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Airline Crash Deaths Just Hit a 5-Year High

If you thought 2018 was a bad year for travel, from travel bans to a number of fatal plane accidents, you’re not wrong. While 2017 was a banner year for airline safety (the safest ever, in fact), in 2018 the number of airline crash deaths spiked dramatically—increasing more than ten-fold to their highest point since 2014.

According to the Netherlands-based Aviation Safety Network, there were 556 deaths across 15 fatal airline accidents worldwide in 2018. That’s a steep rise from the 10 fatal accidents tallying 44 deaths in 2017. Wondering what’s happening to cause the spike? Don’t panic just yet.

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Despite that staggering increase in crash deaths, 2018 was still the third-safest year on record for air travel in relation to the number of crashes. And it was the ninth safest in terms of crash deaths. The overall rate, or frequency of crashes, is actually still trending down as more people are flying than ever. While there were an increased number of plane crash deaths last year, it’s more helpful to look at the number of fatal airline crashes out of all of the commercial flights that took off.

“Given the estimated worldwide air traffic of about 37,800,000 flights, the accident rate is one fatal accident per 2,520,000 flights,” Aviation Safety Network (ASN) said in its analysis of 2018 worldwide crash data. “If the accident rate had remained the same as ten years ago, there would have been 39 fatal accidents last year,” ASN CEO Harro Ranter said. (Again, 2018 saw 15 fatal accidents.)

Ranter tells me that 2017’s record-low crash rate was probably an anomaly in terms of the overall frequency of airline crash deaths, and is what’s making the year-over-year change seem so high. The number of deaths had nowhere to go but up: “2017 was an outlier with a remarkably low number of accidents and fatalities,” Ranter said. “And 2018 was more in line with previous years.”

There were some very high-profile airline crash deaths in 2018: A Lion Air flight that crashed in October killed all 189 people on board, and the United States experienced its first airline crash death in years when an engine incident on a Southwest flight killed one person in April.

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Here’s what the overall airline crash death rate has looked like for the past 60 years:

Aviation Safety Network said that “loss of control” was the primary cause of crashes in 2018—which includes pilot error, environmental factors like weather, and mechanical failure. Three of the fatal flights were operated by airlines on the European Union’s “blacklist”—airlines that are known to have dangerous safety records, and, accordingly, aren’t allowed in European airspace. Other airlines that saw a fatal crash in 2018 include Cubana (112 fatalities), Lion Air (189 fatalities), Ju-Air (20 fatalities), and Southwest (one fatality). Details on all 15 fatal accidents are below.

Fatal Airline Accidents 2018

ASN notes its “statistics are based on all worldwide fatal commercial aircraft accidents (passenger and cargo flights) involving civil aircraft of which the basic model has been certified for carrying 14 or more passengers,” meaning the numbers don’t include military transport aircraft or non-commercial flights.

What remains clear is that your chances of being in a fatal airline crash are astronomically low. And while the plane crashes that did occur last year were more deadly than in past years, the overall rate of incidents continues to trend in the right direction.

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

By Shannon McMahon

Editor Shannon McMahon is always planning her next trip and often writing in her travel journal. Follow her on Twitter @shanmcmahon_ and on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

Shannon joined SmarterTravel in 2015. A former news reporter, she's lived in the south of Spain, spotted elephants in Sri Lanka, gone spelunking in the Caribbean, hiked Jordan's Petra Basin, interviewed Sao Paulo's Michelin-Star chefs, and explored China via bullet train. Travel trends, news oddities, and her visits to up-and-coming destinations are some of her favorite things to write about.

Her stories have also appeared online on USA Today, The Sun, Huffington Post, Business Insider,,, and more. Her educational background is in journalism, art history, gender studies, Spanish, and film. She's been quoted as an expert travel source by CNBC,, MarketWatch, The Washington Post, USA Today, and more.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "Plenty of extra thick hair elastics. They tame my frizzy curls and come in handy in a surprising number of packing and hotel dilemmas."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Climbing (yes, climbing, it's steep!) the Great Wall of China before it's gone."

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