While nobody wants to sit in row 13 or get aboard Flight 911, is the airline industry catering to the silly superstitions of the traveling public? Yes, and it appears they have plenty of superstitions of their own when it comes to reusing the flight numbers of planes that have crashed.
Although no one would argue that airlines are encouraging superstitions, who couldn’t use a little luck these days? It seems that the airlines have also learned how to use such superstitions to their advantage, creating Flights 711 and 777 to Las Vegas (in reference to lucky craps numbers). Or, in the case of Alaska Airlines, which caters to many Canadian travelers journeying to Sin City, uses Flight 649 because the Canadian lottery is called Lotto 6/49.
Travelers Make Their Own Luck
If airlines don’t intentionally provide the good juju, many passengers resort to their own bizarre rituals when traveling to assure their own psychological peace of mind. If you haven’t noticed it, the flight attendants have. According to one attendant quoted by the Wall Street Journal, “Every day I see a lot of the same mannerisms. Boarding is like watching a show sometimes.”
Just what is he talking about? It seems that there are some common touchstones for the flying public. Some people kiss the fuselage, others just give the plane a tap while boarding. Some cross themselves before the plane takes off.
Others break out into a little dance. Some carry lucky tokens every time they fly: a lucky coin, a blanket, a stuffed animal tucked away. Others are more public about such displays: One woman, for example, had to be strapped in with her lucky stuffed monkey. Another, a frequent flying business executive who travels between Los Angeles and Washington, always wears the same shirt when he travels that route.
Think That It’s Just the Passengers?
For those who think that only the passengers perform these odd superstitious actions, consider this: One of the most common rituals is for pilots to store photos of their loved ones in their caps for good luck.
It’s not just the pilots, either. Those who build the control towers often have a ceremonial cedar tree, which is a construction tradition. Whole airports are constructed without any gates numbered 13.
The Magic of Numbers
Numbers are a big area of superstition, both for the public and the airlines (which apparently is just as superstitious or is simply satisfying the flying public’s desires). While it’s not surprising that the flight numbers of crashed planes are not repeated, there appears to be an entire group of numbers never used in determining flights.
Not surprisingly, the numbers 13, 666, and 911 are never used as flight designations. Nor, however, is 191. Both American Airlines and Delta have had fatal crashes with this flight number, and just last year, Flight 191 (Jet Blue, this time around) had to be diverted when its pilot suddenly started exhibiting alarming behavior. It’s uncanny and, frankly, unexplainable.
Of course, not everyone is so freaked out by the symbolism of certain numbers. In fact, at least one airline is having a little fun with them. Finnair regularly flies to Helsinki (whose airport code is HEL) using Flight 666. That’s right, with Finnair, you can take Flight 666 straight to HEL. Better bring your lucky coin!