We’re not trying to scare you from traveling — for the most part flying is actually quite safe (in fact, it’s the safest it’s been in a decade and keeps getting safer). However, the following airplane facts may make you ponder your next booking:
1. Your plane may not be as new as you think
According to Ron Schaberg, owner of the air ambulance company, Travel Care Air, many don’t realize how many aging aircraft are in the skies:
Typically older aircraft are passed down to smaller, developing nations or used by some discount carriers. Usually with simple touch-ups to the exterior — like a paint job — the untrained eye really can’t tell how old planes are.
Luckily, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandates inspections to both new and old planes, meaning these older aircraft are often replacing and adding equipment for a safer flight (at least in the U.S.)
2. Call sign confusion is rare, but happens
Flight numbers aren’t just to assist fliers in finding their gates, but also to help air traffic controllers direct the correct pilots on their assigned routes. But sometimes mistakes are made. According to Stephen Carbone, a retired investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board:
Two airliners for the same airline were almost turned into each other because their flight number call signs were so similar. The pilots of both jets misunderstood which jet was being given the direction. Since then — and this happened twice — airliners do not have similar flight numbers in the same area or the same time frame.
3. Sometimes, you’re plane is held together by tape
At least it’s not duct tape, and it’s only used for quick external fixes
According to Patrick Smith, author of the book Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel. Questions, Answers, and Reflections, it’s speed tape, a heavy-duty aluminum bonding tape:
This isn’t some quick fix from the hardware aisle at Costco. Aluminum bonding tape costs hundreds of dollars per roll. And these sorts of repairs are made only to nonessential or superficial surfaces; they’re cosmetic more than anything.
4. Numerous factors influence plane disaster survival
Some of these include your height, where you’re sitting and where you’re flying. According to Mark Murphy, founder of TravelPulse.com, North America has the lowest rates of airline fatalities, while Africa typically has the highest. Moreover, an airline exit row is a flash point for potential crash fires, as fuel is carried in the wings. And crash position? Today’s small seat pitches mean those six feet and taller can’t successfully get into it. On a brighter note, according to Murphy:
You have a better chance of dying from a bee sting than you do of dying in a commercial jet crash. You’re three times as likely to die of a lightning strike than a plane crash.
5. The Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t regulate plane cleanliness
Typically, planes get a once-over straightening-up between flights and usually a more thorough cleaning overnight or between long international flights. Periodically planes get scrubbed from nose to tail when they undergo major maintenance work.
6. Toxic fumes inside the cabin could be harming your health
British coroner Stanhope Payne recently raised concerns about aerotoxic syndrome, a deadly condition caused by contaminated recirculated air originating in the plane’s engine. However, some studies are finding the only harmful effects to be in cockpits, a concern for pilots but not passengers, and others, like Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority, are saying it’s “nothing that passengers or crew should be concerned about.”
7. Your flight is hurting the environment more than you think
According to Dirk Aguilar, President and Co-Founder of flight-scoring service Calasi:
One cross-country round trip flight emits as many carbon emissions per passenger in about 11 hours as one full year’s commuting in a medium car.
To alleviate this, I pick flights that generate less emissions. Per-passenger fuel consumption can vary substantially and independently from ticket prices. So yes I feel guilty, but I also have great hope.”
8. Your plane may not be fully fueled
According to aviation research Craig “Buzz” Conroy, airplanes do not always take off with full fuel tanks due to the fact every ounce of weight uses fuel, including the fuel itself, and this costs extra money:
If the plane has a range of 3,200 miles — it can travel 3,200 miles on full fuel tanks — and it is flying from Pittsburgh to Cleveland, why fill the tank? The trip is less than 120 miles.”
Luckily, he adds having full fuel tanks isn’t necessary for a safe flight, as long as it’s enough to reach your destination plus an additional 45 minutes of flight time.
But don’t worry too much
While 2014 had a number of horrific flying incidents that undoubtedly made many swear off travel, the truth is, for the most part, it is very safe.
With every crash now, it seems we get into this cycle of marathon media coverage. Thirty years ago when major accidents occurred with much greater frequency we didn’t obsess like this. The rate of fatal accidents, per miles flown, has been steadily falling. According to International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the chances of dying in a plane crash are about one-sixth what they were in 1980.