The latest headlines are often what many travelers use as benchmarks to help decide which airline to choose. Recent accidents, crashes, mechanical problems, labor disputes, delays, financial difficulties and so on, are hot fodder for the media. No one planning a trip wants to go anywhere near an airline that is having even a hint of these kinds of troubles. Any odds maker will tell you that a recent accident makes the chance of that same airline having another accident anytime in the near future a remote possibility at best. An odds maker will also tell you that a labor dispute among baggage handlers might make the probability of your bags being lost greater than it would normally be. But we don't want to play the odds; we want to work with facts.

There are four main things that we passengers are concerned about when flying: Our safety, our comfort, our possessions (baggage), and our time. That gives us four questions to answer before booking a flight on a particular airline. (The web link after each of the questions is a site you can check for info.

) 1) What is the airline's safety record? 2) Do they have many consumer complaints? http://www.nasdac. 3) Are they known for baggage irregularities?

gov 4) What is their on time record? Let's face it.

no matter how we crunch the numbers, there are simply no guarantees that the flight you take won't be late, that your baggage won't be lost or mashed like a leather potato. The facts and figures you turn up on the web can serve as a general guide, but they can't provide you with a hard and fast answer. You can easily go a little nuts trying to juggle all those statistics. After all, perfection is hard to come by - especially in the airline business! The information you turn up on the web can improve your chances of having an easier and more comfortable flight, but there are absolutely no guarantees. So no matter what the numbers may show, the real choice of which airline you pick probably comes down to just one question: how much is that ticket going to cost me? .

By: Laura Quarantiello

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