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The Luckiest Plane Crash Ever

The Luckiest Plane Crash Ever

In the annals of aviation history, has there ever been a plane crash as lucky as US Airways Flight 1549? All 155 passengers and crew survived a crash landing into the frigid waters of the Hudson River last Thursday, January 15th, and as the stories of heroism begin to fill the media blogosphere, there’s also been much discussion of how lucky everyone was. Which brings up the issue of how our own lucky beliefs affects us whenever we entrust our fate to a giant piece of metal weighing hundreds of tons that is supposed to stay aloft in the sky.

Ben Sherwood, in a piece entitled “The Great Plane Crash Myth” from The Daily Beast, confesses, “I’m embarrassed to admit that every time I fly, I go through a litany of superstitious rituals. I always tap the right doorjamb of the plane when I step aboard. During takeoff and landing, I mumble a short prayer that I learned long ago in Sunday school.”

Sherwood’s rituals are not uncommon. Lucky airplane rituals and superstitions seem to abound everywhere when one begins to investigate deeper. Many Italians believe that wearing red underwear when flying will keep them safe. Others believe that carrying a St Christopher’s medal will protect them (He was the patron saint of travelers). Then there is the fixation on numbers. In the airline industry, it is a well documented fact that Friday the 13th is always a slow day.  On airlines like Air France, Lufthansa, KLM, and even Continental, you won’t find a row number 13.  An article in USAToday quotes two airline spokesmen:

“Apparently someone a long time ago (we don’t know when) thought we shouldn’t have a row 13,” says Martin DeLeon, a spokesperson for Continental Airlines. “We have let the row numbering system persist, especially since we don’t want to go through the expense of renumbering rows on about 600 aircraft.”

“Most people wouldn’t want to sit there,” says Judy Graham-Weaver, a spokesperson for AirTran. “Whether we believe in the superstition or not if it’s the perception of the community we need to go by that.”

On Italian airline Alitalia, it’s row number 17 that is missing, since the roman numerals for 17, when rearranged, could spell “VIXI,” which means “I lived” in Italian.  (The numerals also resemble a hangman). Then there is the Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways, which omits row 4 because it sounds like the word for death in their language.

Whatever your ritual or belief, I say it never hurts to have that extra bit of luck on your side when you’re 35,000 miles up in the sky.


(Photo by Gary Hershom/Reuters.)

From Russia With Luck

November 18, 2008