The TSA's Instagram Account Will Make Your Day (Really!)
With more than 771.5 million people passing through security checkpoints at our nation’s airports in 2017 and a summer travel season expected to be the busiest ever, the Transportation Security Administration more than has its hands full. After a record number of firearms were discovered in carry-on bags around the country last year, the TSA rolled out more stringent screening procedures in April, but that hasn’t stopped the clueless and the crafty alike from attempting to bring some truly inappropriate things on board. From swords and throwing stars to guns and grenades, the most jaw-dropping discoveries are documented on the administration’s Webby Award-winning Instagram account, an often hilarious (see: Darth Vader interacting with an explosives detection dog, posted for Star Wars Day on May the 4th, or a microwave full of weed, posted on 4/20), always enlightening feed run by TSA social media lead Bob Burns. “We're not in the entertainment business, but I'm allowed to be funny because that's what gets people to come back,” Burns says. “If you look at our posts, you'll notice the first half of it may be tongue-in-cheek, and then the second half is more straightforward policy and procedure.”
Fans of the page have become accustomed to seeing weapons of all sorts in their timelines, from swords concealed in canes to stuffed animals smuggling knives to brass knuckles, live (and replica) grenades, and, of course, guns, guns, guns. Attempting to bring restricted items on your flight can result in hefty fines and even jail time, but those deterrents don't seem to have done much to stem the tide. Burns, who started as a security screener at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 2002, has pretty much seen it all, but even his mind boggles at some of the items people have tried to sneak through. “I always tell myself I'm not going to be shocked by anything else, but sometimes you see things and you just don’t understand. For example, I'm looking at a picture right now of an umbrella that someone took the time to take a tube, put a pocket knife in it, and zip-tie it to the inside of an umbrella to try to sneak their knife through, when they could have just put it in a check bag or mailed it to themselves or whatever they had to do if they wanted to have it at their destination. The question that always goes through my mind is when I see these things is, ‘Why?’”
The majority of the time, though, Burns is willing to give travelers the benefit of the doubt. “In a lot of cases, people aren't really thinking. Maybe this is the first time they’ve flown in 15 to 20 years, and they're not in tune with airport security,” he says. “They don’t have ill intent. Clearly if they knew it was going to hold them up or slow them down, they wouldn't pack it. I think in most cases, people just aren't aware of the procedures, which is one of the reasons we like to share a lot of this stuff.” We got the man behind the account to give us a quick rundown of some of his favorite posts; read on for his picks.
1. Unwieldy Weapons
Burns is particularly pleased with this post, once described by a friend as his opus. "I jam-packed three references in, including The Lord of The Rings, Led Zeppelin, and Monty Python. Humor and references aside, the post fit my formula of entertaining our followers, while also letting them know how to properly travel with swords."
2. Bears in the Air
Bear attack in mid-air? Your guess is as good as ours. "This one is a favorite of mine because of the hypothetical silliness of making a bear a passenger," Burns says. "And it’s always great when you can throw in a Yogi Bear reference."
3. Better Off Dead
A prop for a film in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, this grizzled geezer is one of the strangest things Burns has seen come through security. "Apparently the guy had worked it out with the airline so he was able to take it on the plane. He pushed this rotting corpse up the the checkpoint in a wheelchair, and it was just the right size to fit through our X-ray machine, so we screened it and cleared it and off he went," Burns says. "The ridiculousness of seeing this movie-prop corpse being sent through the X-ray machine gets me every time."
4. Bullets and Bravado
"Anything that resembles an explosive or projectile—any type of military ordinance—is strictly prohibited in carry-on or checked bags, for the reason that we don't know if they're real or not when we first spot them," Burns says. While bullets are allowed in checked baggage, you can't bring them in the cabin in any way, shape, or form. "I’m sure this is part of a costume or some kind of art project, but I’m not sure why it would be packed in a carry-on bag," he says.
5. Seeing Stars
Throwing stars, like other weapons, can only be transported in the cargo hold—even specially designed ones. "It’s a lightning-bolt shuriken! I had fun with this one by making up a story that the writing was the international symbol of loneliness, assuming the owner is too nerdy to have a girlfriend," Burns laughs. "It’s all in fun."
