Most of us have heard that flying is statistically the safest form of transportation. For good reason, every day over a million people are transported via aircraft from one location to another without receiving a single scratch. The aviation industry has a very good safety record but when issues happen, because they are so rare, they can be newsworthy. Unlike most of the drivers on the road, pilots (especially those who fly for a living professionally) are highly trained for emergencies and maintain the highest levels of proficiency. So when they tell you to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight, there is no reason you shouldn't take them up on that inviation. But the motto of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts is "Be Prepared".
Sage advice for all of us who travel be it in our cars, in planes or riding trains. Sometimes there are mechanical failures or the weather isn't ideal. Things can and do happen. Those are called bad days and thankfully don't happen often. I've had a few of them in my flying career. One such experience was on a normal flight back in the U.S. flying from Washington state to California. At 40,000 feet we had a failure of the heating element in one of the main windscreens of the aircraft. That caused the element to arc, begin to delaminate and no longer heat the windscreen. This can be a significant issue: causes a fire, causes a rapid decompression if the window loses its structural integrity and breaks free, etc.
So obviously we can't know in advance when these things happen, instead the important thing is to plan. To 'Be Prepared!'. Pilots and crews regularly train for emergencies or unplanned situations. That's why it makes it safer to fly than to drive. In comparison, how many drivers go back for refresher defensive driving courses?
So I know that you're saying, "Dave, that's great if you're in the cockpit, but I'm just a passenger, I don't have any impact on safety." I would beg to differ. There are plenty of things you can do as a passenger to improve the safety and mitigate risks if you do experience that 'bad day'. Here are some things I do.
- Count to find your way out - When I'm flying as a passenger and I've arrived at my seat, I take a moment to count how many rows I am away from the closest exit and secondary exit. I keep those numbers in my head. If the lights go out, or the cabin is filled with smoke, I want to be able to count how many seat rows I am away to find my way out.
- If you take it out, put it back - While flying especially long distances, its easy to get tired, lazy or compacent about putting away the articles and items you've used during the course of the trip. In severe turbulence, those items become projectiles that can injure you or others. So secure the loose objects.
- Function over Fashion - Travel attire should be fashionable but foremost it should be comfortable and functional. Wearing flipflops, a tank top and shorts probably isn't the wisest choice if you're flying over the midwest during the winter time. If that bad day happens, you won't be prepared with clothes to protect you from the elements. Wear pants/jeans, closed toe shoes and bring a jacket with you.