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You're Not Going to Die in a Plane Crash

That has nothing to do with who is president.

It's extremely difficult—indeed, nearly impossible—to get yourself killed while traveling on an American airline these days.

The last fatal accident on a U.S. commercial passenger airline was in 2009, when a Continental Connection flight crashed into a house near Buffalo, killing 49 people aboard and one on the ground. Smaller turbo prop and cargo planes have been occasionally involved in fatal crashes since then. But if you are a typical traveler, you're unlikely to wind up on one of those flights.

And 2017 was a particularly good year. Globally, it was "the safest year for aviation ever," as Adrian Young of the Dutch consulting firm To70 told Reuters in January. On top of the fact that there were no passenger jet fatalities, other types of flying got safer as well. There were just 111 accidents worldwide, the company reports, only two of which included deaths—one flight in Angola on a Brazilian-made aircraft and the other on a Czech-made plane in Russia.

Another report which came out at the same time, from the Aviation Safety Network, found 10 fatal airline accidents worldwide resulting in 79 deaths, including cargo planes.

Those figures don't stop a significant percentage of flyers from freaking out whenever their huge, safe jet hits a patch of turbulence, though. For the sweaty-palmed flyer experiencing a moment of personal panic, knowing the numbers isn't always enough.

But what if there were a powerful man—maybe even the most powerful man in the world—doing whatever he could to keep you safe? Would that make you feel better?

As his administration headed toward its first anniversary, Donald Trump celebrated with a tweet: "Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation. Good news—it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!"

The implied claim is nonsensical: that an American president with just under a year in office is responsible for a decadeslong global trend of decreasing numbers of deaths and injuries. Yet many people find it comforting to imagine someone with his sleeves rolled up, being "very strict" about safety. That's because human beings tend to undervalue gradual, impersonal, technology-driven change and tend to overvalue good intentions and tough talk.

Asked to clarify the president's tweet, Deputy White House Press Secretary Raj Shah said that Trump "has raised the bar for our nation's aviation safety and security," pointing to his proposed corporatization of the U.S. air traffic control system and some new anti-terrorism measures. The president, Shah said, was "pleased that there were no commercial airline deaths in 2017."

That proposal to reform air traffic control would indeed be a positive step, but it is currently stalled with Congress, so it cannot be improving safety already. And those anti-terror measures aren't responsible either. Yes: For national security reasons, carry-on electronics were banned on flights from 10 predominantly Muslim nations for much of the summer, and the Transportation Security Administration now examines certain devices differently. But jet crashes caused by terrorism are even rarer than jet crashes caused by pilot error or technical malfunction. There's no evidence that these small tweaks to the TSA's screening process made a difference in passenger safety.

What's more, there were no formal regulatory (or deregulatory) changes reported by the Federal Aviation Administration in Fiscal Year 2017, which is where you would expect rules governing the physical safety of flyers and the integrity of aircraft to show up. When Trump spoke with airline executives in February of last year, safety was not among the topics he discussed. And the 2017 statistics are global, covering many airlines and flights over which U.S. authorities have no control at all.

Trump's desire to take credit for the accomplishments of private industry and international standards bodies is buoyed by a catastrophic popular misconception about the power of the presidency. It's also a common mistake that politicians of all stripes make—and encourage others to make—nearly every day.

Presidents are not all-powerful wizards with an ability to control their domain completely and manipulate it at will. They certainly do not personally sustain heavier-than-air flight.

Trump is the master of credit-claiming, tweeting in December that he was responsible for the fact that Americans were "saying Merry Christmas again," presumably after an eight-year hiatus under Secret Muslim Barack Obama. The president was roundly mocked for claiming credit when he deserved none, and rightly so. But more "respectable" politicians do the same thing all the time when it comes to jobs and economic growth.

During her first campaign for the presidency, Hillary Clinton claimed that as a senator, "I voted to raise the minimum wage. And guess what? Millions of jobs were created." What's more, she warned, "Don't let anybody tell you that it's corporations and businesses that create jobs!"

Barack Obama committed this fallacy spectacularly in a much-derided speech wherein he claimed that "generations from now" we will be able to look back on his nomination for the presidency "and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth."

