Fear of flying is pervasive – in fact, one in ten people report having this phobia, which is more a fear of crashing than flying.
However, statistics show that flying is one of the safest forms of transportation you can take. Although they’re big news, aeroplane crashes are kind of like shark attacks – relatively rare. When you measure aircraft crashes against the number of people who fly every day, the likelihood of you plummeting to your death is tiny.
Of course, statistical information isn’t always helpful for someone who has a phobia, which is an emotional reaction rather than a logical one. When you feel fearful of something, your amygdala detects and responds to a perceived threat, directing your brain to secrete chemicals like norepinephrine, adrenaline and cortisol to alert your neocortex to be on the ready. It’s a whole different process to logically analysing date like crash statistics.
Nevertheless, understanding the numbers may help. So, here’s a fact rundown of how safe flying really is:
- Every time you board a commercial flight you have a one in seven million chance of dying due to a plane crash. You're more likely to win the lotto (one in two million chance). Based on this safety record you’d have to fly every day for nineteen thousand years before you’d perish in a fatal flight accident,
- According to 2016 figures, a total of 258 people died in commercial plane crashes (that is, planes that can carry more than 14 passengers), or one death for every 13.3 million passengers who flew in the same year. It was the safest year on record. That means you’d have to take a flight a day for 84 years to have a 50% chance of dying in a plane crash if aircraft technology didn't advance. But as airplane safety improves every year, you'd probably have to fly for a lot longer to reach 50-50 status.
- Australia is 19th on the list of countries with the most fatal plane crashes since 1945. The US has the most commercial crashes, but it also has the highest numbers of flights and passengers in the world. Based on fatalities versus air traffic, Russia is the most dangerous country to fly in.
- Going on a cruise is more than twice as dangerous as flying in a plane with just over a one in 5 million chance of dying. In 2016, 43 of 24 million passengers were killed on a cruise ship, but only five died in accidents (the others died of natural causes).
- Your chances of dying on a train journey are even higher – one in a million – making flying seven times safer than a train trip.
- You’re no safer behind the wheel. In Australia, 4.9 out of every hundred thousand people who get in a car die each year. Driving for 400km exposes you to a one in a million chance of dying. Maybe even when you are on your way to drop your car off at a secure airport car parking bay. Ok maybe not, but there is still 1 in a million chance which is 0.0001%. Don't worry you will be fine!
- Looking at it from a US perspective, in 1990 five hundred million airline passengers experienced more than seven million take-offs and landings. Only 39 people died. By contrast, over forty-six thousand people were killed in car crashes. That’s the equivalent to a full 727 jet crashing every day of the week with no survivors.
The bottom line? When compared to other modes of transportation you probably use every day, flying is a relatively safe way to get around.