you guys feel. Where and based on what do you draw the line when it comes to airline safety?