Numerologists, dancers, tappers, baby counters, finger crossers — even if you don't have a ritual that keeps your plane from crashing, chances are your fellow fliers have got you covered. The Wall Street Journal has an extensive, highly amusing rundown of the many different superstitions people traveling on airplanes and working in the airline industry harbor.
As a terrible flier, I'm not sure if control tower operators — who apparently have their control towers topped with cedar trees — and airlines (have you ever noticed there is a lack of gate 13s?) letting superstition govern judgment makes me feel better or worse. But, well, they do. And now, thanks to The Journal we know. Even if flying has never been safer than it is in 2013.
That notwithstanding, humans have very serious fears about being launched into the sky and putting their fate and lives into a 255,000-pound piece of metal that, through computer wizardry, manages to defy gravity for hours at a time— while you watch Scandal reruns and drink a Miller Lite.
"Most travelers know flying is statistically safer than driving, but there's still unease for many passengers," The Journal explains. "And superstitions dating to the early days when flying was riskier have persisted. Flight attendants suggest the increased stresses of travel have led to increased comfort mechanisms—little habits to ease minds and reassure."
That in mind, here's a brief guide to the many types of superstitions people have to make sure they (and presumably you too) don't die on their next flight.
The Tappers. Apparently there are people whose fears of crashing are assuaged by tapping on the plane. Two Atlantic Wire staffers admit to tapping the plane, one of whom only taps the plane on its right side. It's unclear if this is more like the "boop" tap or more a kick-the-tires type deal.
The Dancers. If you see someone dancing when they enter a plane, it's not because this person is jazzed about flying. In fact, it's the opposite. There are people, says The Journal, who do a little jig because they are afraid the plane will go down in flames unless they perform this dance. Humor them.
The Counters/Lookers. There are some people who feel better when they see something or someone on a plane. For one Wire staffer, that means searching out for "a familiar face," in hopes of feeling less alone. For others, it's more than that. I have heard from multiple people that they look for babies on the plane, and believe that planes full of babies won't crash because that'd be just cruel. For some people, nuns have the same effect.
The Numerologists. These are the most powerful supstitionists. For these people certain numbers are bad news, and they aren't just the fliers. For example, American Airlines and Delta have banned flight number 191 because of the numerous airline accidents associated with that number. The Journal notes:
Indeed, 191 has been involved in several aviation accidents, from the 1967 crash of an X-15 experimental military plane flying as Flight 191 to the crash of Comair Flight 5191 in 2006 that killed 49 people in Lexington, Ky. Last year, JetBlue Airways Flight 191 diverted to Amarillo, Texas, after the captain displayed alarming behavior, was locked out of the cockpit and restrained by passengers.
Depending on the airline, numbers like 666 and 911 aren't used because of the bad juju associated with them. And there are plenty of airlines that don't have a row 13. The Journal reports:
Many airlines and airports insist that the lack of row 13s or gate 13s isn't the result of superstitions. Rather, they often skip numbers so that gates and rows can be rearranged without having to renumber every gate or row, and to provide uniform seat numbers across different types of airplanes ... Still, many planes follow row 12 with row 14.
However, all that number mumbo-jumbo is lost on the ballsy folks at Finnair, who have a flight 666 that goes from Copenhagen to HEL (the code name for Helsinki's airport) — which flew on Friday the 13th this past September. It did not crash.
The High Fliers. There are some fliers who prefer to experience the miracle of flight with the miracle Xanax. This counts as some kind of ritual, we think.
The Clappers. There are people who clap when planes land. It has been established that these people are the worst. You won't know who they are until the end of the flight.
In the end, there's something comforting in knowing that there are people (in addition to the entire airline industry and the FAA, of course) who are doing their very best to make sure planes don't crash. For skeptics who like to hammer home how flying is safer than every other human activity and think these rituals are silly, remember that no one wants to fly with people who are freaking out. Or crunching loudly on their salted almonds, for that matter.