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Airline travel: ‘Other things to be concerned about on a plane’

If you caught my column about the way the airlines are treating us these days, you know that it was not a complimentary view, terming the flying experience an insult to cattle. Well, we now have other things to be concerned about on a plane.

A Delta Air Lines Boeing 757 lost a wheel as it was about to take off on Jan. 20. The 32-year-old plane was departing Atlanta for a trip to Bogota, Colombia, when a “nose wheel came off and rolled down the hill.” None of the 170 passengers were hurt but they did have to take an alternate flight.

It’s been a tough time for Boeing recently as a door blew off a new Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 plane at 16,000 feet altitude on Jan. 5, just after it took off from Portland. Again, no one was seriously injured but it did get a bit windy up there as the plane returned to Portland. The Federal Aviation Administration said that the plane that lost its wheel in Atlanta is a different model. How reassuring.

Kind of makes you want to reassess your answer when the flight attendant asks if you’re OK sitting next to the emergency exit door.

The latest update is that Boeing has found incorrectly drilled holes in the fuselage of about 50 undelivered planes, causing further delays and concern. Let’s hope they don’t start making submarines.

Boeing’s chief executive, Dave Calhoun, suggested that a manufacturing lapse was responsible for the door problem. He said Boeing’s factories had suffered a “quality escape.” Quality doesn’t escape on its own.

Evidence seems to indicate that somebody did not install and/or tighten the bolts on the door securely. I enjoyed Wes Rowell’s timely cartoon in The Durango Herald and The Journal on Jan. 26. It was an image of a weather man reporting, “And for tomorrow, we’re looking at a high of 64, partly cloudy, with a 30% chance of falling airplane parts.”

Prior to the door blowout, as the plane reached an altitude of 14,380 feet, warning lights began flashing in the cockpit, indicating a drop in the cabin’s air pressure. These warning lights had gone off on earlier flights, and the National Transportation Safety Board said it could not rule out those warnings as a clue.

Ahh, ya think?

This reminds me of an episode of the TV show “Big Bang Theory,” when Sheldon is riding in Penny’s car. Sheldon mentions that her check engine light is on. Penny responds: “Oh, don’t worry about that. It’s been on for a couple of months.”

OK, take a deep breath and relax. Commercial aviation was safer in 2023 than in any previous year. Accidents and fatalities were at an all-time low. Only two fatal crashes occurred during the year, both of which involved propeller aircraft with a total of 86 deaths. By comparison, 148 people die in an average hour on the world’s roads, according to the latest United Nation figures. Your chances of being in a fatal airplane crash are less than one in 15 million.

Full disclosure: Airplanes with an onboard enemy of Russian President Vladimir Putin are not included in these statistics. Since Jan. 5, Boeing’s stock has fallen more than 19%. Better the stock than the planes.

Let’s all remember those statistics when we are up in the air in a metal tube at 30,000 feet. Some advice: Pack a socket wrench in your carry-on and after Rowell’s weather report, consider wearing a hardhat on the ground.

Jim Cross is a retired Fort Lewis College professor and basketball coach.