Nervous flyers like to know what to expect. We typically appreciate clear communication and a head’s up if there’s going to be turbulence or a holding pattern. We wince at unexpected turbulence and brace ourselves for an inevitably rocky landing, even on the best of the best airlines.
We are scared of flying even though we know that the chances of disaster are not just slim, they’re infinitesimal. Here’s a recap: The chances are 1 in 1.2 million that your plane will crash. And 1 in 11 million that you will die, because approximately 96 percent of passengers actually survive crashes, believe it or not.
If you’re in a car? Your chances of getting in an accident are 1 in 5,000. But you don’t hear of too many people with a ‘fear of driving.’ I know that my fear of flying is in my head and, luckily, it is not so crippling that I would ever avoid air travel altogether. But even so, I don’t appreciate surprises. Not at check-in, not mid-flight — let’s keep this business as usual, shall we?
Unfortunately, that was not the case on my last flight. At check in, I learned (surprise!) that I was flying on an Air China flight to Beijing instead of Cathay Pacific due to a triple code-share. My flight was sold as CX and nowhere (okay, fine, it was in the fine print but I didn’t notice), did it announce that Air China would be operating the flight.
I tried to check in at Cathay, but they pointed me to Cathay Dragon. I tried to check in at Cathay Dragon, and they pointed me to Air China. Oof, Air China? How is that on par with Cathay? As I approached the counter, I felt my stomach tensing up — even the check-in stand looked disorganized, dirty and outdated.
As soon as I was on the Airport Express I looked up the safety standards online. According to independent flight monitoring site Airlineratings.com, Air China has a 7 out of 7 ranking, the highest possible. It has an internationally recognized IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certification audit and the last crash was in 2007, when a plane from Taipei caught fire on the landing strip but no passengers were hurt. Nothing since then.
Okay, that’s good, I thought to myself. But I still felt duped and wary — I mean, when you think you’re flying Cathay, and even bought a pricier ticket for that reason, this is not a nice surprise. And despite its safety ranking, the airline does not inspire confidence. The boarding passes still have a “smoking” section marked on them FFS. Have they not updated their ticket design in the last decade? I hoped they paid more attention to aircraft details.
But, no. The feeling intensified as we boarded the plane. The appearance did not bode well: Worn-out seat covers, an overwhelmed looking cabin crew, indecipherable announcements over the loudspeaker, and shared cabin TVs (what is this, 2005?). A glance around this economy cabin would make any flyer question the airline’s standards and curse codeshares under their breath for the next three hours.
Did we make it okay? It was turbulent flight with a bounce-house-style landing, but as soon as the seatbelt sign switched off I was up and ready to jostle for luggage with some seriously fierce grannies. But no surprises there.