Courage to Fly

Flying Facts

The truth about flying safety

There is a wealth of information one can read by looking up statistics airline safety on the net. Here is some basic information that helps put the safety of flight in perspective. However like most areas of life there are differences of opinion and it is possible to get slightly different information depending on which resources you check. (Remember to always question the motive of the presenter of information)

Consider the statistics

Probability of being killed in an airplane accident vs. other causes of death


Cause of Death Your odds
Heart Disease 1 in 2
Smoking (by age 35) 1 in 600
Car trip (across US) 1 in 14,000
Train trip (across US) 1 in 1,000,000
Bee sting 1 in 5,250,000
Airline accident 1 in 11,000,000

Your chances of being involved in an aircraft accident are about 1 in 11 million. On the other hand, your chances of being killed in an automobile accident are 1 in 5,000. Statistically, you are at far greater risk driving to the airport than getting on an airplane. However, the perception is that you have more control over your fate when you are in your car than as a passenger traveling on an airplane. Experience shows otherwise, considering that over 50,000 people are killed on the U.S. highways every year.

An article in Time magazine, 12/4/06, reminds us that "more than 500 times as many people die on U.S. roads as in airline accidents." The article "Why We Worry about the Things We Shouldn’t" further goes on to give some startling statistics about the kind of accidents that kill Americans. The data is from 2003, the most recent year for which data is available. According to the article, you're at far greater risk of being killed in accident involving one of the following than you are from riding in a commercial aircraft.

  • you're a bike rider
  • dog lover
  • a bath taker

Don't forget the other kinds of accidents that killed more people than aircraft crashes --

  • stinging from bees/wasps
  • slipping on ice or snow
  • choking on food
  • falling down stairs or off ladders
  • 600 Americans are killed every year from falling out of bed

"We similarly misjudge risk if we feel we have some control over it, even if it's an illusory sense. The decision to drive instead of fly is the most commonly cited example, probably because it's such a good one. Behind the wheel, we're in charge; in the passenger seat of a crowded airline, we might as well be cargo. White-knuckle flyers routinely choose the car.

The most white-knuckle time of all was post-Sept. 11 when even confident flyers took to the roads. Not surprisingly, from October through December 2001 there were 1,000 more highway fatalities than in the same period the year before (in part because there were simply more cars around)...the '9-11 effect produced a third again as many fatalities as the terrorist attacks,' says David Ropeik, an independent risk consultant and a former professor at the Harvard School of Public Health."

Negative Bias

Media coverage would suggest that airline crashes happen every day. Studies have shown one would have to fly once a day every day for over 15,000 years in order to statistically be involved in an aircraft accident!

Yet stories of aircraft accidents are between 150 to 200 times more likely to receive front-page coverage than other more common causes of death. Consequently, fearful flyers develop a negative bias toward flying. That is, they will bias their perception to notice those events and experiences that support their fears, i.e. When I believe flying is dangerous and risky, I will pay attention to anything in the media that supports my fear and perception; I will tend to ignore anything that is contrary to this position, for example, information about the safety of flying.

Your fears become validated by the continual bombardment of media coverage following an airline accident. Who can forget the horrifying coverage of the airplanes flying into the World Trade Center on 9/11 replayed over and over until the major networks agreed it served no purpose to replay the events? But it's highly unlikely that you'll see headlines "Fifty People Killed Yesterday in Bed Falls."

Airplane disasters and plane crash statistics make for more dramatic, "eye-catching" newsprint. Not nearly enough information is printed on aircraft safety. Because disasters seem to be more newsworthy to the public, the media is naturally attracted to use the financially rewarding print, and that is naturally LARGE PRINT especially in sensational cases.

See articles section of this site for more information on how this kind of information works to instill fear and what you can do about it.