6. Medical Marvels
This ode to the Skywalker patriarch went up on May the 4th, and it's one that makes Burns justifiably proud. "I was able to use Star Wars Day as a vehicle to provide very important messaging 'masked' behind a silly post about Darth Vader’s helmet,” he says.
7. Penguins on Parade
No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you—that really is a pair of tiny aquatic birds waddling through security. "In San Antonio, because of SeaWorld, they travel with their penguins, Pete and Penny, from time to time," Burns says, "and they're trained to walk through the metal detectors." Why is this post a favorite, you may ask? Um, "because penguins," he says. (The "obviously" is implied.) And the people agree: At 53,000-some likes and counting, it's the account's most popular photo to date.
We were saddened to learn of the death of Bob Burns on October 19, 2018, and we extend our sympathy to his friends and family.
Why You Should Drink Tomato Juice When You Fly
The Twitter backlash against United Airlines earlier this month quickly escalated to fever pitch, and it had nothing to do with aggressive passengers or legroom or malfunctioning seatback screens. After the airline announced a plan to scrap tomato juice from its drink repertoire, it nearly caused mutiny—people threatened to ban the carrier, some posted humorous memes, and some contemplated why they were obsessed with the salty red beverage when they fly. If you’re among the significant proportion of passengers who find themselves overcome with a hankering for a disposable cup filled with room-temperature crimson canned tomato juice, you understand the outrage at the thought of it suffering the same fate as SkyMall, which went to the great shopping catalog graveyard in the sky in 2015. The digital uprising caused a quick reversal, and United tweeted “You say tomato. We say, we hear you. Tomato juice is here to stay. #letscallthewholethingoff” on May 10. TOMATO JUICE: BETTER THAN BEER? But the viral hullabaloo wasn’t just a game by a few bored trolls. Science is involved. Tomato juice, while rarely ordered at sea level, is an appealing choice at 30,000 feet because of the effect that altitude has on our tastebuds. Perhaps the most solid research came from a 2010 study by the Fraunhofer Society, a German research institute that was hired by Lufthansa when the German airline realized they were going through 53,000 gallons of tomato juice in a year. Compare that to 59,000 gallons of beer. The thought of tomato juice giving beer that kind of competition seems ludicrous, so it’s easy to understand why executives were confounded. FLYING AFFECTS YOUR SENSE OF TASTE Fraunhofer's experiments involved replicating cabin conditions, including the 10 to 15 percent humidity level that’s standard on airplanes. Those levels dry out your nose and mouth, diminishing your sense of taste. Add to that the low pressure, which decreases oxygen levels in your blood, thus dulling odor and taste receptors, and the appeal of a strongly flavored beverage like tomato juice starts to make more sense. "We learned that tomato juice being on ground level is rather... I'm not saying moldy, but it tastes earthy, it tastes not overly fresh," Lufthansa catering executive Ernst Derenthal told NBC New York when the findings were released. "However, as soon as you have it at 30,000 feet, tomato juice shows, let's say, its better side. It shows more acidity, it has some mineralic taste with it, and it's very refreshing." There’s actually another factor: sound. A 2015 study by Cornell University points out that we hear 85 decibels while soaring through the sky in a metal tube at 575 miles per hour. According to a release, Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science at the university, said the study confirmed that taste is compromised when exposed to extremely high noise levels, but only specific tastes. Sweet receptors are deadened, but sense of umami, the Japanese term for that elusive balance of sweet and salty flavor, is enhanced. Tomato juice is strong in umami. EVERYBODY'S DOING IT But wait—there’s more! There’s one more factor at play here: the power of suggestion. Picture it: you’re out to dinner with friends and you’re debating on what entree to order. Your friend tells the waiter he’ll have the sea bass. Suddenly, your decision is made. So next time you’re flying and the guy next to you orders tomato juice and the flight attendant cracks open a can and you start to salivate, go on and ask for one too. And if you want to add vodka to transform that sad little can of tomato juice into an iconic mile-high Bloody Mary, we won't tell.
