“Scary footage” and “a near miss”; fiercely exaggerated headlines over two perfectly safe flights

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William Cherry, a passenger on board an Aer Lingus Airbus A320 between Dublin and Lisbon was filming through his window when an Emirates Airline Airbus A380 between Houston and Dubai crossed his Aer Lingus aircraft.

The Aer Lingus was flying at 37,000 feet and the bigger A380 exactly 1,000 feet higher (38,000 feet). Blue skies and the standard 1000 feet vertical separation, a perfect aviation day. But not according to a few newspapers.

Shortly after landing, William uploaded his footage on twitter (video at the end) and commented: “What constitutes ‘a near miss’? This happened on my flight from Dublin to Lisbon yesterday!! Hasn’t helped my fear of flying!“. Shortly after, the video – and William’s tweet – got picked up by Dublin Live and The Independent

Dublin Live headlines: “Aer Lingus passenger films scary footage of another plane passing by window on flight from Dublin Airport to Lisbon“. The Independent makes it even worse and writes: “Plane’s ‘near miss’ at 35,000 ft captured by passenger on Aer Lingus flight”.

On social media, The Independent got heavily criticized:

  • Absolute rubbish. This happens, very safely, as a matter of routine. If the other plane was near, it would fill the window, not a tiny section of it. Poor journalism,
  • Even my 3-year-old spotted that this is not a near miss,
  • I found out that the name of the captain on that flight is Sum Ting Wong,
  • Looks pretty normal. No wonder people end up scared of flying when they see headlines like this,
  • This is staggeringly poor and sensationalist “journalism”. There is nothing unusual or unsafe about the separation between these two aeroplanes, as the smallest amount of due diligence would have revealed. I expected better from The Independent.

Aer Lingus entered the discussion: “Hi The Independent (@Independent), this was not a near miss. All of our flights operate in controlled airspace, where separation standards are enforced by Air Traffic Control in accordance with international rules of the air. At no time was there any reduction in normal safety margins.

And even the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) answered: “Thank you Aer Lingus for highlighting the importance of international air separation standards to flight safety, and the deep and continuous commitment of #ATC and ANSP to their proper implementation.”

Quote from your editor: “If this is a near miss, then Santa Claus exists!

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