He was right, actually, that on many of those metrics we have seen steady improvement from nine years ago, when he took office, just as we have seen improvements since Trump's presidency began. But it would be a mistake to credit those improvements to the men who happened to occupy the Oval Office when they occurred. They are the result of the combined efforts of 7.6 billion people to make life better for themselves and each other, through the voluntary exchange of goods and services.

Photo Credit: Joanna Andreasson

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  • adopte||

    So ? what is the point of this article ?

  • MasterThief||

    To say that Trump is a liar. There is the caveat that Obama is also a liar (though she hints that his claims might be somewhat valid.)
    We get it. Trump likes to boast and is more blatantly narcissistic than his predecessor. Many of us have stopped giving a damn what comes out of his mouth and are watching what actions he and his administration take.

  • Cloudbuster||

    more blatantly narcissistic than his predecessor.

    Statement requires evidence. Obama was one seriously narcissistic son-of-a-bitch.

  • MasterThief||

    The "blatantly" is my qualifier. Trump does seem more eager to openly declare that he has the Midas touch.
    To Tony: I did highlight Obama's narcissism because of the cult of personality he had (has) around him. I also admitted that with a teleprompter he is a pretty good speaker. It still came down to his actions and I disagreed with most of them.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Saying that his nomination was the point when the Earth started to heal, when the seas stopped rising and all that--claiming near godlike status just for a nomination was LESS narcissistic than saying that he'd been strict with commercial aviation and implying that it had a connection to a good year?

    That speech always reminded me of Caligula declaring himself Aurora, goddess of the dawn.

  • Tony||

    Translation: We can't defend his ridiculous behavior, so we're going to pretend it doesn't matter.

    Something you totally would have done with Obama!

  • MarkLastname||

    Translation: Tony still have trouble reading words.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    The point of this article is that the author thinks it sucks that Trump gets to do what Presidents have been doing forever; stand around and take credit for anything good that happens. Come to think on it, Kings have always done it, too. It's an OLD trope.

    And, bad for good, Presidents also catch the blame for whatever shit goes down on their watch. There are lots of people who STILL blame Bush for 9/11.

  • Rebel Scum||

    OT: I may have been drinking but Hihn seemed a little more unhinged than usual. I couldn't even make a joke about cookies without being called a dictator enabler...

  • MarkLastname||

    The cooks monster raped his mother, so your joke touched a nerve.

  • Red Tony||

    The site has a Hihnfection. Like all over. Thankfully this comments section isn't touched. YET.

  • Rebel Scum||

    "It's extremely difficult—indeed, nearly impossible—to get yourself killed while traveling on an American airline these days."

    With THAT attitude...

  • My Dog Bites Better Than Yours||

    Once again, our freedoms are curtailed.

  • chemjeff||

    Secret Muslim Barack Obama

    There you go. Now you are on your way to becoming a member in good standing of Red Tribe, as any good libertarian should be. Next step: Obama is an anti-American traitor!

  • Rebel Scum||

    That was obviously tongue-in-cheek.

    "Obama is an anti-American traitor!"

    To the extent that he violated and sought to violate the document he was sworn uphold, this is accurate. (The same may be said of numerous other presidents as well.)

  • MarkLastname||

    Obama was a hero; an historical icon. Troglodytes like you will be forgotten and loathed by your ancestors, who will worship Obama as the greates president in modern history, and the epitome of what it means to be an American, a Christian, and indeed, a human being!

  • Cloudbuster||

    ... your ancestors, who will worship Obama as the greates president in modern history, and the epitome of what it means to be an American, a Muslim, and indeed, a human being!

    FTFY. After all, by then the Muslim takeover will be complete and, rather than an insult, calling Obama a Muslim will be mandatory.

  • MarkLastname||

    And a Jew, and a Hindu, and a Sikh... Obama is all things to all people. He is love. He is life.

  • 55 yr ole pot head||

    Obobo is nothing but a supperating boil of putrescence of diseased and decomposing dejecta erupting on the buttocks of socialism

  • uunderstand||

    There are suppurating boils of another kind?

  • Azathoth!!||

    "The future must not belong to those who would criticize the Prophet of Islam"

    Why does everyone say 'secret'?

  • 55 yr ole pot head||

    "...Muslims built the very fabric of our nation..." dosent seem secret to me either.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "You're Not Going to Die in a Plane Crash"

    Well you might if you're flying in a small single engine plane being piloted by your brother in law who just got his pilot's license last week.

