Do You Want a Fighter Jet Escort When You Fly?

Written by Kate Goldstone

Air travel safety is big news this week. If you’re feeling a bit uncertain about flying these days, you’re not alone. You’d be forgiven for thinking that air travel is becoming less safe by the minute.

Eurofighter Typhoon

Eurofighter Typhoon

Air travel safety – Is it safe to fly?

We’re told that in the UK, flying is a great deal safer than driving. But at least a car crash doesn’t leave you falling out of the sky with no chance of survival, your vehicle damaged beyond repair.

Two planes nosedived into the ocean last year, for mostly still-unclarified reasons, and in 2014 the MH17 crash over Ukraine horrified the world. Now a bomb hoax has led to a passenger jet, flight QR23 from Doha, being escorted to safety at Manchester airport by a fighter plane. How scary must that have been for those on board?

‘There is a bomb on board this plane’

An RAF Typhoon fighter jet was sent to escort Airbus flight QR23 safely to Manchester Airport, where armed police stormed the craft to arrest a man over what turned out to be a bomb hoax. The man had apparently handed a note to cabin crew saying there was a bomb on board.

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As a result nine incoming flights to Manchester were re-routed. Which was no doubt extremely annoying for the travellers concerned, but nowhere near as terrifying as the incident itself. Imagine how frightened you’d be to look out of the window of your plane to see a  military aircraft hovering close by, absolutely bristling with weaponry.

The fact that it was a hoax doesn’t make the incident any less terrifying for the passengers involved. If it was me it would probably put me off flying for life, especially given today’s climate of regular terror threats and awful random attacks.

The airport was shut down as the police and the military initiated full-scale emergency plans, which could have included shooting the plane down. You get on an ordinary, everyday flight. Someone makes a bomb threat. And, if it turns out to be a genuine threat, your plane could be shot down by the military? It doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence, knowing your life could so easily be sacrificed.

Here’s a link to a video showing the fighter plane and featuring interviews with passengers.

The airport has now returned to normal and a 47 year old man has been detained. But it inevitably leaves people wondering: is it really safe to fly these days, was it more or less dangerous forty years ago and is it still worth the risk?

Air travel safety stats – Then and now

We thought it’d be interesting to look at some flight safety stats. Here are details of fatal airliner accidents and the number of passengers killed worldwide by year, for the past 5 years and for 5 years during the ’70s.

These figures don’t include corporate jet and military transport accidents and only look at incidents where more than 14 people were killed.

  • 2014 – 20 accidents, 692 deaths
  • 2013 – 29 accidents, 265 deaths
  • 2012 – 23 incidents, 475 deaths
  • 2011 – 26 accidents, 524 deaths
  • 2010 – 32 accidents, 943 deaths

What about the 1970s? Was it safer to fly back then?

  • 1970 – 78 accidents, 1475 deaths
  • 1971 – 51 accidents, 1437 deaths
  • 1972 – 72 accidents, 2373 deaths
  • 1973 – 67 accidents, 2023 deaths
  • 1974 – 68 accidents, 1995 deaths

The stats are clear: it’s safer to fly now than it was then, especially when you bear in mind there are so many more flights these days, which in turn means the proportion of accidents is also much lower. On the other hand the 1970s was not plagued by the same levels of terrorism.

Aircraft Safety Message

Aircraft Safety Message

Increasing terror-related incidents

While the machines we fly in might be safer than they were in the 1970s, it certainly feels like the threat of terrorism has got a lot worse. Take the recent incident in Cairo, when a commercial Libyan flight en route to Istanbul was forced to return to Tripoli after Egypt banned overflying in its airspace.

Egypt actually launched a series of air strikes earlier this week in an effort to destroy suspected ISIS targets in Libya, and insisted that the plane did not ask for permission to overfly. It’s yet another indication of just how jumpy some countries have become about ISIS and how aircraft safety rests on a hair trigger, depending on the people in power staying calm, getting all the facts before reacting and steering clear of snap decisions.

Can you trust governments, the military and their advisers to get it right first time, every time and keep you safe? Or might their actions or over-reactions prove the death of you? It’s all very alarming.

Are you safe at the airport itself?

You don’t need to be on a plane to be in danger from terror threats and other political craziness. Take poor Ukraine, a nation whose supposed cease fire has resulted in heated airport-related arguments. Both sides in the conflict are accusing the other of shelling Donetsk airport, which is currently being held by Russian rebels. It looks like the situation there is deteriorating fast, leaving air travel to the country a very dangerous matter indeed. Would you risk it?

What can you do to stay safe from air flight terror?

The only real answer is not to fly, full stop. On the other hand you might think twice about flying to or from a country where ISIS has a stranglehold or avoid flying to or from nations who have vowed to fight the terrorists and made themselves into prime targets. You could travel to Europe by train via the Channel Tunnel, a slower but safer-feeling journey if you’re worried about flying. The EU’s train network is superb – you just have to factor in more travel time.

The positive side of alternative travel

There are more plus points to travelling by land or sea. Imagine how nice it would be NOT to have to spend hours hanging around in an airport. Or NOT spending hours on the edge of your seat just in case your plane falls out of the sky. You never know, you might even get hooked on air travel alternatives, actively enjoying the process of getting there instead of being desperate for it to be over with and dreading the return flight. There is, after all, more to life than getting from A to B quickly.

If you love to fly, you’ll probably stick with it. Just grit your teeth, cross your fingers and hope the terror lottery doesn’t mean your flight gets in trouble. Happy travelling!

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