The AirSafe Journal
Issue 2 - July 18, 1996

Highlights - Biased Reporting, Booze, and Kids

This issue features a look at biased reporting of fatal airline accidents, a runaway liquor cart, and a few more thoughts on traveling with children. This journal is intended primarily for airline passengers the world over who are looking for factual information that can help them make informed decisions about their safety when they travel by air. The format of the Journal will reflect the needs of the audience, so please feel free to contact

Biased Reporting of Airline Accidents in the New York Times

During my years of analyzing accident reports from around the world, most of the events that I studied never made it into the local newspaper or even local and national television news programs. My own theory was that the most newsworthy accidents involved jet aircraft and those involving American fatalities, even more so when there are many casualties.

Last year I had a chance to put my theory to the test by counting the number of references the New York Times made to any airline accident that involved the death of at least one passenger. I looked at the years 1978-1994 to see if my assumptions were supported by the facts. 1978 was chosen as the beginning of the study period because it coincided with airline deregulation in the U.S.

Some of the results were not that surprising. As expected, accidents in the U.S. or involving U.S. carriers got a disproportionate share of New York Times references. What was surprising was the number of stories devoted to the 25 fatal jet accidents involving sabotage, hijacking, and military action. accounted for only 8.1% of the reported accidents but 48.2% of all the New York Times articles. To view the full report, visit my research report on New York Times airline accident reporting bias].

From the Files of the NTSB - Runaway Liquor Cart

The National Transportation Safety Board investigates thousands of aviation incidents and accidents every year. Many of these events are tragic due to the lives that were lost. Some are definitely comic, and others are just plain unusual. What follows is the synopsis of one from the latter category. This report and over 35,000 other reports dating back to 1983 are available to the public at the NTSB Web site. The following event is reproduced here in full (with changes made for clarity).

NTSB Identification: NYC92LA018

For details, refer to NTSB microfiche number 45030A

Scheduled 14 CFR 121 Operation of USAIR

Accident occurred October 23, 1991 at Boston, MA

Aircraft: Boeing 737-4B7, registration: N441US

Injuries: 1 Serious, 91 Uninjured.

The Boeing 737 was on landing roll when a door in the aft galley opened. A liquor kit rolled out toward an aft facing flight attendant who fended off the kit with her left hand. Her hand bent rearward and the flight attendant received a broken wrist. Both flight attendants seated in the rear of the airplane said they believed the door was locked prior to landing. After landing the flight attendants were able to open the door again by hand after it was locked. Maintenance personnel Were unable to duplicate the failure; however, the latches were replaced as a precaution.

Probable Cause: A latch failure on a door in the aft galley which allowed a liquor kit to roll forward.

Traveling with Children II - Lavatory Adventures

In the last issue I discussed the inconveniences of using a car seat while travelling with a toddler. In this issue, I will discuss the other revelation of my recent trip, that having a toddler in a lavatory holds more surprises than I had first imagined.

Having my child in the lavatory has always involved a combination of creativity, acrobatics, and the unexpected. When he was in infant, the chief issues were either how to change a diaper using the built in diaper table or how to change a diaper if there were no built in diaper table. Doing anything else in the lavatory was always made difficult by the need to keep a firm hold on the baby with at least one arm.

My child is now a fully active toddler, and like most toddlers, he is very inquisitive. While in the lavatory on my most recent trip with him, I was washing my hands when I heard him opening a small access door under the sink. When I reached down to close the door, I noticed a placard which stated a message to the effect that the compartment was not for storing items during the flight. The placard seemed to be there for the benefit of the cabin crew rather than for the passengers since it did not make sense for a passenger to store anything in that rather out of the way compartment.

The bigger question for me was why the door was so easy to open. If the compartment was apparently not there for passenger use, it should not have been so easy to open. I can easily imagine some fast moving child opening the door and quickly causing all sorts of havoc in the compartment. My hope was that the specific compartment in that lavatory and in similar lavatories did not contain anything that would harm an unsuspecting child.

My advice to the passenger who has to have a small child in the lavatory is to not assume that any lavatory is free of risks for the child. Keep a sharp eye on any child at all times and by all means don't let them fool around with access doors or with any lavatory equipment.

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The AirSafe Journal - Biased Reporting and Liquor Issues -- Revised: 24 May 2015