Confessions of an Obsessive Traveler
At age 27, Sal Lavallo believes he’s one of the youngest Americans to visit all 193 countries in the world. “My friends make fun of me because my WhatsApp number is always changing,” he laughs, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks to a serious stash of airline miles and points from SPG and Marriott Rewards and the goodwill of friends who provided couches for crashing and insights for exploring, he capped off his 10-year journey in November, celebrating the milestone achievement with a big bash in Malta. Here, the inveterate traveler gives us the scoop on his on-the-road style—where he goes, how he packs, and what he never misses. Q: Do you like to check your bags, or fit everything into a carry-on? A: A lot of people bring a lot of gear that they need to check, and if you’re a fashionista and you want to have a lot of clothes, that’s fine—I would never be like, “It’s gospel to only have one carry-on,” but I do travel light. It’s faster and it’s easier, though I do always wind up needing to borrow jackets from people. I never have good winter clothes because they’re so bulky. Q: Any packing tips for making the transition to the carry-on life? A: One thing that will always get you in trouble with the carry-on is the toiletries, because a lot of them are liquid and they might be too big, or one country might say gels and lotions are ok and one might not. So unless you’re really dedicated to one brand and can buy travel sizes, stock up at hotels. The other thing I always say is that you should pack like a puzzle. it should always be the exact same way so that you can instantly look down and see if a piece is missing. If my bag was with you right now, I could tell you exactly where everything is because it’s always exactly there—it takes me one second to open it and see if there’s a hole and something missing. It's kinda like Tetris. Q: Is there anything that always goes in your bag, regardless of your destination? A: I’m notoriously low-tech, but I always have my camera and my zoom lens, and I always need my Kindle—I love reading, and obviously bringing 10 books around all over the world would be difficult. I also have a small tablet that’s occasionally used when I need to have a computer. I bring a lot of adapters, because I never know where I’m going to be and which one’s going to be useful, so I have universal adapters and other specific ones. Oh, and hand sanitizer. Q: How do you stay connected when you’re overseas? A: I don’t have a global data plan at all. If I’m in a country long enough, or if I think that I’ll need a phone, then I’ll buy a SIM card if it’s easy—some countries it’s really difficult to do. For a couple of months, I had a Nauru number. Nauru’s the smallest country in the world, only 11,000 people, and I was there for a week so I had a SIM card. Even if you’re out of the country, if you’re roaming, the cell-phone company’s push SMSs can be sent to you, so for like six months, I was getting all the news from this small island country in the Pacific. Q: Do you have a travel playlist? A: I don’t have any music on my phone. I do a lot of traveling by land, so really long buses and taxis and cars, and I really like to focus on the present and look out the window rather than, like, jamming out to Jay-Z while I’m in Guinea. Q: Do you prefer to use public transportation? A: Between cities for sure. I love being on buses because you get to see the rural areas, the trade happening, what the trucks going by are carrying—you get a better sense of the country when you’re on the road. And then within a city, I really love to walk. I’ll often land in the place and do a big two- or three-hour walk around. On foot is best because you can stop whenever you want, go into little nooks and crannies and figure everything out. Just ask how much it would cost for a taxi back, so in case you get lost you can stop a cab and you’re easily back. Q: What do you like to look for in a new city? A: I’m really interested in development and identity and culture, so I love to go to markets to see what’s being sold, whether they’re imports or exports, how local are they, because that tells you a lot about a place. I also like to go any kind of art exhibit, especially contemporary art, because I feel like you get a really good sense of the pulse of a society by looking at the contemporary art, what issues are being discussed, and where it’s being exhibited. I’m usually being hosted or shown around by friends, so I try to ask for their recommendations and do the off-the-beaten path things that might not be the best tourism sites. Q: How do you find good things to do when you don’t know anyone in a particular destination? A: It’s amazing when you travel how much people want to help you. If I’m staying at a hotel, I’ll talk to the concierge—they’re nice to everybody, but if you stick to a loyalty program and have status, they’re extra-nice then. One time, a concierge got off work early and guided me around town because he didn’t