Sitting on Your Throne
Let’s answer the 737 question up front: yes I’ll take that flight today.
This is not a story about an airplane; it’s a story about the power of the press. Let’s get a few facts on the table:
- The 737 is the most popular passenger jet in history
- Normally, at any given moment 1,200 are in the air
I am required, by law, to trot out the old horse: “You are more likely to die in your car on the way to the Airport than you are to die in a 737.”
Now that I have told you the rubbish you already know, let me ask you a question: If you were to actually die on your way to the airport, what would happen?
Do you think that:
- The model car you drove would be banned from every road across the globe?
- Your crash would be the lead in every newscast, everywhere?
- Anybody outside friends and family would even bother to show up at your funeral?
- Would the manufacture, the Americans, the EU, and your country fly investigators in?
You would be correct in reminding me that you and your fellow passengers would represent maybe three people, not 149 passengers and 8 crew. That’s right, but your death will not even make the evening news if you live in a bigger city. Thousands die in cars.
There is more going on here; if passenger jets are so safe, why the ban? We don’t ban trains when one derails. Nobody even mentioned banning cruises when the Costa Concordia went down.
This has little to do with passenger jets: this is about the power of the press to shape your perceptions of reality. A big jet crash makes spectacular video.
Do you seriously believe you may be killed by Islamic Terrorist? Many Americans do. I have heard people say they only fly if there is no other choice because they don’t want to be the victim of a terror attack.
I would remind you that one of Donald Trump’s platform planks was to keep Muslims out of the US. The odds of an attack happening to any one person are vanishingly small. But some people are sincerely afraid.
Hopefully you’re asking what this has to do with flying in a 737Max. Everything. Both are irrational fears whipped-up by the press. Both fears enjoy the support of governments. It gives politicians a freebie: “I’m tough on XXX”.
Free press coverage, great talking points and no damn body asking hard policy questions: what’s not to love. “Hell yeah, I’m going to subpoena that SOB and he will answer!!!! I am in office to protect the people of this great nation from exactly this type of barbarism!”
Let us be completely honest for just one moment: yes, it is possible you could die in a jet. You could die in a terror attack and you could die doing your business in the toilet. Yes, over-exertion on the toilet is a thing, and it puts people in hospital. Ask Elvis. Oh yeah, you can’t because he died on the toilet.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 17,000 people die in the U.S. annually because of slips and falls. And the Bathroom (WC) is the most dangerous place in your home.
We don’t care because these people die one at a time and the press doesn’t cover the loss in breathless updates. Imagine the reaction if 17,000 Americans were to die in plane crashes next year.
What’s the answer to this double standard? Simple: next time you’re sitting on your throne, invite the press in to film the proceedings. That way, when you over-stress and pull something the BBC will have the video.
Would I be comfortable flying in a Boeing 737MAX8?
That time may well have come for me to decide just that, with a flight to Copenhagen to see my newly born granddaughter in four weeks’ time. Norwegian Airlines have 18 of these aircraft and Mrs B and I were scheduled to travel on one of these planes from my base in Cyprus. I have just found out that their MAX8s have been grounded, and indeed, Norwegian, already in financial difficulties, are suing Boeing for compensation.
Very unusually, I am not comfy with the thought of flying on this very modern, almost new, aeroplane. That is because the two recent fatal crashes, only five months apart, appear to have many similarities, which, at this time, appear to be connected with computer software, and not pilot error.
Obviously, a lot of information will come forward which will substantiate what actually happened, but at the time of writing, it is only normal to feel worried that a brand new model of the ever-so-successful 737 series has already suffered two fatal crashes, making it, statistically, the most unreliable aircraft of modern times.
So why do I feel uncomfortable? Well, it’s me. I am usually a good flyer, but I take nothing for granted. I hate turbulence, even though I know what it is, and how safe our aircraft are. I know the stats, and flying is by far the safest way of getting from A to B. Statistically.
It’s 1989, and my late father wants to take two of his sons back to his motherland of Poland, around the time that the wall came down. To save money, he has booked cheap flights from London to Warsaw with the Polish national carrier LOT.
Me and my big brother are mortified. All the planes flown by LOT are Russian built Ilyushins, which cannot compare to having the same high safety record of western planes. It’s fair to say we both lost loads of sleep worrying about flying in a Soviet jet. (It wasn’t the Polish pilots we worried about. I think their contribution to the war effort to defeat the Nazis was legendary), but we’d heard so many stories about those badly serviced Russian jets……….
Luckily, a week before we flew, we learnt that LOT had changed their fleet, and had replaced their old Russian planes with brand new Boeing 737s! Result!
More recently, since retirement, Mrs B and I have been using many British Airways flights from Cyprus to London, using their oldest Boeing 767, delivered, brand new, to BA in 1994! That made it over 25 years old the last time we flew on it. It was fine inside, and I knew that it was probably well looked after, but I felt a lot less comfortable in an old plane, now just retired, than I do in their replacement, and much newer, Airbus A320. This despite the 320 being much smaller, less comfortable, and having absolutely no entertainment facilities whatsoever. (It’s an almost five hour flight- no entertainment. Explain, BA……)
So yes, I definitely feel more comfortable on newer planes – I know that there will be all sorts of issues in very new planes that will need ironing out, but I don’t expect them to be safety issues. And until the authorities can prove that it is not a design or software fault that caused these two tragedies, I would be completely uncomfortable flying on a 737 MAX8. Give me the old 1994 767 anytime!
Are we comfortable with flying in a Boeing 737 Max 8?
To me flying has always been a 50/50 game in case of taking changes: you either get to your destination or you crash…
The super new state-of-the-art Boeing 737 Max8 has already had two fatal crashes. It only supports, in my mind, the above-mentioned statement.
The Ethiopian Airlines is one of Africa’s best air carriers, I know it not just from the news but from what some of my friends have been saying, its frequent flyers. New planes, great service, good network.
It seems that there’re some technical problems with those 737s that caused it to become its Nemesis twice already in a very short period of time. On the other hand, the renowned pilot, Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III, ‘Miracle of Hudson’ hero, said:
‘It has been obvious since the Lion Air crash that redesign of the 737 Max has been urgently needed, yet it has still not been done and the proposed fixes do not go far enough.’ He also added that while he believed the Ethiopian Airlines crew did everything they could do to prevent the crash, they simply lacked the experienced needed to successfully cope with an emergency because they’ve had too little training: ‘It has been reported that the First officer of that flight had only 200 hours of flight experience, a small fraction of the minimum in the US, and an absurdly low amount for someone in the cockpit of jet airliner’.
He finally stated that pilot experience should be a ‘top priority at every airline’.
I 100 per cent do believe the guy because he was good enough to make that fantastic miracle. I watched the movie, too.
What shall we do to be safer? Choose the well-known carrier. In Russia, for instance, is must be Aeroflot or S7 or a couple of others. Not more. In Africa it is harder because of not too many options. I personally had to fly Precision Air, a Tanzanian carrier, on the way from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro airport and back and I had doubts but there was no choice. It is easy to say and much harder to do.
Remember, both 737 Max 8 crashes happened with small, Third-World country, air carriers so Captain Sullenberger is probably right.
There is no guarantee in such affairs but just choose the right airline. Then you will have some extra safety, even onboard a Boeing 737 Max 8.