Exactly 30 years ago, Beat of Hawaii editor, Jeff, was scheduled to die. He held a boarding pass on Thai Airways 311 and decided at the last minute not to go. The plane crashed, and there were no survivors. So, as an avid traveler and writer, airline safety has always been his top concern.
With all the talk about ancillary airline fees, the popular post on picking seats on flights to Hawaii, paying for an exit row, aisle, and window seat, and upgrades and the like, we were reminded by your comments of the stark reality that that choosing the safest seat on an airplane may be a matter of life and death. It was for one of Jeff’s friends.
Then you’ll recall what happened last year that is pictured above. It was the terrifying United 777 engine fire incident en route to Hawaii, which (thankfully) ended uneventfully. Another UAL Boeing 777 Hawaii flight suffered an in-flight fan blade separation over the Pacific a few years ago, which also ended well.
Delta flight 191: tragedy revisited.
Beat of Hawaii’s friend and former co-worker, Jean Hancock (sister of Herbie), died on Delta Flight 191 when it crashed on landing at DFW. That occurred exactly 37 years ago. Jean died far too young. It’s something that’s always haunted both of us. She was returning from visiting family in Florida and, as a frequent flyer, was upgraded to first class. On approach to landing, the plane crashed due to extreme microburst wind shear in a storm.
Survivors were those in the rear of the plane.
NTSB said the accident resulted from the crew’s decision to fly through the thunderstorm, lack of procedures to avoid and escape microbursts, and lack of wind shear information. Most of the 27 survivors of Flight 191 were located in the plane’s rear section, which broke free from the main fuselage before the aircraft hit a water tank. NASA developed technology that detects wind shear and microburst conditions based on this accident. In 1994, wind shear detection was installed and became mandatory on aircraft.
“In 11 of the 20 crashes, rear passengers clearly fared better. Only five accidents favored those sitting forward.”
Some data suggest rear seating is the safest seat on airplanes.
BOH commenter and personal friend Colleen said: “We choose seats a bit further back in the plane (safer, even in event of a disaster), and then just relax once we land and let everyone else get off first.”And according to the Times article linked to in the prior sentence, sitting in a middle seat of all things, located in the rear third of the plane, is safest. Those have the lowest fatality rate compared with a window or aisle seat.
Reports on safety data that we’ve read have been somewhat conflicting. However, one study examining 36 years of crash data indicated that the further back in the plane you sit, the safer you are.
Consistent Advice: Sit Near An Exit Row.
Other advice we’ve heard within the industry, have read widely, and try to follow suggests that you’re safer if you sit on the aisle close to an exit row. So if you’re paying for an exit row, you might be safest if you choose one near the plane’s rear. Unfortunately, it’s typically quieter and less turbulent in the front, where planes tend to be more stable.
One Additional Thought: What To Wear For Safety
Two of the most important things you can do to improve safety on the plane are related to your clothes and shoes. Experts say to avoid taking shoes off when boarding, as half of the airline incidents occur during takeoff and landing. Some believe that shoes-on should be mandatory.
Also, consider wearing clothes made of non-flammable materials. Jeans are considered a top pick.
A Personal Tragedy Averted: Thai Airways Flight 311.
As we said at the beginning of the post, Beat of Hawaii editor Jeff had purchased a ticket and a boarding pass (those were issued far in advance prior to 9/11) for the three-hour flight from Bangkok to Kathmandu. On that Friday, July 31, 1992, the Airbus A310 crashed on approach to Kathmandu. The plane hit the side of the mountain in the narrow approach some 23 miles before landing. All 99 passengers and 14 crew members were killed. This was the first fatal accident and hull loss involving that aircraft type.
Jeff changed his mind and had taken the prior day’s flight, on Thursday. He was returning home to the U.S. on a flight from New Delhi to Frankfurt the next day when he read the International Herald Tribune and saw the report. It was beyond chilling and is always something he remembers. He has retained both the boarding pass and the newspaper article.
Another haunting Hawaii airline incident: Remembering Aloha Airlines | Flight 243
Never far from our minds is what happened 34 years ago on Aloha Airlines Flight 243 and its “miracle landing.” Do you remember Aloha Airlines flight 243?
The aircraft roof ruptured mid-fight, which resulted in an 18-foot section of the plane being torn off from the cockpit to the wing. When this happened, the sky was visible from within the aircraft. The cause was “explosive decompression caused by metal fatigue and maintenance error.” This plane had among the highest takeoffs and landings of any 737 at the time due to the short duration of interisland flights.
One person died, the flight attendant who was ejected from the plane, and 65 others were injured. The plane diverted to Kahului and landed safely, which was anything but assured under the circumstances.
Is flight number 191 cursed?
In researching, we found that to date, three different flights, in addition to the one discussed at the beginning, all numbered 191, have crashed. That should put an end to any airline using that flight number.
The first crash was Prinair, which occurred in 1972 in Puerto Rico. The aircraft stalled and crashed on the runway following a missed approach.
Then in 1979, an American DC-10 heading from Chicago to Los Angeles crashed immediately after takeoff when the left engine separated from the aircraft. All 271 onboard and two people on the ground were killed. Following that crash, DC-10 aircraft suffered from reputation impairment.
Next came the Delta incident above. Another Delta flight followed it. This one occurred in 2006 when a Delta Connection operated at Comair Flight 191, from Lexington to Atlanta, crashed on takeoff, killing 49 of the 50 onboard. The pilots had accidentally used the wrong runway, which was not long enough for departure. The cause was deemed multiple pilot errors. There were also poor markings on the runway.
Please add your thoughts.
Do you think about your safety when choosing an airline seat? And would you choose to pay for an exit row at least partly for that reason?