6 Podcasts About the Joys and Terrors of Air Travel

It’s a nerve-racking time to be a frequent flier in the United States. Boeing, the nation’s once-proud aircraft manufacturer, has faced a cascading quality crisis since 2018, which escalated this year after a door panel blew off one of the company’s planes mid-flight, prompting multiple F.A.A. investigations and a criminal inquiry from the Justice Department. And it’s not just Boeing — a New York Times investigation last summer found that understaffing and overscheduling led to an alarming number of unreported near misses on American runways.

Despite this, air travel statistically remains the safest form of mass transit in the United States, and it’s worth keeping the risks in perspective. Some of these podcasts do just that by exploring the true stories of air disasters (and why they are so rare), while others are love letters to life in the skies, hosted by proud aviation geeks who have travel tips, airport reviews and nostalgic industry history to share.

‘Black Box Down’

Billed as “a true crime podcast in the air,” this series ended production last summer but has a back catalog of 150 episodes, each focusing on a different air disaster in meticulous detail. Many of these calamities are well known, like the still-mysterious crash of EgyptAir 990 and the miraculous story of US Airways 1549, which was landed safely on the Hudson River by Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger after a bird strike knocked out both of its engines. But the hosts, Gustavo Sorola and Chris Demarais, also cover plenty of less well-trod ground, and have stories you’ll be astonished that you’ve never heard of, like midair collisions, hijackings and a detached propeller slicing through an airplane’s hull mid-flight. While it would seem wise for anxious travelers to skip this show, “Black Box Down” is curiously reassuring because it highlights just how rare these kinds of accidents are and how many things have to go wrong for disaster to strike.

Starter episode: “Crash of the Boeing 737 Max 8”

‘The Next Trip’

There’s a satisfying subgenre of podcasts that makes you feel as if you’re eavesdropping on a conversation between friends at a bar, who also happen to be experts in their fields. “The Next Trip” is a prime example, hosted by self-professed aviation geeks (or “AvGeeks”) Doug and Drew (they don’t share their last names), who have worked for major carriers as a pilot and an operations manager, respectively. Their amiable weekly conversations cover the latest aviation news — recent subjects have included the aborted JetBlue and Spirit merger, the wave of multimillion dollar refurbishments across U.S. airports and of course Boeing’s snowballing woes. Both hosts are also regular air travelers, and they share packing tips, review specific aircrafts and airlines and reflect on how travel has changed throughout these recent, turbulent years.

Starter episode: “Aviation Bill”

‘Deep Dive: MH370’

This year marks the 10th anniversary of a haunting aviation mystery. On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and disappeared from air control radar 35 minutes later, vanishing somewhere over the Indian Ocean. Exhaustive searches turned up only scattered pieces of debris, which offered no answers about what happened to the flight. In this meticulous investigative podcast, Jeff Wise, a journalist and aviation expert, breaks down every detail of the story alongside his co-host, Andy Tarnoff. Over more than 25 episodes, the pair leaves no stone unturned as they explore different theories, digging into satellite data, clues from the search effort and the back story of the flight’s pilot to piece together answers.

Starter episode: “The First Vanishing”

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