Air Safety

I got a few e-mails taking me to task, politely, for my comment that there are some foreign airlines I would prefer not fly out of concern for safety.  They didn’t change my mind about that.

But they did make some good points. And since I made only very tangential remarks in an entry about code-sharing, I’d like to amplify.

First , I agree that flying is very safe. By every measure, it is safer than driving – by the number of fatalities every year, by the risk to each person in the general population and by the number of fatalities per passenger mile. The federal Department of Transportation has a very interesting risk comparison on its website.

These statistics get fairly complicated when you consider that most of us we drive far more miles than we fly and that there are far more passengers in most commercial aircraft than in most motor vehicles. But it’s safe to say that flying is safer.

I think the reasons that people feel safer in their cars is the illusion of control. None of us believes we will make a fatal mistake, or that we won’t be able to avoid the mistakes of others on the highway. But the statistics show us quite plainly that we are more vulnerable behind the wheel than we think we are. In a plane, where we yield control to the flight crew, it simply feels more dangerous than it really is.

My correspondents also averred that the foreign code-share partners of U.S. airlines are safe, which I believe is mostly true. I can think of a few foreign airlines that I would be reluctant to fly because of their safety records, but only one of those has code-sharing with a U.S. airline. Other people might conclude that the airline I don’t like has an acceptable safety record, or they might balk at an airline I wouldn’t worry about.

And that’s my point. I believe air passengers are wise to learn about the safety records – and reputations for customer service – of the airlines they fly, foreign and domestic. ( would be somewhere to start.)

So even if I believe that the major U.S. airlines have great safety records, I just can’t have completely blind faith in the choices they make for code-share partners. Maybe it’s because I’m a journalist, motto: "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." Or maybe I just like to make informed choices.

Hey, there are drivers whose cars I won’t ride in, either.


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