Is it safe to fly on a Boeing-manufactured plane right now?

Should travelers be worried about flying on Boeing planes after recent safety incidents?

In this series, Lonely Planet’s team of writers and editors answers your travel problems and provides tips and hacks to help you plan a hassle-free trip. Here, John Walton, Lonely Planet’s resident aviation journalist, tackles the thorny question about whether travelers should worry about flying on Boeing planes after recent safety incidents.

Question: I have seen some worrying headlines about Boeing. As a traveler with flights booked on airlines that fly a lot of Boeings, do I need to worry?

John Walton: I understand why you’d be concerned, especially after the incident in January where a door blew out of that Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX, but even after that I continue to have confidence in the safety systems that aviation puts in place to get us all to our destinations safely, and I’d get on a Boeing airplane tomorrow.

It’s reasonable to be worried after an accident

First off, let me reassure you that flying remains an incredibly safe way to travel, and statistically vastly safer than driving, crossing the street or — with the number of household accidents that happen — even staying at home. 

But it’s still reasonable to feel worried. We’ve seen the social media posts and with the advent of a camera phone in everybody’s pocket, we can imagine ourselves in an emergency situation more vividly than ever before.

One of the things about aviation is that it’s always big news when something happens. After high-profile incidents with a certain plane, airline or manufacturer, anything that would be the aviation equivalent of a minor fender-bender or having your car reversed into in a parking lot is a highlight on news sites and socials.

Here’s the thing: we humans wildly overestimate the likelihood of us being in catastrophic events, known psychologically as “dread risks,” especially the kind over which we have no control. That’s one of the reasons experts consider some people are afraid of flying but not, say, of driving or taking a bus.

The safety system within aviation is tighter than ever to keep us all safe  © Getty images

As I said, I’d still get on a Boeing airplane tomorrow. In fact, I put my parents on a Boeing 737 a few weeks ago, I’m getting on a 777 in a couple of weeks’ time, and I booked myself on another one just yesterday. We’re reminded every flight about safety requirements and what to do if there’s an emergency. Imagine if you had to sit through a five minute safety video every time you drove somewhere, an activity that evidence tells us is more dangerous than getting on an airplane.

To put things in perspective, the flight tracking website FlightRadar24 informs us that, on the day that Alaska Airlines’ 737 MAX door blew out, it tracked 123,515 other commercial flights. Statistically, though, the risk to ourselves is really hard to comprehend, and that’s just human nature.

That’s one of the reasons why there’s a whole regulatory system out there — including regulators like the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), investigators like the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), unions of pilots and flight attendants, nonprofits like the Flight Safety Foundation, and many more — all working together with airplane manufacturers, airlines and safety standards organizations to keep us safe when we fly.

A row of planes on a runway waiting in line before take-off
Despite dramatic incidents in the recent news, air travel is safer than traveling by car © Shutterstock

I’d get on a Boeing airplane tomorrow

I interview airline safety experts, airplane manufacturers, airlines and all parts of the aviation safety system frequently, and so do a lot of other aviation journalists I trust. I even edited a special aviation magazine edition about the Boeing 737 MAX, so I’m really familiar with the issues and I don’t want to make light of them.

The overwhelming sense within aviation after that Alaska Airlines 737 MAX door blowout was one of shock — but not quite as much surprise. For a variety of reasons, the company seems to have lost its way, and that has a lot of really serious connotations for aviation.

The safety system within aviation is still there, it’s reacting to the Boeing issues in ways that keep me confident in it, and I still trust it to keep us all safe.

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