Are Cheap Airline Flights Less Safe?

Budget airlines like Ryanair are just as safe as expensive, luxury flights.
Budget airlines like Ryanair are just as safe as expensive, luxury flights. Bloomberg / Getty

When you fly on a budget airline you might sacrifice knee space, functioning air vents, and decent snacks­, but you can rest assured that your EconoAir flight is just as safe as any other. "Every airline, whether it's a budget airline such as Spirit, or a legacy line such as United, must meet the safety regulations set by the FAA," Les Dorr, Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson, says. "Since everyone meets the same standards, there is no airline that is safer than another." The all-encompassing regulations of FAA inspections require that each aircraft in operation by every airline pass inspections regarding proof of structure, performance, equipment, maintenance, design, construction, and loading conditions.

But aircraft safety is only one of two issues when it comes to flying free from harm. The other is security — because what you're flying on and whom you're flying with can both pose risks. "TSA regulates security, the cargo and people on the plane," says Mo McGowan, former Assistant Administrator for the Transportation Security Administration's Office of Security Operations. "But just like with the FAA, the TSA requires that all airlines that use gates at an airport, low-budget or not, have to adhere to TSA passenger and luggage screenings." Every airplane must have reinforced cockpit doors and every flight has the same probability of having air marshals deployed onboard, adds McGowan.

Because safety and security agencies act as a third party governor to airlines, you can be assured that the guidelines of the agencies regulate both premier and low-cost airlines to be mutually safe. The only safety variable you can control is where you sit. A study conducted by Popular Mechanics compiled 36 years' worth of National Transportation Safety Board accident reports and seating charts to find which seat on an airplane is the safest in case of a crash. It concluded that passengers seated near the tail of the plane are about 40 percent more likely to survive a crash than those seated up front.