7 Reasons Flying is Still the Safest Way to Travel


The crash of the Boeing 777 Asiana Airlines flight at the San Francisco airport has certainly reawakened a prevalent fear of flying among many Americans. Tragic plane crashes are often highlighted by the media because they are so devastating, yet extremely rare. Incidents like the Asiana crash shroud the reality that airline travel remains the safest method of transportation, far less dangerous than operating a motor vehicle. Here are seven reasons why you should not be afraid to take flight. 

1. Crash Rate

According to USA Today, the number of fatalities due to car accidents is drastically lower than those from plane accidents each year. In 2008, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found there were 1.27 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. To provide a contrast, that same year, the equivalent aviation data, compiled by the National Transportation Safety Board could report only 20 accidents for U.S. air carriers operating scheduled service. While plane crashes are often highlighted by the media, the occurrence is extremely rare. In fact, these statistics suggest that "you are more likely to die driving to the airport than flying across the country."

2. Flying Is Only Getting Safer

Ever since the Wright brothers invented the airplane in 1903, flying has only become safer. According to a Huffington Post article, "the past 10 years have been the best in the country's aviation history with 153 fatalities." To put this statistic into perspective, the Associated Press determined it is equivalent to two deaths per each 100 million passengers flying commercially. Compare that tiny fraction with the 30,000 plus deaths from motor vehicles that take place per year. 

3. Air Traffic Control

While no one is helping you watch the road from behind your steering wheel, pilots have many eyes assisting them from take-off through landing with Air Traffic Control. They rotate around the clock 24 hours a day using radar procedures to track the planes in the sky, give instructions, clearance and information about flight conditions. Your pilots are never the only people in charge of your safety in the air. 

4. Rigorous Training

If you have a license, think back to your driver's test. To pass the New York State driving test, administered by the Department of Motor Vehicles, the applicant must simply demonstrate a mastery of steering, breaking, signaling, a three point turn and a parallel parking job behind a single parked vehicle. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, pilots, on the other hand, go through rigorous training and certification processes. Many pilots are retired members of the U.S Air Force. Plus, one must go to flight school and receive a license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Most airline companies also require pilots to attend at least 2 years of college. Unlike on the road, there is an intense screening process to determine those licensed to fly.  

5. Technology

Without belittling your car's latest technology, airline technology makes motor vehicles look like vessels from the stone age in comparison. Sure, your GPS might be able to detect traffic and highlight an alternate route, and maybe you like driving in cruise control, but technology on airplanes controls almost the entire flight. According to Executive Travel magazine, planes contain turbulence detection programming that can "predict the intensity, altitude and movement of turbulence." In addition, runway safety technology communicates between planes to "warn pilots to stop if another plane or vehicle might be coming." These technological improvements control all aspects of flying, from the run way to the cockpit. The responsibility of a pilot to steer a plane is almost obsolete. "Fly-by-wire" planes, which include the most recent and common vessels in the sky, feature electronic controls that have replaced outdated mechanical controls. 

6. No Reckless Flying

Many drivers are reckless because operating a motor vehicle feels so mundane. Errors such as multi-tasking, failing to wear a seat belt, talking on the phone while driving, or simply forgetting to use a blinker signal result in deadly accidents. On the other hand, the airline industry has been made extremely cautious not to commit any errors, no matter how large or small. According to the New York Times, the entire cast of pilots, regulators, and airline crew possess "extensive information about flying hazards, with the goal of preventing accidents rather than just reacting to them." The pilot will not take flight unless he has been cleared and is positive the plane is safe to fly.  

7. The Availability Heuristic

Psychologists can explain why people believe airline travel is more dangerous than other methods of travel: the effect of the availability heuristic. Put simply, the availability heuristic is when people "make a judgment based on what we can remember, rather than complete data." Vivid, memorable images, such as plane crashes that are magnified by the news and TV and film industry stick in the public memory. When we think of traveling, these images immediately come to mind, causing us to incorrectly evaluate the danger of airline travel. Car accidents are far less likely to dominate the mind because they are less vivid and less publicized.