Classroom Activities
flying cheap: The Crash of Continental 3407

The airline industry’s practice of outsourcing more than half of U.S. domestic flights to regional carriers has raised serious safety concerns. In this video clip from Flying Cheap, students will learn about this trend and examine some of the many factors that may have contributed to the accident from a variety of perspectives.

Getting Started

For classrooms studying social studies, economics and technology, FRONTLINE provides a set of themes and discussion questions for Flying Cheap to help students analyze and understand key current events. Watch the video clip and start a discussion to examine how the airline industry seeks to save money and ensure safety. Go further into this topic with the Flying Cheap Lesson Plan, which asks students to make flight safety recommendations from various perspectives.


Video Themes

  • As a way of cutting costs, major airlines increasingly use smaller regional carriers, like Colgan Air, to operate more than half of U.S. domestic flights.

  • Passengers are generally not aware that their flights are frequently outsourced to regional carriers; they believe when they buy a ticket from Continental, they are getting “Continental pilots, Continental safety and Continental service.”

  • After the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation revealed that pilot error was the likely cause of the crash of Continental Flight 3407, it began to investigate the professional backgrounds of the pilots, which raised questions about pilot qualifications, training and pay.

  • The crash of Continental Flight 3407 was a “watershed accident” which forced regulators to focus their attention on the safety of regional airline operations.

Discussion Questions

  • What were some of the factors that led to the crash of Continental Flight 3407? Who do you think might be responsible for these factors: Continental Airlines, Colgan Air, the pilots, the government airline industry regulators? Explain your reasons.

  • What economic incentive is there for Continental Airlines to work with a regional carrier like Colgan Air? Do you think any of these economic incentives might compromise passenger safety? Do you think any of these economic incentives are a benefit to the industry? Are there benefits to passengers?

  • How up front with passengers should airlines be about the use of regional carriers? Did Continental Airlines make it sufficiently clear to its passengers that it would be using a regional carrier for Flight 3407? Why or why not? If not, what should Continental have done differently?

  • Government regulators describe the crash of Continental Flight 3407 as a “watershed accident.” Describe why this accident might be so important to both the regional and major airlines. Can you think of any other “watershed accidents” from other industry sectors in the recent past? (Answers might include Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico; Upper Big Branch Coal Mine in West Virginia; and Hurricane Katrina disaster relief response in New Orleans.) How can these accidents help these industries/agencies improve?

Go Further

Featured Lesson Plan: “Improving Flight Safety”

Web-exclusive Resources: Map of Top U.S. Airports for Regional Departures

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