like the plan I’d set for myself. I’ve made friends just, like, in a restaurant because people will hear you speaking English, and they want to practice and come talk to you. Then you just have to be open. Too many people get nervous when they’re approached and assume everyone’s trying to con them, but that’s almost certainly rarely the case. A GLOBETROTTER'S ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST The Carry-on I have a large Osprey hiking backpack and a small Jansport school backpack. Depending on the length of trip, I'll decide which to bring. The Personal Item I use a small Nikon camera bag I got with the D3300. It has two clasps, but one has been broken for a year 😂 The Day Bag I have a canvas bag that I use when I’m walking around the city, with two rope straps that tighten the opening. One of the worst things about getting mugged is that you can dislocate your shoulder if someone pulls something off of you, so it’s always better if the strap is rope or stronger than the bag—if someone tries to tear it off you, they rip open the bag instead of ripping it off of you, and it just falls on the ground. I’ve used this one so much it's full of holes. The Camera Nikon D3300. Lens One 250mm Nikon zoom that came with the camera. E-reader Kindle Paperwhite. Tablet It’s an Egyptian-made one. I bought it because it said Microsoft really big on the box, and I thought that meant it was a Microsoft one, but it really just runs Microsoft. Phone Sony Xperia. Adapters I buy the cheap ones at little markets. Hand Sanitizer I always have one or two of the small bottles, no favorite brand.
The 25 Absolute Best Money-Saving Travel Tips Ever
When I tell people that I'm editor in chief of Budget Travel, I always get the same response. Whether I'm chatting with a twentysomething on her first overseas adventure, a seatmate on a fixed income, or a well-heeled TV personality at a dreamy ski resort, they invariably reply. "Cool! I'm a Budget Traveler myself!" I love the notion that each and every person I speak with understands that being a Budget Traveler doesn't just mean saving money, but also traveling in the smartest, most stylish way possible. It inspired me to jot down a few—well, 25—of the things that we Budget Travelers know. Did I leave any of your personal travel tips out? Drop me a line! 1. A REASONABLE PRICED HOTEL ROOM Budget Travelers don't snap up the first appealing room at a decent price that they find. They research location—how close will they be to a city's major sights?—and make sure that a good price doesn't also come with a time-wasting long-distance schlep every morning. Budget Travelers call the hotel and ask for the best price, the most appropriate room options, and for a free upgrade. And in a pinch, they turn to HotelTonight for last-minute deals. We're also pretty proud of our own hotel research-and-booking tool. 2. THE "BEST" DAY FOR AIRLINE TICKETS This is the question we get asked most often at Budget Travel. Traditionally, the simple answer has been: Buy your airline tickets about two months before you fly, and you'll likely get the best price by booking early in the week, when airlines often adjust fares. The "real" answer is, of course, "it depends," and you must arm yourself with an array of information to make an informed choice. That said, we also recommend that you follow all the major airlines on social media, sign up for their rewards programs, and subscribe to their free e-newsletters to get the inside track on deals. 3. PICK UP YOUR RENTAL CAR EARLY Budget Travelers book the smallest possible rental car and a pickup time as early as possible because in this case the early bird gets the free upgrade. At, say, 8 a.m., most customers won't have returned their cars yet and it's likely that the lowest-priced compact cars will be out of stock. The rental agency is obligated to give you an available car at the same price. 4. BOOK YOUR CRUISE EARLY - OR LATE Nabbing a cruise six months to a year in advance usually means getting the best price. At that early point, supply is high and demand is relatively flat, so you'll find appealing prices. As rooms get snapped up, of course, demand rises and so do prices—with one exception. Once you get down to the final few weeks before a cruise, the line may scramble to fill empty rooms, and you can again swoop in and find a deal. 5. KNOW THE RESORT FEES Resort fees are quite a bit like the old joke about the weather: Everybody talks about it but nobody does anything about it. The reality is, there's not much you can do if you've already spent your week at an all-inclusive resort and are staring at a bill that includes a hefty resort fee (which typically covers things you thought were free—those comfy poolside towels, the wi-fi in your room, the newspaper delivered to your door). The only thing you can do about it is to ask before booking so you understand the resort's fee policy. Don't care for it? Try another resort. (While you're at it, find out what beverages are included in an all-inclusive package and which you'll have to pay for out of pocket.) 