Opinion: air travel is safe – and the Qantas incident is proof

A warm greeting is always appreciated when flying. But last Saturday, as I boarded EI713 at Heathrow, something was not quite right:

“You’re all very welcome,” announced the Aer Lingus steward, “aboard this flight to Dublin”.

Twice, he said it. Nothing unusual there, except that this departure from Heathrow is not destined for the Irish capital, but for Cork.

“Has he taken drink?” asked one anxious passenger. No, he had not; he was simply too used to reciting the greeting for Aer Lingus’s flagship route from Heathrow.

Perhaps the passenger’s concern was augmented by the newspaper front page she was clutching, showing that now-familiar Qantas Boeing 747 with a hole in the fuselage the size of a small car or a minivan, depending on which tabloid you read.

Your choice of newspaper will also dictate whether the jumbo jet in question “plummeted”, “plunged” or “went into freefall” from 30,000 to 10,000 feet.

QF30, en route from Hong Kong to Melbourne, did no such thing. The competent flight crew of QF30 followed standard operating procedure after a loss of cabin pressure, and descended swiftly to a more benign altitude before making a textbook landing at Manila.

A harrowing incident for everyone on board, but one which should bring two benefits to aviation. First, at least for a while passengers may pay more attention to the safety drill; and it should reassure travellers just how astonishingly safe the business of flying is.

Qantas is merely one of many airlines with fatality-free records in the modern era; easyJet and Ryanair both fly far more passengers than the Australian airline, and have unblemished histories (at least as far as safety is concerned).

The last time a jet aircraft belonging to a UK airline crashed with loss of life was almost 20 years ago, when a British Midland 737 crashed at Kegworth with the
loss of 47 lives.

Tragedies, each one. But the unforeseen sequence of events that led to the accident has provided many lessons that have subsequently made flying even safer.

Whether you are a passenger, an agent or an operator, there are plenty of things worth getting worried about in today’s travel industry – but air safety is not one of them.

Ninety minutes after leaving the gate at Heathrow: “Ladies and gentlemen, you’re all very welcome to Cork.”

Made it – and we’ve even landed in the right place.

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