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.


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 ( 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. Most of the major airlines have fear-of-flying seminars, that are helpful to many anxious flyers. I do not have time to research each airline, but will post the information below for any airline, or other company, that cares to send information about their seminars.  Send it to:  Editor@AirlineSafety.Com

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

We now have a Fear of Flying Forum where fearful flyers can discuss with one another, their fears and experiences of flying.  Just click on the link in this paragraph. 

[Note:  If you desire to post in that forum, it works best to use the Internet Explorer browser, as that will provide you with all the "goodies," like bold, italics, color, etc.  For other purposes, we recommend the Mozilla browser.  It is a free download at ]

 Clinics/Seminars/Tapes/CDs: and,  CD or tapes on how to deal with the Fear of Flying - More information can be found about this site, at the bottom of the Faq on Flying Fear. - Fear of flying online course. Free of charge help in overcoming flying fear, flying phobias, flight anxiety, panic attacks, fear of heights.

DISCLAMER:  We are not endorsing any of these sites.  We simply provide the information for our Fearful Flyer readers, to pursue on their own.  The Editor would appreciate any feedback, positive or negative, from anyone that has any experience with these groups.

August, 2000 (last revised July, 2003)

Robert J. Boser

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