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Check its safety record online.

All was well with my travel plans yesterday morning until I hit one of the snags we hate to hear at an airport, “Sorry, there is a delay.”

I was waiting to catch an US Airways flight out of Charlotte, but a “mechanical issue” was delaying the plane that had landed a while earlier from Dallas.

I have found that when you are stuck at the airport, it’s a good idea to channel your inner peace and remember that long-distance trips used to take weeks, not hours. But sometimes it is hard and can get annoying when you realize that you could probably drive to your destination faster than the time you spent waiting at the airport. That wasn’t the case for me this time, since I was flying into New York City. But it got me thinking about how safe our plane was if it’s grounded for a “mechanical issue.”

The chance of getting hurt in a plane crash is very low. But if you’ve got nothing to do while mechanics are trying to fix whatever is wrong with the plane that’s about to throttle you through the sky, there’s a way to pass the time and check the plane’s safety record.

Look for the “N” number near the tail. Here’s a photo of the number on our plane:

With that number, you can visit this website maintained by the National Transportation Safety Board and check a database of reports documenting aviation accidents and incidents. You can search by all kinds of parameters – including the N-number of a particular aircraft.

You never know what you’re going to find when you do these searches.

The accident database is an amazing resource. You can search the narrative field of all the incident reports. So you could search for the words “bird” or “birds” if you’re curious how often they cause problems for aircraft. That became an issue after a flock of birds struck a US Airways flight and forced it to land in the Hudson River.

The N-number can tell you the model of a plane, who owns it, and its age – our plane was an Airbus A320. You can also look up Service Difficulty Reports, which document what are usually minor problems.

In my case, there were a number of service difficulty reports, but nothing too serious. In the accident database, there was one mention of our Airbus 320’s N-number from 2004.  The one incident involved a flight attendant losing her balance and hitting her head while the plane was descending to land. Sorry she was hurt, but it did make me feel better when we finally boarded about an hour later and headed to the skies.

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