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Air travel a leap of faith for passengers

WASHINGTON (AP) - Airline travel requires passengers to make a leap of faith, entrusting their lives to pilots, airlines, air traffic controllers and others who regulate air travel.

Even after a week of multiple tragedies in worldwide aviation, "There isn't much that we can do to manipulate how we fly as passengers. But we also shouldn't worry too much," says Phil Derner, founder of the aviation enthusiast website NYC Aviation.

With one passenger plane being shot out of the sky and two crashing during storms, aviation experts said there was no pattern suggesting a huge gap in airline safety measures.

"One of things that makes me feel better when we look at these events is that if they all were the same type event or same root cause. Then you would say there's a systemic problem here, but each event is unique," said Jon Beatty, president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation, an airline industry-supported nonprofit in Alexandria, Virginia, that promotes global aviation safety.

Less than 1 in 2 million flights last year ended in an accident that damaged a plane beyond repair, according to the International Air Transport Association. The statistic includes accidents involving cargo and charter airlines in its data as well as scheduled passenger airline flights. This week's aviation disasters have the potential to push airline fatalities this year to over 700 deaths - the most since 2010. And 2014 is still barely half over.

The misfortunes began July 18 when Malaysia Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine with 298 people on board. It's still uncertain who fired the missile that destroyed the plane, but Ukrainian officials have blamed ethnic Russian rebels, and U.S. officials have pointed to circumstantial evidence that suggests that may be the case.

Global aviation leaders will meet in Montreal next week to initiate discussions on a plan to address safety and security issues raised by the shoot-down of the Malaysia Airlines jet, an aviation official said late Thursday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue publicly by name.

The shoot-down doubled Malaysia Airlines' losses this year. The mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370 with 239 people on board in March combined with the destruction of Flight 17 amount to more than twice the total global airline fatalities in all of last year, which was the industry's safest year on record. Ascend, a global aviation industry consulting firm headquartered in London, counts 163 fatalities in 2013 involving passenger-carrying airliners with 14 seats or more.

On Wednesday, a TransAsia Airways plane crashed in Taiwan in stormy weather trailing a typhoon, killing 48 passengers, injuring 10 passengers and crew, and injuring five more people on the ground.

The next day an Air Algerie flight with 116 passengers and crew disappeared in a rainstorm over Mali while en route from Burkina Faso to Algeria's capital. The plane's wreckage was later found near Mali's border with Burkina Faso. The plane was operated for the airline by Swiftair, a Spanish carrier.

Derner said passengers can't do much about the path of their flights, and should leave it to aviation officials to learn the right lessons from the downing of the Malaysian flight.

For all that is out of the passengers' control, though, there are still steps that travelers can take to be well informed, select solid airlines and practice good safety habits.

Some tips:

TRACKING FLIGHTS: FlightAware.com can show what path a specific flight has flown the past few days, which can give passengers an idea of what to expect on their own flight. However, flight plans typically aren't loaded until an hour or two before a flight, and change all the time. Within the United States, passengers can track a flight's planned path with the WindowSeat flight tracker app:http://download.cnet.com/WindowSeat-Lite-Flight-Tracker-Timer/3000-20428...

SAFETY RECORDS: AirSafe.com offers airline-by-airline and model-by-model information on fatal plane crashes and other fatal events. It also shows crashes by regions of the world. Aviation-safety.net, a service of the Flight Safety Foundation, lists recent safety problems, offers information on emergency exits and other safety information, and has a database of safety issues stretching back to 1921.

