It was only when I attempted to make small talk with my visibly squirming seatmate on a Raleigh-Durham to New York flight that I realized it was me causing that look of horror on his face, rather than the slight turbulence we had been experiencing since takeoff. A friendly chat, I had thought, might help distract him from flight anxiety. But then I noticed his eyes — wide with fear — were fixed on my computer screen, which displayed an investigative report on an airplane crash I had been reading.
I slammed the laptop shut, stammered an apology and mumbled about how these detailed crash reports were, in fact, highly comforting, and it had just slipped my mind where I was, and it hadn’t been my intention to spread worry …
Well, never mind.
But it’s true. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation report reads like a how-to book for pulling off miracles and achieving seemingly incredible levels of safety. These reports renew one’s faith in what humanity can achieve if we apply our brainpower and resources to it.
But they also remind us that, much like liberty, these exceptional levels of commercial airline safety require eternal vigilance against the usual foes: greed, negligence, failure to adapt, complacency, revolving doors at regulatory agencies and so on.
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