So, what can you the traveler do to help ensure your safety? Quite a lot, say experts. Advises Voss, "Look for airlines that have passed what's called an IOSA Audit, which goes above and beyond most regulatory requirements for safety." The International Air Transport Association (IATA) maintains a registry of airlines that have passed this audit. "Second, look to see if your carrier is part of a larger, global alliance, because airlines are very discerning about who can join these." As examples he cites the STAR and OneWorld alliances. Third, if flying internationally, see if your carrier has been placed on the so-called 'European Commission Blacklist'--which is pretty much what it sounds like: a list of airlines banned for safety reasons from operating within the E.U.
Airline industry analyst and consultant Robert W. Mann of Port Washington, New York, says the best thing the traveler can do is to be "situationally aware"—in other words, keep your eyes and ears open, and if you see something that disturbs you, act on it.
He cites a flight he boarded some years ago on which "it was just clear that the plane hadn't been maintained properly. There were exposed wires and exposed insulation. I just didn't feel comfortable, so I got off." He was traveling on somebody else's dime at the time, but, he says, "If it had been my own money, I'd have done the same thing."
Furthermore, if you do see something that strikes you as wrong, call it to the attention of the crew. The worst that can happen, he says, is that you'll mention your concern to the flight attendant, who'll pass it up to the captain, who'll send word back, "Thank you, but it's not a safety issue."
Mann, who is accustomed to flying in bad weather, doesn't hesitate in winter to ask crews if they're sure a plane has been properly de-iced. He says he knows of incidents where passengers, concerned about there being too much ice or snow on the wing, have rung their call button, told their concern to the attendant, and the result has been that the captain, in agreement, has turned the plane around for a repeat de-icing.