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September 2019 sees the return of one of the world’s most infamous days: Friday 13th. Typically, there are one to three Friday 13th dates per year and they always inspire conversations about bad luck. In fact, so many people believe the date is unlucky that they avoid travelling for fear of an accident.
But is Friday 13th as unlucky as people claim? And if fewer people are flying, is it actually the best date to buy your flight tickets to grab some great bargains? We take a look at the history behind this unluckiest of calendar events, examine the travel safety record, and assess the available deals to see what really happens when you travel on Friday 13th.
No-one really knows exactly when Friday 13th developed its reputation for being unlucky. All we know for sure is that the two aspects alone—Friday and the number 13—were each considered unlucky long before the two were put together.
The number 13 has long been associated with bad luck and poor omens. Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest religions which is still active today, predicts the 13th Millennium will be one of chaos for mankind. Meanwhile, do you remember all the hysteria a decade ago about how 2012 would be the end of the world? Well, that comes from the Mayan calendar, which is divided into baktuns (cycles); 2012 marked the end of the 13th baktun, when it was believed a harbinger of the apocalypse would arrive.
Christianity inherited a fear of the number 13, with the most common theory looking to the Last Supper; 13 people attended the event before Judas betrayed Jesus.
In medieval times, it was also said that condemned men and women had to take 13 steps to reach the gallows: 12 up and 1 down.
Whatever the initial cause of the number 13’s association with bad luck, it is has persisted to this day and is an officially recognised fear. In 1911, the term triskaidekaphobia was coined. Ironically, by giving the term a label, this probably only served to make the phenomenon more widely known, forever cementing number 13 as unlucky or wicked.
Friday doesn’t have nearly as long a history as the number 13 as being an unlucky. However, medieval hangings and executions often occurred on Fridays to the point that it was nicknamed “the Hangman’s day”.
Friday 13th as a specific date likely didn’t emerge as an unlucky date until much later: Friday 13th October, 1307, to be exact.
For two centuries prior, a Christian order of warrior monks called the Knights Templar reigned across Europe. Initially, poor defenders of travelling pilgrims, they grew in wealth and number over time. By the beginning of the 14th century, they were one of the most powerful organisations in Europe, influencing almost every court across the continent.
One king, Philip IV of France, didn’t like this. He had desires to grow his own power and influence and didn’t like sharing his wealth with the Church. Coincidentally, a plot by the Templars against his life was discovered; possibly one of history’s earliest and bloodiest examples of “Fake News”. He thereby ordered the arrest, torture, and execution of every Templar throughout his kingdom.
The arrests began on Friday 13th.
More recently, a 1907 novel, Friday the Thirteenth, by Thomas W. Lawson, popularised the unlucky date. Additionally, Friday the 13th is one of the longest running and most successful horror franchises of all time.
In a word, no. When it comes to citing real statistics to prove unlucky events are more likely to occur on the dreaded date, the data simply doesn’t exist.
Of course, while the date may not be overtly unlucky, it doesn’t stop people from acting as if it is so; something which creates its own negative consequences. There are so many people who refuse to do business of any kind on Friday 13th that economists estimate up to a billion dollars is lost every year.
On the whole, Friday 13th is just like any other date. In fact, there are even some signs it dishes out good fortune now and then. In 2004, astronomers discovered Asteroid 99942 Apophis and there was some worry it might collide with Earth. Fortunately, this turns out not to be the case, and on Friday 13th
So, if Friday 13th is just like any other day of the year, why do so many people still believe accidents are more likely?
Well, put simply, because of a joke gone wrong.
One 1993 British Medical Journal study claimed, “the risk of hospital admission as a result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52
However, this was a Christmas edition of the journal; one which commonly prints spoof or joke studies for fun. The authors have since regretted the publication because of how many people now cite it as though it is serious.
In actual fact, there isn’t any statistical data which demonstrates more accidents occur on Friday 13th. And this isn’t only the case for roads, but for air travel, too:
The Aviation Safety Network keeps a database of all the known fatal airline accidents as far back as 1945. On average, there are 0.091 fatal plane accidents each day. On Friday 13th, the average is 0.067, which is a risk reduction of approximately 27%.
In other words, it’s actually slightly safer to travel on Friday 13th than the average day of the year (possibly because fewer people decide to travel).
But what about the price of flights? Is it really cheaper to travel on Friday 13th in comparison to any other date?
The answer here is…it depends.
A decade or two ago, it was absolutely the case that flights were cheaper on the so-called unlucky day. With fewer people willing to travel, the airlines offered heavily discounted tickets to fill their planes.
Unfortunately, airlines are less willing to do this now. Some still claim they offer discounted prices, but it is frequently just a marketing ploy and a comparison between their prices on Friday 13th and any other day of the year shows little difference.
That being said, some airlines do still offer small discounts, so shop around just in case. You never know when you’ll spot the next killer deal