There are many reasons you should be afraid to fly. Here are the top 8.
A plane can drop from the sky like a rock. Jet aircraft weigh thousands of pounds. The only thing keeping the jet in the sky is the flow of the air over the top of the wings. This creates what is known as “lift”. In order to have lift a lot of things have to be just perfect. The plane has to have sufficient speed, the plane has to be positioned correctly and the flaps set correctly. If a pilot makes a mistake, lift can be lost and the plane simply falls from the sky. This is exactly what happened to Colgan Air Flight 3407 from Newark to Buffalo in 2009 which had so little air speed that it dropped like a rock and killed all 48 people on board. The pilot Marvin Resnlow and co-pilot Rebecca Shaw misread the signals from the aircraft, took the wrong steps and lost lift. They were unfamiliar with the aircraft and did not know that the shaking of the control stick was the Bombardier Dash 8-Q400‘s stall warning. Neither knew what this signal meant and therefore did not increase air speed when required. Colgan Air gave Rebecca Shaw so little flight time each month that she had to work in a Starbucks the rest of the time just to be able to pay her rent.
Pilots don’t have as much flying experience as they used to. In the Golden Age of Pan Am & TWA, pilots had a huge number of flying hours. Virtually all commercial pilots were ex-military pilots with many many hours in the air. There were fewer pilots than today but each one was incredibly experienced. Now airlines like to have as many pilots as possible and give each one as few flying hours as possible. This keeps salaries and benefits low. Even pilots coming in from the military don’t have as many flying hours as they used to. The military has cut back on flying time in order to save costs. Military pilots have been complaining abut this for at least a decade.
Planes carry dangerously low levels of fuel. Fuel is heavy and the heavier a plane is the more expensive it is to fly. Pilots don’t even talk about how many gallons of jet fuel they have. They always speak of it in terms of weight. The most cost-efficient thing for an airline is to have a plane arrive at its destination with almost no fuel left in the tanks. Even jets crossing the Atlantic or Pacific are only given the minimum fuel required to make the trip. However, there have been many instances where the calculations were wrong. Planes ran out of fuel and crashed as a result. Headwinds and air-traffic delays can add unanticipated hours the trip. In 1990, an Avianca Flight 52 from Bogota Colombia to New York’s JFK airport ran out of fuel on its final approach and this fully loaded 707 crashed. Think about that the next time you are in a jet endlessly circling an airport
The Sky has never been more crowed with air traffic. Population growth, cheap air fares and a booming economy have all led to a giant increase in air travel. The entire Northeast from New York to Boston is basically a traffic jam in the sky. This mathematically increases the probability that two planes will collide.
Air Traffic Control Systems are falling apart and antiquated. Every U.S. administration says it is going to allocate funds to totally replace aging computers, radar and radio systems that make up the air traffic control system. Then other priorities come along and the money never gets approved. Glitches in the system constantly cause delayed flights and near-accidents in the air. It is no longer a question of if people are going to die because of a breakdown of the air traffic control system. It is just a matter of when.
Amateur Pilots in congested air lanes are a danger to everyone. Letting amateur pilots fly Piper Cubs in the same air space and at the same airports as Jumbo Jets is like letting a child ride a tricycle on the New Jersey Turnpike during rush hour. In 2006, the baseball player Cory Lidle died when he crashed a small plane into the side of a building in Manhattan while taking a flying lesson. That’s right, he was taking a flying lesson and the instructor let him fly over the most densely populated city in the United States, at a level that was lower than the buildings. Because of that accident (in whcih the flight instructor, Tyler Stanger, also died), planes are no longer permitted to fly over Manhattan. However, people sill fly little planes and take lessons in the crowded skies over the densely populated areas all around Manhattan. It is just a matter of time until an amateur in a small prop plane hits a 747 loaded with people.
Big Jets are too crowded to be safely evacuated in the event of an emergency. If a jet does make a crash landing, people need to get out fast, before smoke and fire engulf the plane. Every wasted second can cost a human life. However, modern jet designs have made it harder than ever to get people out quickly. Aisles are narrower and seats are closer together then ever before, making it hard for people to move. In addition, the overhead bins are full of luggage and do not lock during an emergency. In emergency evacuations people do not run out quickly. Instead, they fight for their carry-on luggage and clog the exits with their suitcases.
Terrorists can easily use private jet airports. This is an issue virtually unknown to the general flying public. If you fly from Newark, or Kennedy, or LaGuardia, you will be subjected to security screening worthy of anyone in a prison. However, just 20 miles away in Teterboro Airport, wealthy people walk onto private jets with no security check at all. They could be carrying guns, or even bombs and there is no security inspection of the passengers, their carry-on bags or their checked luggage. This is true at any of the U.S. airports exclusively handling private jets.
There is a real social class arrogance. Since a private jet can cost as much as $50 million, the assumption is that anyone that wealthy could not possibly be a terrorist. However, you can lease a private jet, or part of a private jet for rates that run as low as 2 or 3 times First Class airfare on commercial carriers. This then allows you full access to walk in and get on the jet with no security check. It is idiotic to assume that terrorists don’t have enough money to do this. Osama Bin Laden came from a very wealthy family that actually does own a private jet. Many terrorist organizations have millions of dollars in funding with more than enough money to get a private jet. These private jet airports have fences and maximum security to keep anyone from breaking in from the outside. However, a terrorist with the money to lease or buy a jet can just drive through the main gate and be waived in as a full member of the club. If you think terrorist organizations have not already thought of this- think again. Ironically, Teterboro Airport is owned by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which is the same entity that operates Newark Airport. They are giving body scans to old grandmas at Newark Airport, while 20 miles away in Teterboro terrorists can walk onto a private jet fully armed.
If we have made you scared to fly GOOD!. Nothing will change if the flying public continues to think flying is safe. The biggest problem is that the flying public has gotten the air travel system it deserves. Any time a choice needs to be made the general public just wants air travel cheaper and cheaper. As a consequence, we have a system with badly trained pilots, antiquated air traffic control systems, overcrowded planes and lax security. To make the air travel system truly safe is going to cost lots and lots and lots of money. Air travel needs to be much more expensive than it is, and the government needs to spend huge amounts of money fixing the entire system. No one wants to hear this but it needs to be said. There also need to be regulations making airlines carry more fuel, increase aisle width and have devices that lock the luggage racks during emergencies. All of this will cost millions, and airlines will have to raise ticket prices. There also needs to be a regulation requiring passenger screening for private jets, even if the people own the jets. Just being rich doesn’t make you automatically good.
Will any of the changes required to make air travel safer happen? We don’t think so. We just hope you remember this story the next time there is a major airplane disaster.