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What Happens to Your Luggage if You Survive a Plane Crash?

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Getty Images

By Chris Gayomali

Despite three high-profile plane crashes in the last month alone, your odds of dying in an aerial mishap are very, very low—about 11 million to 1. To be clear, you're more likely to perish by lightning strike, or from an infection stoked by flesh-eating bacteria.

And even if your plane is one of the unlucky few to suffer a freak accident, the survival rate for passengers once the aircraft hits the ground tips squarely in your favor: About 95 percent, according to statistics from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Once you're on the ground, though, there's still work to be done, including getting out of the plane as fast as possible. Which is why there was some armchair criticism of the surviving passengers of Asiana Airlines Flight 214, after many felt compelled to grab their belongings once the plane hit pavement.

In fact, one of the Asiana flight's passengers noted an "eerie sense of calm" among the survivors when it came time to evacuate. "I grabbed my bags as soon as it stopped," he wrote on Sina Weibo. "My wife was very calm—she even picked up the scattered stuff on the ground."

But what about the bags that are left behind on the plane? According to The Consumerist, the process can get a little messy. After an investigation by authorities, passengers will have to file a written request to be reimbursed within 45 days, with a maximum compensation of $3,300 for destroyed belongings. The airline won't reimburse you for everything, however:

Among other things, the airline will not compensate passengers for "money, negotiable papers, securities, irreplaceable business documents, books, manuscripts, publications, photographic or electronic equipment, musical instruments, jewelry, silverware, precious metals, furs, antiques, artifacts, paintings and other works of art, lifesaving medication, and samples." [The Consumerist]

Of course, when the rest of the plane is spouting flames around you, standing in the aisle to grab your rolling bag from the overhead compartment is an obvious no-no that puts other people's lives at risk. One guy on the U.S. Airways flight that landed in the Hudson River in 2008 who tried to grab his luggage was quickly put in his place by other passengers.

But what happens when evacuees are sent to the hospital—supposedly without their travel documents, IDs, passports, health insurance, etc. How is all that handled?

That responsibility falls on the airline, which, let's remember, requires detailed information on all its passengers beforehand. Still: It might not be a bad idea to keep your ID or passport on your person when you fly, just in case you crash land anywhere (say, a foreign country) that isn't a desert island.

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Big Questions
Why Is Holly a Symbol of Christmas?

Santa Claus. A big ol’ red-and-white stocking hung by the fire. Nativity scenes. Most classic Christmas imagery is pretty self-explanatory. Then there’s the holly, genus Ilex, which found its way onto holiday cards through a more circuitous route. 

Christmas is kind of the new kid on the block as far as holly symbolism is concerned. The hardy plant’s ability to stay vibrant through the winter made it a natural choice for pre-Christian winter festivals. The Roman feast of Saturnalia, celebrated at the darkest time of the year, celebrated the god of agriculture, creation, and time, and the transition into sunshine and spring. Roman citizens festooned their houses with garlands of evergreens and tied cheery holly clippings to the gifts they exchanged.

The Celtic peoples of ancient Gaul saw great magic in the holly’s bright "berries" (technically drupes) and shiny leaves. They wore holly wreaths and sprigs to many sacred rites and festivals and viewed it as a form of protection from evil spirits. 

Christianity’s spread through what is now Europe was slow and complicated. It was hardly a one-shot, all-or-nothing takeover; few people are eager to give up their way of life. Instead, missionaries in many areas had more luck blending their messages with existing local traditions and beliefs. Holly and decorated trees were used symbolically by new Christians, just as they’d been used in their pagan days.

Today, some people associate the holly bush not with the story of Jesus’s birth but with his death, comparing the plant’s prickly leaves to a crown of thorns and the berries to drops of blood. 

But most people just enjoy it because it’s cheerful, picturesque, and riotously alive at a time when the rest of the world seems to be still and asleep.

NOTE: Holly is as poisonous as it is pretty. Please keep it away from your kids and pets.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?

Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.


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