  • Raoul Duke||

    If you're going to die in a plane crash, it'll certainly be in general aviation. Imagine all the shitty drivers on the road, and then imagine that a sizeable percentage of those are 75 year old men who only go driving once every three months but insist on only driving their '65 GTO that also hasn't been taken out in the last 3 months. Also, they can't just pull over to the side of something goes wrong.

    It's actually surprising that there aren't more accidents, really.

  • vek||

    I've always REALLY wanted to get my pilots license. I may actually get around to it in the next few years. Someday I want to own a P51 Mustang. I can only imagine how dangerous as fuck that will be... But totally awesome and worth potentially dying.

  • Raoul Duke||

    Save up the $10K or so to do it, study hard, and it's totally achievable. Great experience and a lot of fun, but if you have half a brain you'll soon find that you'll never fly a P-51, let alone own one.

  • Raoul Duke||

    The real reason US aviation has gotten safer is that it slowly became more expensive to kill people and break planes than it was to adapt to new training/policies/regulations, etc.


    It wasn't until 1996 after the ValuJet crash that the FAA's mandate to regulate and promote aviation was simplified to just regulation. Until that point they were pretty darn friendly with the people they were supposed to be monitoring.

  • Eric||

    "Your not going to die in a plane crash"

    Tell my puckered-ass that during heavy turbulence.

  • Cloudbuster||

    I have nothing to say to your puckered ass, under any circumstances.

  • Red Tony||

    Try using more tongue.

  • SIV||

    If the safety record means Trump has been strict on commercial aviation he's been really lax on passenger rail.

  • Colossal Douchebag||

    Ouch. That's gonna leave a mark.

  • Leader Desslok||

    Golf clap.

    Well played sir, well played.

  • NYC2AZ||

    "The last fatal accident on a U.S. commercial passenger airline was in 2009, when a Continental Connection flight crashed into a house near Buffalo, killing 49 people aboard and one on the ground."

    That flight was operated by Colgan Air, a regional airline contracted by Continental. If you want to go back to the last time a US legacy carrier had a passenger fatality crash, you'll have to go back to American Airlines 587 in November of 2001.

  • Cloudbuster||

    It's extremely difficult—indeed, nearly impossible—to get yourself killed while traveling on an American airline these days.

    The best way is probably to piss off a flight attendant, then threaten the officers that come to haul you off the plane. Pull out your cell phone and point it at them. Despite all the security checks you went through, they'll swear they thought you had a gun.

  • Tony||

    If anyone reads this and then dies in a plane crash, wouldn't it be ironic?

  • vek||

    Don't cha think? A little too ironic.

  • MarkLastname||

    More so if it's because the pilot crashed because he was busy reading this.

  • BigT||

    Not as ironic as if they died in a plane crash and then read this.

  • CptNerd||

    "But it would be a mistake to credit those improvements to the men who happened to occupy the Oval Office when they occurred."

    Much better to make sure they're blamed when things get worse.

  • Azathoth!!||

    As his administration headed toward its first anniversary, Donald Trump celebrated with a tweet: "Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation. Good news—it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!"

    You guys must be going deaf from all the dog whistles you're hearing. Nowhere in that tweet does he "claim credit" for anything. It's deliberately worded that way. It implies that his 'strictness' might have something to do with it--but it doesn't say that it does--unlike President "I was nominated so this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow, and our planet began to heal." whose braggadocio knows no bounds.

    Funny how your next sentence after 'deriding' him for such pomposity is "To be sure, (h)e was right, actually, that on many of those metrics we have seen steady improvement from nine years ago, when he took office". Do you ever make yourself want to vomit with such vile hypocrisy?

    con't

  • Azathoth!!||

    con't

    And there was a marked decrease in 'war on Christmas' stories last year. Almost as if the leftist soft persecution of the holiday had abated somewhat--why, some schools even had actual Christmas Carols in their Winter Festivals. Funny that Reason, who loves to dig at those who notice the passive aggressive campaign to kill Christmas, didn't notice that.

    One of the things that presidents DO change that can have massive impacts on the country is mood.

    And, while you persist in keeping your head buried deep within your.....'leftist tainted bubble', the mood of the country is more optimistic, more assured, more 'America is great again'. And that IS thanks to Trump.

    Too bad for you.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Good point, cogently put forth. Still, I felt safer on the trains I rode in Canada.

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