ASSESSING THE AIRLINE: The European Union keeps a list of airlines that are prohibited from flying there. If an airline makes that list, avoid it. http://ec.europa.eu/transport/modes/air/safety/air-ban/index_en.htm. It's also a good idea to see if a carrier is a member of the International Air Transport Association, the trade association for the world's airlines. If they're not, they might not have met the group's safety standards.http://www.iata.org/about/members/pages/airline-list.aspx

GOOD HABITS: AirSafe.com, run by former Boeing safety engineer Todd Curtis, offers 10 tips for safe flight. These include choosing larger aircraft and nonstop flights. Once onboard: listen to the safety briefing, keep overhead bins free of heavy items, keep seatbelts fastened during flight, listen to flight attendants, don't bring hazardous materials, let flight attendants pour any hot drinks, don't drink too much and keep your wits about you. http://www.airsafe.com/ten_tips.htm

Join the discussion

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johngin1999 July 25 2014 at 8:32 AM

Air travel is the most UNPLEASANT experience there is.
Long cattle chute lines, body searches, delays on tarmac mechanical delays. tiny little seats made for 12 year old bodies, no food or, lousy food ( more preferably)
I remember flights in early 1970's as pleasant & comfortable. A bit more expensive than today's flights, but with all the government taxes & fees, prices of crappy flights are soaring.
Safety is a whole "nother" diatribe.....

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bob johngin1999 July 25 2014 at 12:48 PM

Why do professional pilots refer to them as "cattle cars"?

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savannahswithgod bob July 25 2014 at 6:51 PM

Being led to the slaughter!

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AMERICASMUSEUM johngin1999 July 25 2014 at 5:44 PM

Absolutely right johngin. It is a torture and the airlines do not care a damn about travelers.

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patric9956 July 25 2014 at 7:09 AM

Air travel is always a leap of faith. You take a leap of faith when you step out the door that your neighbors and society will behave by laws, rules, and social norms. If this is a revelation for folks, I really feel sorry for you. But then again youth and liberals are a naïve and gullible lot (hey I'm Michael Moore - I'm one of you, throw me money). If this piece written by the oblivious for the clueless restores some semblance that you can control the pilot laying over in Denver is not high off their butt - then here is some more Kool-aide for you. Wipe that drool off your mouth - John Stewart is on.

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buckolieo68 patric9956 July 25 2014 at 9:51 AM

I couldn't have said it better myself... You can get struck by lightning going to check the mail.. And even still staying inside isn't safe you can be sitting watching tv and get hit by a stray bullet.. Or a car plowing through your living room

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Kate patric9956 July 25 2014 at 5:46 PM

I thought instantly that this was an absurd article, and I'm a liberal. My uncle, also a liberal, is retired USAF, and yes, he was a pilot, not a pencil pusher, and a full Cnl.

Why don't you stick to the point, which was correct, until you veered off into a kool aid rant yourself.

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shar July 25 2014 at 10:45 AM

Anything can happen with any type of travel or even in your own home watching TV... THIS is NOT Political just a fact of life. Are you safer flying in the US on our airlines? Don't know...I'd just avoid troubled spots around the globe and plan your travel to lessen issues.

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tutomeo July 25 2014 at 11:15 AM

For people that think the skies are fine in America guess again. As an ATC I've seen things that would make your skin crawl. Controllers turning their back on the radar scope to talk about sports, reading a book instead of paying attention to the scope, leaving the area to talk to another controller in a different area. Many more things go on as well so next time you fly think about who is controlling your plane and hope for the best.

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2 replies
Kate tutomeo July 25 2014 at 5:51 PM

ATC's are no more perfect than pilots themselves. We all know that. But wouldn't you agree that it would be helpful if instead of union busting tactics such as the one Reagan so famously did, we voted for measures that guarantee ATC's get the breaks, rest, and compensation they need and deserve?

I can't believe that National in D.C. (actually VA, of course) was re named in his honor. Don't know a single pilot who calls it that, and yes, I know a lot of pilots.

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savannahswithgod Kate July 25 2014 at 6:58 PM

Me dad was a pilot but he didn't have no license. He worked at Coy Field and on the guys planes who owned it and he just 'turned his head' when dad wanted to go up. Dad rebuilt a Taylor-craft and took me up in that. I was also up in a Cessna with the family maybe around 6 years old. The only thing I want to fly in is the SR 71 but a copy of a Stuka JU-87 WW2 plane I might go up in. I ought to get to Berlin sometime to check on the reincarnation theory of being a Nazi soldier in WW2.

