Did you know that what you wear aboard an airliner could make the difference between life and death in a crash? Or that turbulence could smash you on the ceiling out of a clear blue sky? What about blood clots? Here are ten things to consider to make your flight more pleasant and much safer.
1. Always wear your seat belt when sitting. Wind shears can unexpectedly throw passengers out of their seats. sixteen people were hurt, two of them seriously, when a KLM passenger jet hit turbulence soon after take-off from a western Japan airport on May 31st. These incidents are not so rare. Sometimes, there is no warning and the pilot won't have tie to turn the buckle-up sign on. People tend to forget that they are in an aluminum tube at 40,000ft. close to the speed of sound.
2. Do not wear highly combustible synthetic clothing. Many airplane accidents happen on the ground. Either the plane overshoots the runway, or hits an obstacle like a vehicle or another plane. On October 31, 2000, a Boeing 747-400, attempted to take off from the wrong runway at Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport. Due to poor visibility, the flight crew did not see that construction equipment had been parked on the runway. The aircraft collided with the machinery and broke up into pieces. A massive fire followed. 79 of 159 passengers and 4 of 20 crew members died in the accident. Many modern fabrics will burst in flames in seconds. Wear jeans and cotton, and avoid the synthetics. It may buy you the few seconds you need to get out.
3. Choose your seats. There is no evidence I know of, pointing to where the safest seats are in an airliner. Airplane design varies, and circumstances are always different. It is interesting to note however that the black boxes are almost always located in the tail section of the airplane. Being seated close to an emergency exit might be the best option. Read your safety card and pay attention to the safety briefing given by the attendant. Make sure you know where the exits are, and how many rows of seats are between you and the doors.
4. Choose your airline. American and European airlines are pretty safe. Asia and Africa however is another story. The E.U. recently banned all airlines from Indonesia. Other bans are in effect for African and some Eastern European airlines. Make sure you pick the right company. You may pay a few dollars more, but the safety and peace of mind is well worth it. I once bought a ticket to Sydney from Paris through Philippines Airlines. My impression was that we had one stop in Bangkok, then Manila, then Sydney. We landed in Rome, Karachi, Bangkok, Manila, Melbourne, and finally Sydney. In Bangkok, the pilot slammed on the brakes, aborting the takeoff. Luggage flew out of the overhead bins, people screamed. We taxied back, and a guy with a ladder opened an engine cowling and started banging on something with a hammer.. We taxied back to the runway and took-off. I pretty much held my breath until we reached cruising altitude. (Comment by Pete: Yikes!!!)
5. Walk around if you can. Flights lasting more than four hours about double a traveler's risk of life-threatening blood clots, World Health Organization studies found. This condition can be fatal. The solution is to move around as much as you can, without upsetting everyone of course. Move your legs, tense and relax your muscles while maintaining good breathing. Taking a baby aspirin before the flight might be a good idea. Talk to your physician about medication or injections. My parents, when they come to the U.S. from France always get an injection before leaving, and they have a couple ready for their way back.
6. If the worst happen, have the will to live. I remember a TV show about the flight 006 tragedy mentioned above. A female survivor was being interviewed. She felt very bad because while the plane was on fire, and people actually tried to get their luggage over-head, she crawled over rows of seats and even other people to get out. She made it; those who were trying to get their bags did not. It's not over until it's over. A man named Alan Magee, a B-17 ball turret gunner, had no choice but to jump out of a disabled, spinning out of control bomber from about 22,000 feet, without a parachute. Miraculously, he lived! His story was featured in a 1981 Smithsonian Magazine on the 10 most amazing survivals during World War II. I believe MythBusters also had a show featuring his story.
7. Carry what you might need. New travel restrictions do not allow you to carry much of anything with you. Think of what you might need if the plane has to land anywhere between your departure and destination. That includes crash landings far from any airport or town. It also could be things you may need if you land at a smaller airport without any amenities. Most likely, your luggage will not be taken off the plane for a while. Is it cold? Do you need a jacket? Do you have cash? A phone? Everyone remembers the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, in 1972. A plane carrying 45 people crashed in the Andes. Of the 27 who survived the first 24hrs, 16 made it alive after 72 grueling days. See the book by Piers Paul. Alive: Sixteen Men, Seventy-two Days, and Insurmountable Odds -- The Classic Adventure of Survival in the Andes. I bet there are a few things they wished they had taken along, had they known.
8. Look for suspicious behavior. Unfortunately, since 9/11, we have to be vigilant. I wouldn't suggest being too jumpy. Like last December, when an American Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing after a passenger lit a match to disguise the scent of flatulence! However, if the guy in front of you starts connecting wires to something, or tries to get something on fire, don't wait too long.. If the plane is hijacked, if you are young and strong, keep in mind that a sharp pencil or pen makes a wonderful weapon (remember #7). If the Sh%t hits the fan, revert to #6.
9. Have ear plugs. If any of the above happens, you can always isolate yourself with good earplugs! Or most likely, to dampen nearby cries from an unhappy toddler, or the roar of the engines right on your left. I use those yellow small foam plugs I always buy when going shooting. Since they work pretty well to protect my ears when firing a 9mm, I figure that anything less would be fine. If you have enough money, Bose has noise canceling headphones that work. Silence is bliss. It can be the difference between a few hours of sleep or a hellish noisy flight.
10. Relax. It might be easy to say, but you're on a ride you have no control over. There is nothing for you to worry about since there isn't much you can do about it. Be nice to other passengers and attendants, it will make your flight so much better. I used to take a Xanax before a flight, it made it easier to sleep in those cramped seats (I.m 6'2''). Talk to your physician, don't buy stuff off the internet. And of course, at the moment of impact, your body will take much more of a beating without failing if you're relaxed! That I learned in my Systema martial art class.. Too much stress, you might get a blood clot!