How Am I Supposed to Ever Fly Again?

Could this be my next flight????? Photo: P_Wei/Getty Images

During flights, I usually find it easy to forget that I’m whizzing through the air in a large hollowed-out chunk of metal. Of course, airlines have made sure of this: They offer a pleasant array of plane movies and salty snacks and have designed economy seats so that I am usually more preoccupied with keeping my legs from going numb than the idea that I could plummet to my death at any minute. But a recent spate of plane incidents has forced me to think way too hard about all the ways air travel can go wrong, and has me on the verge of booking steamer tickets to all future international engagements.

The crisis that cycles through my nightmares most persistently is probably one you’ve heard of already: Not even a week into 2024, a slab of a Boeing 737 Max 9 fell off in the middle of an Alaska Airlines flight, leaving what one passenger described as a “huge gaping hole” in the plane’s wall. Somehow, no one was hurt, but a 15-year-old sitting nearby did nearly get sucked into the hole where the door blew off, and the wind was so intense that his shirt got sucked clean off his body.


Girls’ trip turned into emergency landing trip… #alaska #alaskaair

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The shaken passengers, having survived a punctured plane and emergency landing, then had to get on yet another flight to actually get where they were going. Can you imagine? Anyway, in the ensuing days, as the FAA grounded all 737 MAXs, Alaska and United both found several loose door plugs on other versions of the same model. Not at all encouraging.

The blown-off door has, understandably, made at least some passengers a little more aware of their surroundings onboard, including a diligent Virgin Atlantic flier who noticed four screws missing from his plane’s wing on January 15. Virgin told both the passenger and news outlets that the screws had nothing to do with the structural integrity of the plane, but their absence was significant enough that, after engineers climbed onto the wing to do an inspection with the passengers still inside, the flight was canceled to accommodate for “precautionary additional engineering maintenance checks.” Am I to understand that airlines and manufacturers are now missing problems obvious enough that a passenger caught wind of one just gazing out the window? Does anyone know if cargo ships take civilian passengers?

It’s not just nuts and bolts, though — all kinds of freaky terrors related to flying have made themselves known within the past year. In November, an off-duty pilot having a really bad shrooms trip in the cockpit tried to cut the engines on a different Alaska Airlines aircraft. Last year, a New York Times investigation found that commercial flights come close to crashing into each other multiple times a week thanks to understaffed air-traffic-control centers. Earlier this month, five people were killed in Tokyo when a passenger plane collided with a coast-guard jet on the runway.

Air-traffic burnout aside, the numbers on plane crashes are actually somewhat reassuring — every few years some new study finds that air travel is safer than it’s ever been, and one Harvard paper found that the odds of actually being involved in a plane crash are one in 1.2 million. (That’s far less likely than the one-in-5,000 odds of a car accident, but don’t even get me started on driving.) Also, not that you’d want to, but should you find yourself on a plane where things have gone wrong, chances are you’d survive.

Maybe you have a more logical brain than me, and these numbers tell you it’s perfectly safe to step onto what I now perceive as one giant death trap. Still, if you do choose to fly, you may want to consider performing a DIY plane inspection before ordering your Bloody Mary. Bon voyage!

How Am I Supposed to Ever Fly Again?