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frank.foreman tutomeo July 26 2014 at 4:10 AM

And the Detroit airport , which is one of the busiest , handles over 1100 flights a day. That is a huge responsibility and growing because our population and developments are growing all the while as well. I think we are looking at a period where we may see some planes crash in America , right at our front doors - which is NOT the time to pull your socks up. It really isn't the pilots so much , as it is the management and operations thereof that is lacking professionalism. If this happens , there will be severe restrictions and actions taken , which will effect all air travel in the US. I wouldn't wait for it , but remember that these decisions all come down from the top as usual. Even if planes are crashing and unexplanably disappearing.

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Normie Baby July 25 2014 at 7:31 PM

I made my first cross country trip by air as a kid in 1947. Air travel has always been a leap of faith, bucky.

It also has been, from the beginning, the worst form of travel in terms of comfort. If it weren't for it's speedy nature, it couldn't survive.

Personally, I'll take a train or a bus over a plane anytime I am not hurried.

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forkliftman53 July 25 2014 at 12:22 PM

air travel has never been safe i havent flown since 1968 when landing gear failed so many people have died since then i have drivin a few million miles and never an accdent

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2 replies
ferrariqx forkliftman53 July 25 2014 at 5:09 PM

Thank you so much for your post. I read the comments of this article because I just wanted to see to what levels of stupidity could someone rise. And sure enough, you did not disappoint.

Your post, is without question, one of the dumbest conclusions of illogic I've seen in a long time. What I really hope for is that you're inebriated with alcohol. That would at least excuse some of the illogical conclusions. However, the truth is that probably isn't the case. The real truth is that you are just plain stupid.

You're so stupid, that you don't even know that you're stupid. Aside of the obvious danger to yourself and everyone around you, you go through life thinking how clever you are.

All I can say is, I'm so glad I'm me and not you. Carry on!

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savannahswithgod forkliftman53 July 25 2014 at 6:53 PM

Evidently you aint took the forklift out to the highway yet.

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GUNSLINGER July 25 2014 at 9:50 AM

Remember our "BORDER INVASION"!

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2 replies
MaryJMartin GUNSLINGER July 25 2014 at 3:31 PM

GUNSLINGER: Yea. We remember, cause you won't let us forget. O.K. Now what????

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savannahswithgod GUNSLINGER July 25 2014 at 6:59 PM

Been going on since the first Mexican was tossed over the fence! It's destroyed us too late now.

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tsonne1726 July 25 2014 at 10:57 AM

We have a shortage of qualified Air Traffic Controlers as the prez has a hiring ban unless you are a minority--my son is a qualified controller and he and all his fellow young controllers cant get jobs-- the skies are controlled by overworked older controllers -think about that on your next flight

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2 replies
doonooch tsonne1726 July 25 2014 at 4:15 PM

dont blame the pres. It's the TP/GOP congress that wants to cut the size of "Gubmunt"

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Kate tsonne1726 July 25 2014 at 5:57 PM

That is not true. For one thing, the 'prez' has absolutely nothing to do with the hiring of ATC's, and if you really want a prez to blame, look no farther than Reagan, who notoriously broke the back of the ATC unions. You have a very short memory, either that or you're very, very young to have a son old enough to be looking for work as a controller.

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Trisha July 25 2014 at 1:26 PM

Oh STFU. What is this, time to try and get people to stop flying with your pathetic scare tactics? Give it a rest. The few that crash dont come close to how many dont, so just STFU. Im so tired of your media circus of BS. Get real reporters and do a real job.

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3 replies
ATURBOJETPILOT July 25 2014 at 9:49 PM

God help us all !

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