6. CHECK OUT VACATION RENTALS When faced with the notion of shelling out $1,400 per week for a beach house, some travelers will blanch. That's $200 per night, right? Way more than a Budget Traveler wants to pay for a hotel room. But consider the size of your brood. A rental home that comfortably sleeps five and includes a full kitchen is going to be much more comfortable and likely save you money on food. 7. PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION IS YOUR FRIEND Those of you who don't live in major cities may regard life without a car as a bit like that nightmare where you arrive at work and realize you forgot to put on any clothes. Those of us who dwell in urban areas know better. When visiting New York, London, Paris, or just about any major city, learning the routes and pricing systems of the light rail, underground, and bus systems can save you tons of time and money compared with renting, gassing up, and parking a car. These days, even notoriously auto-loving Los Angeles is playing the public transportation game. Get in it. 8. PSST! MOST MUSEUMS ARE FREE! Sure, the world's most beautiful museums often have an admission price (or suggested donation) topping $20 per person. But they also typically offer free hours each week and a free day each month. Budget Travelers don't necessary schedule their vacations around a museum's free days, but they do weigh the option and decide if they can put that money to better use. They also take full advantage of everything a museum has to offer on a given day. There's no need to high-tail it from room to room trying to see everything—instead, find out when there's a guided tour, a hands-on class for the kids, or evening hours when the joint if often much quieter than during the day. 9. GO TO NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS When documentary filmmaker Ken Burns called national parks "America's best idea," he probably didn't have Budget Travelers in mind. But compared with any other vacation spot on earth, our national parks—and many state parks for that matter—deliver serious bang for the buck. Sure, there's an admission price (usually per car rather than per person), and you've got to line up lodgings (inside a major national park that can be around $200 per night), but once inside the park the wildlife, trails, ranger talks, evening presentations, junior ranger programs, and just about everything else is on the house. To paraphrase Verdi's famous quote about Italy: You may have the universe if I may have a fire-lit ranger talk at Glacier National Park on a crisp late-summer evening. 10. LOOK FOR PACKAGE DEALS Don't tell! Airlines and hotels are willing to practically give away their inventory rather than see it go empty. That's right. Airlines sell their seats at rock-bottom prices. Hotels do the same for their rooms. Why haven't you heard this before? Because they don't exactly go parading down the street announcing it to the world. Instead, they roll those empty airplane seats and hotel beds into package deals. When you book a package deal, you'll get a good rate on airfare and hotels, some meals, often guided tours, and some ground transportation. Don't believe us? Take a look at a package deal and then try to book the airfare and hotel separately—the package will almost always be significantly less. 11. PACK LIKE A PRO Budget Travelers know that a light suitcase is not just easier to travel with but can also save you money on baggage fees. Pack early so you're not in panic mode, and put some thought into packing matching tops and bottoms (rolled, not folded), as few shoes as you can handle emotionally, and wearing your heaviest layers on the plane. When in doubt, leave it at home. You never regret the things you don't pack. 12. WEAR YOUR HEART ON YOUR SLEEVE Honeymoon? Romantic island getaway with your sweetie? Engaged? Tell everybody! It may seem counterintuitive when you're trying to get some alone time with your Sig-Oth, but mentioning your romantic status to flight attendants, waiters, and hotel managers can yield complimentary wine, upgrades, private balconies, and other surprises. 13. GO TO SMALL TOWNS Budget Travelers know that some of the coolest places to visit in the United States are towns with populations under 20,000. Whether you want a warm welcome, a vibrant main street, a craft beer, cutting-edge gallery, or tasty bowl of chili, America's small towns make for some of the finest—and affordable—vacations on earth. 