America's Safest Airlines
- America's Safest Airlines Slideshow
- America's Meanest Airlines
- Travel Deal of the Day
To begin with, every major U.S. airline is safe. Very, very safe. David Castelveter of the Air Transport Association of America says the "safety of all U.S. carriers is the best it ever has been" and that he "would not hesitate to fly any carrier." And indeed, when you look at the numbers, commercial air travel in the United States today is about as safe as it gets.
Incidents do happen, just very infrequently. And actual accidents are extremely rare, especially ones with fatalities. According to AirSafe.com, the last fatal crash of a commercial U.S. passenger plane was on Feb. 12, 2009, when a Colgan Air regional plane operating as Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed into a residence in Buffalo, N.Y. The tragedy left 50 people dead, including 45 passengers, two pilots, two flight attendants and one person who was in the house at the time.
We thought a useful exercise would be to look at all of the documented incidents involving commercial U.S. passenger flights in 2010 and then rank which airlines fared the best. It would have been overly simplistic (not to mention, lazy) to leave it at that, so we decided the results would be more accurate if we disregarded the incidents where the airlines weren't at fault. It's not really fair to blame an airline when the incident is the result of a bird collision (33 of them last year, sometimes leading to more damage than you'd think), an unruly passenger (36 cases) or a medical emergency (31 incidents). There were also several episodes of turbulence leading to injuries, and even five instances where a flight was struck by lightning.
Keep in mind, even the incidents that did make the cut should be taken with a serious grain of salt, as many of them are innocuous mechanical issues where the flight crew is taking extra precautions. As Castelveter puts it, "Remember, when a red light goes on in the cockpit, the captain, in an abundance of caution, might opt to divert and have it checked out. That diversion or maintenance check has no reflection on safety."
This study only includes major U.S. carriers with a minimum of 600 flights a day on average. We calculated the number of incidents where the airlines were at fault and then divided that figure by the number of total annual flights, giving us an incident per flight ratio. We used the Aviation Herald and the Federal Aviation Administration as our sources, taking care to avoid duplicates. So, without further ado, we present you our list of America's Safest Airlines:
Incidents per Flight: 0.0000776
17 documented incidents out of approximately 219,000 flights
With only 17 incidents out of approximately 219,000 flights in 2010, our "least safe" airline on this list is still absurdly safe. The most serious event occurred on Aug. 26 on Flight 262, when the plane’s parking brake became engaged during the approach and throughout the landing itself, resulting in a rough touch down at Sacramento International Airport (SMF) in California. All four main gear tires blew out and air traffic control noticed a small fire and some smoke near the landing gear, leading the pilot to order an evacuation. Seven passengers sustained minor injuries during the evacuation process.