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Despite the hassles of air travel, 2017 was a good year for flyers — here’s why

Despite an unpopular year for airlines, 2017 recorded zero deaths on large passenger flights and fewer deaths as a result of cargo or small regional flights compared to 2016.
Despite an unpopular year for airlines, 2017 recorded zero deaths on large passenger flights and fewer deaths as a result of cargo or small regional flights compared to 2016. AP

You may not have enjoyed flying in 2017, but at least you were safe.

According to two airline safety groups, there were no recorded accidents on large passenger jets in 2017, making 2017 the safest year on record.

The bad news: Passengers suffered more than 891,000 delays and nearly 76,000 cancellations, out of 4.7 million flights as of October, the most recent month for which data is available from the Federal Aviation Administration. There were also system malfunctions and service shortcomings. (Remember that passenger who was dragged off a United Airlines flight?)

On the safety side, commercial airlines had a stellar year. Dutch aviation consulting group to70 calculated two regional airline accidents last year, which accounted for a combined 13 deaths. All were on small prop or cargo planes.

Since 1997 the average number of airliner accidents has shown a steady and persistent decline, for a great deal thanks to the continuing safety-driven efforts by international aviation organizations such as ICAO, IATA, Flight Safety Foundation and the aviation industry.

Harro Ranter, president of the Aviation Safety Network

Those figures don’t include a crash Sunday in Costa Rica that claimed 12 people, including 10 U.S. citizens, on a private charter aboard a Cessna Grand Caravan prop plane. A family from Belleair, Florida, was killed in the crash. Also not included in that count is a crash in the Everglades in July that killed the pilot, the only person on board. (The report does not include small commuter planes.)

According to the Aviation Safety Network, 10 fatal airline accidents were recorded in 2017 — five on passenger flights and five on cargo flights — resulting in 79 total deaths.

By comparison, 303 people died in 2016 from 16 accidents.

The report comes in a year where global air traffic again grew, by 3 percent, compared to 2016. That amounts to one fatal accident for every 16 million flights, to70 estimated.

In 2017, there was one fatal accident for every 16 million flights, according to to70.

The low number of accidents is a result of years of increased improvements in airline safety, Harro Ranter, president of the Aviation Safety Network, told the Miami Herald.

“There were no specific recent changes that contributed to the low number of accidents. The improvements have been built over years by a growing reliability of aircraft and engines as well as sharing incident data and learning from incidents before they turn into accidents,” Ranter said.

He added that the positive numbers are a result of safety-driven efforts by numerous aviation organizations, including the International Civil Aviation Organization, the International Air Transport Association and the Flight Safety Foundation.

Not to be left out, President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that he had some part in the increased safety on aircrafts: “Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation. Good news — it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!”

These statistics encompass only fatalities on aircraft. Staying on land wasn’t a safety guarantee.

A New Zealand woman was killed while holding onto the fence outside St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport — famous for its proximity to Maho Beach — due to the force of a jet blast. And in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, a cargo plane overran the runway in January 2017 and crashed in a village killing at least 35 people.

Other issues were less critical, but vexing nonetheless. They included hurricane-related delays, claims of price gouging from storm-affected regions, and a massive scheduling mix up at American Airlines that threatened to — but ultimately didn’t — cancel thousands of holiday flights.

Just Monday, international travelers arriving in Miami on New Year’s Day were confronted with a two-hour outage of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s nationwide processing system, causing massive congestion at passport control. The issue was corrected by 9:30 p.m., but some passengers lost their connecting flights, American Airlines said in a statement.

IMG_Airport_stranded_2_1_0RCFQHBF_L345116357
Travelers from Venezuela slept at Miami International Airport for three days because of canceled flights back to Caracas by Santa Barbara Airlines on Monday, Sept. 18, 2017. C.M. GUERRERO. cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.com

Still, the issue that dominated the public conversation about air travel in 2017 was how airlines treated their passengers.

It began with a United Airlines flight when security personnel dragged passenger Dr. David Dao off an overbooked flight in April. The videos of the incident went viral and plunged United into a public relations fiasco.

Other, similar cases arose later in the year. A woman was allegedly hit on the head with a stroller by a flight attendant on an American Airlines flight; video showed her crying and arguing with the flight attendant. Video also depicted a fight that broke out at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in May after Spirit Airlines canceled nine flights over pilots who refused to work.

United Passenger Removed
People with Asian community organizations from Chicago protest on Tuesday, April 11, 2017, after David Dao, 69, of Elizabethtown, Ky., was removed from a United Airlines airplane by Chicago airport police at O’Hare International Airport. Chris Sweda AP

So, too, did video of a California couple that was told to get off a Delta Air Lines flight after they refused to give up a seat they had purchased for their 18-year-old son, who left on an earlier flight. The family said they planned to use the seat for one of their younger children, and their confrontation with a flight attendant made it online.

In July, a Brooklyn family was kicked off a JetBlue flight in Fort Lauderdale after their baby kicked another passenger’s seat.

Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH

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