14. ASK AND YE SHALL RECEIVE Problem: You booked a hotel room with two king-size beds at a decent rate for your family of four, but now you have dreams of an unaffordable suite where the kids could have their own room. Solution: Ask for a free upgrade. Worst case scenario: The hotel manager says no. Was that so hard? You'd be surprised at how few people bother to ask for upgrades, late checkouts, complimentary breakfast, and other negotiable perks. You're a Budget Traveler. Go for it. 15. TRAVEL WITH A SMILE (AND CHOCOLATE!) The announcement just came over the loudspeaker: Your flight has been canceled due to bad weather. You jump on the airline's website to find out what your options are, and you get in line at customer service. When it's your turn to speak with the ultra-harried airline employee, you're going to do two things: Smile and offer him/her chocolate. Because Budget Travelers aren't just the smartest people at the airport. They are also the nicest. Make the difference in that beleaguered airline rep's day and he might make the difference in yours. 16. KNOW THE TRUTH ABOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE In general, Budget Travel has not always recommended travel insurance. Instead, before you travel, check all your existing insurance policies to make sure you'll be covered wherever you'll be traveling—including health, auto, and any possessions (which are sometimes covered by home insurance). That said, if you're booking a package tour or cruise make sure you understand the cancellation policy and consider paying a small premium if you think there's a chance you'll cancel. 17. KEEP THE LITTLE ONES BUSY Keeping traveling children "happy" may be impossible. But keeping them busy is a breeze. You just have to travel with plenty of activities, games, art supplies, and patience. Old standbys like license plate bingo and I Spy still get plenty of mileage—and the fun of playing together (instead of losing themselves in a tablet screen) is priceless. Some Budget Travelers hit the dollar store right before traveling with little ones. Stock up on affordable activities and hand them out whenever the kids get restless. 18. SENIORS HAVE MORE FUN Start with the fact that travelers 55 and up can usually get a cruise discount by mentioning their age, then consider the boatloads of seniors taking off for the Caribbean in a few weeks. Book a package tour of any European country and you'll see busses packed with empty nesters and retirees. Sure, Millennials and Gen-Xers are happily checking off their bucket list items, but these days it looks as if the Boomers are the ones having a blast out there. You know who you are, and we know you're proud Budget Travelers. 19. GET YOUR SHOTS In addition to T-dap, measles/mumps/rubella, and annual flu shots, Budget Travelers know to check the health risks of the region they are planning to visit. A travel clinic is a one-stop-shopping option for obtaining vaccines for serious risks such as typhoid and hepatitis before visiting a developing region. 20. GO ROAD TRIPPING Budget Travelers know that a plane or cruise ship is optional when going on vacation. Some of the best trips are to be had on America's highways. And to celebrate the Great American Drive, we regularly cover accessible getaways, including itineraries, directions, lodgings, attractions, and food along the way. 21. KNOW YOUR HOME'S "ONE-TANK ESCAPES" Looking for something between a staycation and a road trip? Budget Travelers love "one-tank escapes." You can start by exploring locales within a two-hour drive from your home. For most Americans, that includes gorgeous parkland, cool small towns, food you won't find at home, and often the kinds of surprises that most of us travel for. 22. LEARN CULTURAL ETIQUETTE Don't be "that guy." You know, the one hitting McDonald's in Rome. Or wearing an "I'm With Stupid" T-shirt to a museum of tolerance? Learning how to say hello, goodbye, please, and thank-you in a foreign language will yield more goodwill than you can imagine. Learning the ins and outs of a culture's body language, hand gestures, food customs, and tipping will help you fit in, avoid embarrassment, and possibly nab you a deal at a bazaar or shop where haggling is expected and even encouraged. 23. TRAVEL FRIENDLY WITH CREDIT CARDS No, Budget Travelers don't charge trips they can't afford. (One rule of thumb: If you wouldn't ask your parents or close friends for a travel loan, don't borrow the money from a credit card company!) But there are credit cards that partner with airlines to deliver rewards points, mileage, free upgrades, free baggage checks, and more. 24. FASTEST WAY THROUGH AIRPORT SECURITY Ok, this isn't exactly a secret—and we don't have a magic wand to get you through security any faster than this—but we're seeing more and more people using the TSA's Pre-Check program, which allows pre-approved individuals to bypass much of airport security for a more efficient arrival at their gate. 25. KNOW WHEN AND WHERE - OR NOT- TO DRINK THE WATER Water and food safety is an issue in most parts of the world. When traveling outside the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia, there are many countries where tap water should be avoided, including ice cubes and mixed drinks unless you're on the grounds of a resort. When in doubt, drink bottled water or other bottled beverages, and don't eat fruit or vegetables unless you peel them yourself. Avoid street food unless the food is hot out of the oven and the cart is free of flies.
