clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2017 was the safest year for flying ever, and Trump is falsely taking credit

There hasn’t been a fatal passenger airline crash in the United States since 2009.

Trump plane Matthew Busch/Getty
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

2017 was a lot of things, including, as it turns out, the safest year on record for commercial air travel. And the president of the United States is, perplexingly, taking credit for it.

There was an estimated 3 percent growth in air traffic from 2016 to 2017. And the fatality rate was 0.06 fatalities per million flights — in other words, one fatal accident for 16 million flights.

“2017 was the safest year for aviation ever,” Adrian Young of the Dutch consulting firm To70 told Reuters.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday took to Twitter to celebrate the year in airline safety:

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday on two analyses that both found 2017 was a great year for airline safety. One was from To70, which found no consumer passenger jet fatalities in 2017. Its Civil Aviation Safety Review, an annual analysis of airplane safety, found there were 13 lives lost on airplanes in 2017. They occurred on two regional airlines, both of which were small turboprop (propeller-powered) planes.

To70’s analysis examines accidents, whether caused by technical failure, human error, or unlawful interference, involving larger passenger aircraft. In 2017, there were 111 accidents, two of which included fatalities: an October crash of a Brazilian-built Embraer flight in Angola, and a November crash of a Czech-made plane in eastern Russia.

The Aviation Safety Network also reported that there were no commercial jet deaths in 2017. It recorded 10 fatal airliner accidents, resulting in 44 deaths of passengers on board and 35 people on the ground. It records passenger and cargo flights.

The group’s president, Harro Ranter, said in a statement that the average number of airliner accidents has shown a “steady and persistent” decline since 1997, thanks in large part to sustained efforts by international safety organizations to improve safety — not President Trump, who has been in office for less than a year.

As the Hill’s Jordan Fabian points out, there hasn’t been a fatal passenger airline crash in the US since 2009, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, and the last deadly commuter plane crash took place in Hawaii in 2013.

Still, Trump has made a habit of taking credit for things that don’t exactly correspond to him — including claiming he invented the phrases “prime the pump” and “fake news,” touting business deals reached under the Obama administration as attributable to him, and saying quarterback Colin Kaepernick is still a free agent because NFL owners are afraid of “a nasty tweet from Donald Trump.”

Trump in June proposed privatizing the US air traffic control system. The proposal would place the safety of millions of US airline passengers under a private nonprofit corporation instead of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and could potentially cost more.

That’s not to say that flying is a risk-free affair — as To70 notes, there were several serious non-fatal accidents in 2017, including an Air France Airbus plane carrying 520 people from Paris to Los Angeles last fall that had to make an emergency landing after suffering serious damage to one of its four engines. The firm also points to the risk that the growing prevalence of lithium-ion batteries in electronics poses for fires aboard planes.

“There is no room for complacency,” To70’s report warns.

While 2017 was safe for flying, it wasn’t exactly fun

Last year may have been a safe one for commercial flights, but it wasn’t a great one in terms of customer experience.

As Mashable pointed out, 2017 saw multiple mishaps that made passengers miserable. An 11-hour blackout at Atlanta’s international airport in December grounded more than 1,500 flights and stranded thousands of passengers. The FAA in July was asked to address shrinking airplane seat sizes.

United Airlines in April dragged a passenger off an overbooked flight after he refused to leave the seat he had paid for, prompting major backlash after a video of the incident went viral. Due to a scheduling system glitch, American Airlines accidentally allowed all of its pilots to take vacation during the holidays.

As Vox’s Alex Abad-Santos noted, airlines use a tactic of “calculated misery” with passengers, often making their baseline products and services so low-quality and unpleasant that many people are more willing to pay more to avoid them:

It’s like if a burger joint charged you for a patty of plain ground beef and a bun, then gave you the chance to make your burger more palatable by paying a seasoning fee, a medium-rare fee, and separate surcharges for lettuce, tomato, and onion. Or, in airline speak, a seat selection fee, a checked baggage fee, a wifi fee, a preboarding fee, an extra legroom fee, and so on.

In the airline industry, many services and amenities that use to be standard now qualify as an “upgrade.” Meanwhile, the “standard” experience is frequently so miserable that many people will pay to make it better.

And air travel isn’t off to the best of starts in 2018 in terms of passenger experience: A computer glitch with US Customs and Border Protection on Monday evening caused delays at several major airports for fliers coming to the US from abroad.