Harriett Lane likes to travel, but says a deadly week of air disasters could factor into whether she follows through on her plans to fly to Prague, Czech Republic, later this year.
“Czechoslovakia’s OK so far,” she said. “Tomorrow, I might change my mind.”
Lane, who arrived Thursday at the Portland International Jetport from her home in New York City, was headed to Poland – the one in Maine – to see her granddaughter at camp. Next week, she’s flying to Italy.
“From New York to Portland is doable,” she said. “I’m not going to the Middle East.”
The past week has been one of the most harrowing in years for air travel: Malaysia Airlines MH17 crashed on July 18 after being shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Most U.S. flights to Tel Aviv, Israel, were halted for two days this week because of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip that struck near the airport. In Taiwan, a plane crash Wednesday killed 48 people and injured 15, five of them on the ground. A day later, an Air Algerie flight crashed in Mali, killing 116 on board.
And that’s not counting the disappearance in March of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 with 239 people aboard. The airliner has not been found.
The 537 deaths from the two Malaysia Airlines flights alone totaled more than twice the global airline fatalities for all of last year, which was the industry’s safest on record, The Associated Press reported. Ascend, a global aviation industry consulting firm headquartered in London, counted 163 fatalities in 2013 involving airliners with 14 seats or more. Airline fatalities in 2014 total more than 700, the most since 2010, and the year is little more than half over.
Although people might be nervous about getting on an international flight, the spate of disasters doesn’t seem to have had a large impact on air travel, said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with the firm Atmosphere Research.
“Some people may choose to avoid flying certain airlines, but no one’s seeing a measurable change in travel,” Harteveldt said. “And remember that 80 percent of the airline tickets sold in the U.S. are for travel in North America.”
Chris Lopinto, president and co-founder of the travel advice website expertflyer.com, agreed. “We haven’t seen any indication of an impact,” he said. “The only measurable impact was (on flights to or from) Tel Aviv, because the flights were canceled.”
Both Harteveldt and Lopinto also said that air travel has not become less safe. The number of commercial and private plane crashes worldwide in 2013 was 138, down from the 155 in 2012, according to the Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives, a Swiss organization that tracks such data.
Less than one in 2 million flights last year ended in an accident in which the plane was damaged beyond repair, according to the International Air Transport Association. That includes accidents involving cargo and charter airlines as well as scheduled passenger flights, the AP reported.
“One of the things that makes me feel better when we look at these events is that if they all were the same type event or same root cause then you would say there’s a systemic problem here, but each event is unique in its own way,” said Jon Beatty, president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation, an airline industry-supported nonprofit in Alexandria, Virginia, that promotes global aviation safety.
But Beatty said he also finds the disaster cluster “a cold reminder” that airline accidents are likely to increase because the industry is growing, especially in developing countries. The more flights there are, the more potential for accidents, he told the AP.
Rabbi Carolyn Braun of Portland’s Temple Beth El said she advised a young Mainer to go ahead with a planned trip to Israel in a few weeks, despite the fighting there.
The woman, Braun said, is going as part of the Birthright Israel international program, which underwrites 10-day trips to Israel to connect Jewish 18-to-29-year olds with their history. The organization said this week that it would continue operating its international programs despite the fighting in the Middle East.
Braun said she told the young woman that the organization has taken groups of young Jewish people to Israel under similar circumstances when there was active unrest in the area.
“Life is going on pretty normally,” Braun said. “Israel lives in this tension all the time and they are used to it.”
Portland doesn’t have any direct flights to airports overseas, but jetport Manager Paul Bradbury said about 5 percent of the airport’s 1.65 million passengers last year planned to connect to, or had traveled from, airports outside the U.S. The top destinations for international travelers from the airport here were in the Caribbean, led by Cancun, he said. The top overseas destinations were Tokyo, Paris and Beijing.
Bradbury said current figures for the number of international travelers at the jetport were not yet available.
Several passengers Thursday indicated that the disasters wouldn’t change their plans to travel internationally.
Gayle and Arthur Schulman of Charlottesville, Virginia, who were headed home after a conference and a visit with friends in Portland, said their trip to Spain in September won’t be affected.
Arthur Schulman noted that he and his wife flew to Greece a few weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and on another trip to Europe their flight was diverted because of airborne ash from an erupting volcano in Iceland.
“You just have to live each day and have as good a time as you can,” Gayle Schulman said.