Travel Safety--
Common Questions
Where is the safest place to sit on an airplane?  

The short answer is there is no safest seat. There are some people who believe it will be safer to be seated near the wings or in the rear of the cabin. However, there is no evidence that any one part of an aircraft is safer than another one.  In an aircraft accident where the plane is seriously damaged or one or more occupants are injured or killed, the severity of the injuries depends on many factors, some of which may not be apparent until an accident occurs. For example, there have been many accidents involving heavy smoke or fire where survival depended on the ability of the passengers to not panic and to quickly remove themselves and others from the aircraft after landing. 
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Which is the safest airline to fly?  

Clearly there are some major airlines such as Southwest of the USA which have not had a passenger die in an accident and others such as Pan Am and Eastern which have had several fatal events. Those facts don't make one airline automatically safer than the other although it does affect the public's perception of safety. The most important indicator of the overall safety of an airline is how it is regulated by its nation's civil aviation authority. Airlines operating large capacity (over 30 seat) aircraft in the major industrialized countries have to follow the strictest safety regulations. While the airlines operating smaller capacity aircraft have the choice of operating under the same rules, these smaller aircraft are not certified to the same standards as larger ones. Just as importantly, the airports and air traffic control system have to adhere to similarly high standards. Beyond that, use your good common sense. If an airline is notorious for poor on time performance, lots of passenger complaints, and severe financial problems, then perhaps it is time to find an alternative airline. 

Which aircraft model is the safest? 

In general, all aircraft in a particular class have to adhere to the same set of standards. When safety concerns arise because of one or more accidents associated with a particular model, the civil aviation authorities of the major industrialized countries will usually require that the issue be addressed in all relevant aircraft models. For example, fatal airline accidents due to wind shear in the 1970s and 1980s in the U.S. led to a number of innovations in aircraft and ground wind shear detection systems and also in flight crew training which has led to a reduction in the risk of accidents due to that weather phenomena. 

What's the risk of flying compared to driving?  

In the United States, it is 22 times safer flying in a commercial jet than traveling by car, according to a 1993-95 study by the U.S. National Safety Council comparing accident fatalities per million passenger-miles traveled. The number of U.S. highway deaths in a typical six-month period — about 21,000 roughly equals all commercial jet fatalities worldwide since the dawn of jet aviation four decades ago. In fact, fewer people have died in commercial airplane accidents in America over the past 60 years than are killed in U.S. auto accidents in a typical three-month period. 

What kind of emergency am I most likely to face? 

For every accident, there are dozens, even hundreds of unusual circumstances that can happen during a flight. For a passenger, the most likely emergencies that you will face where you will have to do something is an evacuation of the aircraft using the emergency slides or using the emergency oxygen system. In most cases, the evacuation is ordered as a precautionary measure, not because the passengers face imminent danger. Emergency oxygen masks may be deployed automatically or be deployed manually by the flight crew. In most cases, deployment of the masks does not indicate that the passengers are in imminent danger. 

How often do airplane accidents?  

They're exceedingly rare. The risk of being involved in a commercial jet aircraft accident where there are multiple fatalities is approximately one in three million. To put this in perspective, you’d have to fly once every day for more than 8,200 years to accumulate three million flights. But even though fatal jet accidents are rare, the aviation community world-wide is continuing to work together to reduce them.  If one considers a crash to be a fatal accident as defined by the civil aviation authorities, then it happens infrequently. According to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, in the 11 years spanning 1984 to 1994, there were 49 fatal accidents involving U. S. operators of large capacity (over 30 passenger seats) air carrier aircraft. There was a minimum of one fatal accident in 1984 and 1993 and a maximum of 11 in 1989. The fewest people killed in one year was one in 1993 and the most was 526 in 1985. For smaller U.S. registered aircraft in scheduled service, there were 59 fatal accidents and the fatal accident rate per million flights was always greater than that of the larger aircraft. 

What's the riskiest portion of a flight?  

Takeoff and the climb to cruising altitude, and the descent and landing of an airplane are the two most risk-prone periods of a flight. In overly simplistic terms, takeoff demands the most from an airplane in terms of engine thrust and structural integrity, while final approach and landing demand the most of the cockpit crew. About three-fourths of all serious accidents occur during these two relatively brief phases of a flight. 

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