We were on final approach to London’s busy Heathrow airport after a long transatlantic crossing from Atlanta. The flight attendants were strapped to their jump seats facing backwards, everyone was nestled down, and through the window we could see long lines of early-morning commuter traffic clogging up the motorways. The engines changed in pitch, the flaps jerked spasmodically and the lush green fields passing beneath drew closer until it was possible to make out the forms of waxed-cottoned figures walking dogs.
Then there was a sudden roar. We were violently pressed back into our seats and the nose of the aircraft shot skyward. With thunderous power we rocketed away from the ground back up through the lowest tendrils of the straggling clouds.
An agitated murmur of concern rippled through the cabin as passengers exchanged strained glances with each other. One of the flight attendants reached for the phone beside her seat just as the co-pilot came over the intercom.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he drawled in a southern U.S. accent as thick as grits. “Sorry about that, but the aircraft on the ground ahead of us wasn’t moving off the runway quickly enough for the ATC folks so they told us to go around. We’ll gain a bit of altitude and try it all again. Hope to have y’all on the ground soon.”
In the grand aviation scheme of things it was a non-event, but it was my first-ever aborted landing. At risk of sounding unduly brave, I really wasn’t particularly worried at any point because I’d quickly realised what had happened and guessed we weren’t at any risk, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless. And, yes, as so often happens during near-death experiences that aren’t even remotely near-death at all, I did strike up an excited conversation with the real estate agent who’d been sat silently beside me for the previous seven hours yet with whom I had not previously exchanged even so much as a glance.
Since then I’ve had just one other aborted landing, due to a flock of geese.
There have also been a few seriously violent thunderstorms and several dozen epic bouts with considerable turbulence, but I’ve never come close to any sort of a “loss of separation” with other aircraft or the ground, of which I am aware. As you’ve likely read and heard every time there is an air accident, the chances of being in a plane crash are extremely remote and we all have considerably greater odds of being hit by a car or struck by lightning than we do of plummeting to our deaths in an airliner.
However, that doesn’t stop many of us contemplating our mortality whenever we fly, and it’s also one of the reasons why AirlineRatings’s annual list of the safest airlines makes such popular reading.
Each year, the safety- and product-testing website monitors 407 airlines worldwide, from major national carriers to budget operators. It then evaluates them based on a number of factors that include not only their accident record but also audits by aviation’s governing bodies, associations and national governments and each airline’s operational history and incident records.
As anyone who has ever watched Rain Man may guess, the Australian carrier Qantas ranks number one for safety having never had a single fatal accident in the jet age. There was one incident in 2010 that made worldwide headlines when a brand new Qantas A380 was forced to make an emergency landing at Singapore’s Changi Airport due to an uncontained engine failure, but the plane landed safely and no one was injured, thereby maintaining the airline’s unblemished safety record.
Rounding out the top 20 were a variety of European, Middle Eastern, Asian, South Pacific and U.S. carriers. In fact—and this may well come as a massive relief to nervous flyers everywhere—of the 407 airlines monitored, no fewer than 148 carriers received the website’s maximum seven stars for safety, and only finished below Qantas due to other factors. Included in that elite club were both Air Canada and WestJet, the latter also featuring in the top 10 list of safest low-cost airlines.
In this age of instantaneous 24-hour live news feeds, while it may seem that we suffer a catastrophic plane crash every few days, in fact 2015 saw fewer accidents and fatalities than the 10-year average and considerably less than even in the previous year. For number crunchers, that translates to 560 fatalities in 2015 out of 3.6 billion passengers, markedly better than just half-a-century earlier when there were 1,597 fatalities out of 141 million passengers.
As for the least-safe airlines, 10 carriers received an ignominious one-star each for safety—all from Nepal, Indonesia or Suriname—each earning a rating that likely won’t be overcome by extra bags of nuts or even free headsets.
|Top 10 Airlines in 2016||Bottom Airlines in 2016|
|American Airlines||Bluewings Airlines|
|Singapore Airlines||Kal-Star Aviation|
|Air New Zealand||Lion Air|
|EVA Air||Sriwijaya Air|
|United Airlines||Trigana Air Service|