How to Survive an Air Disaster
In the wake of the uncontained engine failure on Southwest’s flight 1380 earlier this week, we feel a responsibility to remind our audience, in no uncertain terms, that you already know the best way to ensure your safety on a plane: It is vital that you learn how a plane’s oxygen masks work, listen and watch the crew’s safety demonstration, and understand the layout of the plane every time you fly. Southwest flight 1380 experienced engine failure that appears to have caused pieces of the engine to pierce the exterior of the plane, killing one passenger and injuring others and triggering a decompression that required the flight crew to rapidly descend to an altitude where oxygen was adequate. Of course we hope you’ll never face a situation anywhere near as harrowing as the one that passengers on that flight endured, and Patrick Smith, a Delta pilot and author of Ask the Pilot (askthepilot.com) reminds readers that prior to the tragic events on flight 1380 week, U.S. air carriers had not had a fatality since 2005. Here, the essential, common-sense steps every flier must take to survive and thrive at 30,000 feet: PAY ATTENTION TO THE SAFETY DEMONSTRATION You think you’ve seen and heard it all before - and the flight crew may even joke a bit about how difficult it is to hold your attention as they demonstrate how to buckle and unbuckle a seatbelt - but the fact is most passengers zone out and miss vital information about the plane’s exits, proper use of oxygen masks, and the importance of wearing seatbelts even when not absolutely required. LEARN HOW TO USE AN OXYGEN MASK There’s evidence that most passengers don’t know how to deploy oxygen masks properly, meaning that in a serious emergency, on top of the anxiety of cabin depressurization and the plane descending tens of thousands of feet in a matter of seconds, unprepared passengers find themselves gasping for air. Surprised? Well, do you know how to use a plane’s oxygen mask? The simple solution? Watch the safety demonstration to see how the oxygen mask should cover your face. WEAR YOUR SEATBELT (EVEN WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE TO) Sure, seatbelts on a plane sometimes seem like an unnecessary pain. You know what else is an unnecessary pain? Getting tossed around by major turbulence or an emergency descent. Wearing your seatbelt even when its not required, especially if you plan to fall asleep for the flight, is always a good idea. KNOW WHERE THE EXITS ARE LOCATED This is simply a matter of listening to the safety demonstration and watching when the crew directs your attention to the exits. Memorizing the exits when you’re relaxed and settling in for your flight is a lot easier than scrambling to figure out where they are during an emergency. UNDERSTAND THAT DECOMPRESSION IS RARE AND EASILY MANAGED Movies and TV, urban myth, and frantic social media posts have taught us all to believe the cabin decompression is a disaster on an epic scale. Not so, says Smith in his recent post on Ask the Pilot. “Essentially, the pilots don their oxygen masks and initiate a rapid descent to a safer altitude (normally ten-thousand feet). Passengers, meanwhile, have ample supplemental oxygen if need be. An emergency descent might feel very abrupt, but it will be well within the capabilities of the airplane,” Smith notes. DON’T LET MEDIA COVERAGE AND ‘PASSENGER ACCOUNTS’ FREAK YOU OUT Smith also points out that, in the wake of air emergencies, first-hand accounts from passengers via social media and the news media can sometimes be less than reliable. “Claims that the jet was in ‘free fall,’ was ‘diving toward the ground,’ or was in any way out of control are simply untrue,” he reminds readers.