Frequently Asked Questions

Fear of Flying:  My job requires me to fly, but I am always scared for weeks before my flights.  Should I be?

Is it safe to fly?  Are my fears justified?  These kinds of questions rank among the most often asked in the E-mail we receive.

EDITORíS REPLY:

No, you shouldn't be afraid, but such fear is a rather common affliction. Some estimate that 30 million Americans describe themselves as "anxious" flyers.  

In view of the statistics, it is irrational to fear flying a significant distance, if you are willing to drive that same distance without such trepidations, because your risk of injury or death is 10 to 40 times greater in an automobile than in an airliner, in the safer areas of the world.

I guess the most important thing I can say is that news headlines have nothing to do with actual risk. If you judge your risk of injury or death by the latest headlines in the news media, you will always have much more fear than is justified by statistical reality.  

The size and repetitions of  such articles has no correlation to the actual risk of being involved in such accidents.  The intense competition for market share in all forms of the media, seems to dictate that certain types of stories receive more frequent front-page exposure.  The general public, hearing such stories time and time again, begin to believe -- apparently without thoughtful analysis -- that media repetition correlates to actual risk.  It doesn't.

MIT professor, Arnold Barnett, a statistical expert in the field of aviation safety, researched the New York Times front page stories, for the period of 1988 and 1989, and found:

"1.7 murder stories for every 1,000 homicides, 2.3 AIDS stories for every 1,000 AIDS deaths, .02 cancer stories for every 1,000 cancer deaths and 138.2 plane crash stories for every 1,000 airplane deaths."  (Catherine Trevison,  of The Oregonian, Feb. 6, 2000, edition)

Barnett, judges the actual risk of one person being involved in a fatal airline accident, to be once every 19,000 years, provided he flew on an airliner once each day of those 19,000 years.  He bases that estimate on what actually happened in the domestic U.S., during the 1990s.

Trevison (ctrevison@news.oregonian.com) also notes that:

" Measured in deaths per mile, American commercial airline flights are 22 times safer than car travel. More people die in three months of traffic accidents than in 40 years on commercial jets. More Americans die each year falling from ladders, drowning in bathtubs and freezing to death than by flying."

Thus, fear of flying is based on emotions, not rationality. Some of the major airlines have fear-of-flying seminars, that are helpful to many anxious flyers. 

[See how one reader conquered his fear of flying in the Letter to ASC, Ed.]



August, 2000 (last revised July, 2003)

Robert J. Boser    
Editor-in-Chief 
AirlineSafety.Com

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The Editor of this Web Page, now retired, was an airline pilot for 33 years and holds 6 specific Captain's type-ratings on Boeing Jet Airliners.


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