Statistically safest

In last month’s issue I introduced myself and invited readers to submit travel questions. The deadline for this month came along before anyone had a chance to respond, so, rather than answer the kind I get every day, like “How far in advance should I check in at the airport?”, “What’s my baggage limit?” or “Will I need a visa for thus and such country?”, I asked myself, “What question would I most likely not get?”

“Is it safe to fly?” This was one of the questions most frequently asked when I started in travel, back when most Americans had not yet set foot in an airplane. At that time, it was not unusual to encounter people who were terrified of the idea of flying, and airlines offered classes on how to overcome this fear. Airlines even liked to identify passengers who were making their first flight so a celebration could be made with a presentation of “wings” by the flight attendants.

Once, while working for United Airlines, I was escorting passengers onto a flight from Visalia to Los Angeles when a woman froze in her footsteps just before climbing the stairs. A man carrying a huge bouquet of flowers, an anniversary gift for his wife, passed around the stalled woman, and when she saw them they must have reminded her of death or something because she became hysterical and fled from the aircraft. I doubt that would happen today. What with all the check-in and security clearance, who would want to waste all that time and effort and then not fly?

During my 40 or so years in travel, my company and I have handled well over a million trips, comprising three or four million flights. Sadly, I’ve lost clients just before, during or just after they took a trip but fortunately never, not once, as a result of an air accident.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued a press release on Sept. 9, 2005, stating that, in 2004, deaths from transportation accidents in the United States totaled 44,870. It went on to say that only 14 of these were commercial airline fatalities, with all but one from a single accident.

The point is that, when you take into account the numbers of people using each form of transportation, commercial airlines are without a doubt the safest mode of travel. And, thank goodness, with all the desperate and seemingly silly measures many airlines are taking to economize (no more pillows, no more blankets, no free food), their most sane decision is to “keep flying safe.”

Which airlines have been the ultrasafest? According to the website, here are many that have not lost a single passenger since they were founded, or at least during the last 35 years: Aer Lingus, Air Jamaica, Aloha Airlines, Austrian Airlines, BWIA West Indies Airways, Emirates, EVA Air, Finnair, Grupo TACA, Hawaiian Airlines, Icelandair, JetBlue Airways, Qantas Airways, Southwest Airlines and Virgin Atlantic Airways.

Again, please send in your questions. I’ll do my best to give you an answer in a future column. Ciao!

—Ask Steve is written by Steve Venables.