If you watch the news at all (you shouldn’t, by the way), you probably feel like there are reports of airplane emergency landings every single day. Debilitating turbulence! Landing gear failure! Angry passengers threatening to kill everyone on board! (That one happened pretty recently.) Honestly, the deluge of information could make a nervous flier out of pretty much anyone.
But listen, it’s not as bad as it seems. We consulted Aviation’s Global Incident Map of 2017 (January 1 through December 26) and reviewed each and every recorded emergency landing of a passenger plane in the U.S. The good news: There were only 185 emergency landings total in the domestic U.S. out of an estimated 9.7 million flights — all of which concluded without incident. That’s a nerves-alleviating 0.00002 percent chance of having an emergency landing.
Even more relieving: The majority of those emergency landings were caused by weird-yet-innocuous odors or smells. Why is a smell worthy grounding a plane? Well, it’s a combination of taking precautionary measures, easing passengers’ fears, and avoiding odor-induced illness. (One American Airlines flight famously landed because a passenger “passed gas,” causing other fliers to become nauseous, according to the Raleigh-Durham International Airport.)
Other non-alarming causes of emergency landings include minor mechanical issues (think: a spilled soft drink on an electrical outlet), broken bathrooms (like this Delta flight from New York City to Seattle that made an emergency landing in Billings, Montana because the plane’s bathrooms had stopped functioning and passengers “couldn’t hold it any longer,”) and a lithium battery laptop that started burning a passenger’s backpack en route to SFO.
With all of that said, emergency landings should still be taken seriously. Our point is simply that they happen very rarely, and when they do, they’re rarely a true emergency, like a loss of cabin pressure or engine failure. So feel free to relax, recline, and enjoy your flight.
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