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Susan Estrich
10 Feb 2016
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3 Feb 2016
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Trying to be Safe


Every time I leave for a trip, my son makes me promise to come back safely. I try to hedge because I know it's not within my control, but even three-quarters asleep, as he usually is when I leave, he is never mollified. "Say you'll be safe," he says to me, and I usually do.

Which is to say, I put my trust in the FAA and the airlines.

I know that the most dangerous part of my trip, statistically speaking, is the part that is spent on the ground. I reassure myself of that all the time, as do some of the pilots of the planes I take. But at least in the car, I have some control. I am in charge of maintenance. I drive slowly and carefully. An accident is not necessarily catastrophic. That doesn't mean a drunk driver won't swerve across a median, doesn't mean a kid on drugs won't run a red light, but I have at least the illusion of some protection and the ability to do something — buy a car with more air bags, drive defensively — to protect myself and my family.

All control ends when you board that plane. We are totally in the hands of the airlines and the regulators.

The question is, are we in good hands?

Given what we're learning thanks to Congressman James Oberstar and his committee, the answer seems to be: not good enough.

When conservatives started repeating their mantra of smaller government at every turn, I developed a quick one-line response: You want smaller government? Do you really think the skies are too safe?

The truth is, we depend on government to protect us in situations where we have no control, and nowhere is that clearer than when you board a plane.

I know the argument that the market should provide such protection on its own, that any airline that did not pay adequate attention to safety would soon find itself out of business when its planes started crashing and customers flocked to its competitors.

Not soon enough for me, thank you very much. I don't want to see one person die because an airline manager trying to make ends meet, balancing profits against costs and inspections against delays, took a risk that could and should have been avoided by those who have other "customers" to serve.

Maybe the most damning single piece of evidence that has emerged to date in Congressman Oberstar's committee hearings is not how long it has taken the FAA to give airlines notice of safety and inspection issues, or how much time they have given them to check out aging aircraft that could pose safety problems, but the fact that FAA managers refer to the airlines as their "customers." The airlines aren't their customers; you and I are. WE pay their salaries. WE put our lives in their hands. We have every right to expect that they will put our safety first, not the economics of the airline business.

Nobody likes to be delayed. Believe me, I've been there, more times than I can count. But better safe than sorry. The airlines may be dismissing these latest inspections as mere technical compliance, but read the statements from the pilots, who put their lives on the line and take responsibility for ours, and the word safety comes up over and over.

Getting the wiring wrong on the backup hydraulic system of a 20-year-old plane isn't just a technical issue. Even I know that. I want to keep my promise to my son, and that means the FAA has to keep its promise to us.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



8 Comments | Post Comment
Hi Susan

Good article. "Safety First" has always been a cardinal rule. Airlines, ships, submarines, air balloons, etc. are cases in point where I become absolutely, and totally dependent on continuous maintenance of the vehicle. It is really not that much different with cars and buses and trains except that in these cases we are always still on solid ground. The problem is that we all have a natural abhorrence of inspection, whether we are the doer or receiver. It is much easier for a building inspector to accept a $100 bill from the landlord than to spend tedious hours with meters and flashlights. Governments can no more guarantee compliance to standards than markets can. It all boils down to the relationship between the inspector and the inspectee and the conscientousness of each.
Comment: #1
Posted by: robert j therriault
Fri Apr 11, 2008 6:07 AM
Hi Susan

I am a conservative that rarely agrees with your conclusions, but admires your thoughtfulness as I have witnessed on television.

You are so right about this. It depresses me that conservative banter about the AA debacle has centered upon getting the government out of the process and allow the airlines to self-regulate. How pathetic!

The proper role of government is to oversee and regulate business in the citizen's interests. The proper role of business is to make profits. When these two entities are in an adversarial relationship, then this is a GOOD thing. The fact they battle with each other implies one isn't far stronger than the other. We benefit in that situation.

Would you not agree that one side gets too strong the people suffer? For example, the US lags far behind other countries in student performance levels. Why? The government runs the schools and won't regulate itself. Another example, oil companies rake in obscene profits off the citizenry because the government is not an adversary of big oil. We need to have equal strength on both sides for the condition to work for us.

I am afraid of the government taking control of the health care system. The citizens will end up suffering the most. The government finally stepped on the profits in the airline industry. They will whine and cry foul, but you are correct: after a plane crashes is too late for safety measures and profit/loss analysis.

Thank you for a great column!

Chris Williams
Green Bay, WI
Comment: #2
Posted by: Chris Williams
Fri Apr 11, 2008 11:13 AM
just testing the system to see if I can log in as a new account
Comment: #3
Posted by: Richard Sye
Sat Apr 12, 2008 3:07 PM
Susan, I am pleased that you have narrowed your smile. sitting in my livng room I was frightened that you would not only swallow my tv but me as well. You should study statistical data so that you can assure your son that you will be safe, take later flights so that he will not be in a sleeping state and will not be left wondering what he heard, and will be awake so that he can properly evaluate the information.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Richard Sye
Sat Apr 12, 2008 3:14 PM
One issue you do not write about much is that if Hillary defeats Obama, what will happen to the Black vote? And how will that affect your party. Could that be a reason Hillary is being abandoned?
Comment: #5
Posted by: Richard Sye
Sat Apr 12, 2008 3:24 PM
Susan there are places for government and places that government should stay out of. FAA is one that the government should be there to enforce the rules for our safety. Health care, community services (most are abused), paid family leave (tax payers will be paying for), any program that makes an individual dependent on the government. Democrats are trying to make us dependent so the vote would always go their way and the same goes for illegal immigration. I am so disgusted with this election that I just wish they both would shut up and stop making fools of themselves and our country. Just give us the facts and let us decide. The problems in Iraq are due to the problems here. The terrorist do not want McCain in because he will continue to fight for our safety. The others will make us sitting ducks for another attack. We will see an escalation in violence because the terrorist will try to control the election and the Amercian public are to stupid to realize this.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Kathaleen McCausland
Sat Apr 12, 2008 4:03 PM
For a (trained) lawyer, your ability to think and speak logically is disappointing.
Yes it is true, as you write, that "conservatives... want smaller government? Do you really think the skies are too safe?"
However, it does not follow as a logical consequence that we want to shrink EVERY part of government.
Cheap shot
Comment: #7
Posted by: Richard
Mon Apr 14, 2008 10:28 AM
Concerning the pain you've been having, there is an alternative and that is to go on a low ZINC diet. According to the medical dictionary, zinc causes cell division, which in turn causes inflamation. Less zinc in the diet lessens the pain. I know because I lived for years with pain thru-out my body. Today at 75 I am nearly pain free! For more information contact me at
Comment: #8
Posted by: T.Dixon
Tue Apr 15, 2008 3:56 PM
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