Flying is safe. Isn’t it strange that you can know that consciously and yet emotionally be terrified? The knowledge is conscious but the fear of flying is unconscious. That’s why hypnosis is so effective in dealing with fears and phobias – it gives you access into the unconscious.
But even though it’s not enough on its own, many people with flying anxiety have told me how re-assuring they have found the information given here. It tells you factually just how safe it is to fly. Once you’ve read it, give me a ring and step past the unconscious flying phobia as well.
First, here are two amazing facts.
- You are more likely to die from being stung by a bee than you are from flying.
- If you flew every day of your life, on average it would take you nineteen thousand years before you would succumb to a fatal accident. Nineteen thousand years!
Flying is SAFE. At the time of compiling this data, figures were available for UK airlines for the period from 1990 to 1999. In those ten years of operations by UK airlines , there were NO fatalities. Zero. Not one. According to the Civil Aviation Authority, 706 million passengers flew 7.15 million flights worldwide during that ten year period without a single fatality.
Yet people imagine otherwise – and they are wrong. There is no single reason for this. Clearly, however, one factor is the nature of press coverage: the incredibly rare accidents which do occur get dramatic coverage.
The same has happened recently with the railways. The press has started to give the impression that rail travel is dangerous. This too is wrong. In fact, despite the Hatfield crash and other major incidents, railway deaths have fallen every year for the past 20 years and continue to do so. There are strident demands for high-tech safety systems on the rail network, but the billions of pounds this would cost would provide speed monitoring on almost every road black spot in the country and save an enormously greater number of lives each year. Again, drugs such as heroin get a (deservedly) bad press. But no matter how bad they are, far, far more crime, death, injury and economic loss to the country is caused by alcohol than by hard drugs. You can’t believe the media!
Aircraft safety – background facts for the anxious flyer
- The cost and duration of training pilots with a major carrier is comparable to training a medical doctor.
- Back-up systems have been provided for virtually every system on the airplane so that if one system fails, another will takes its place. For instance, a 747 has eighteen tires: four on each of the main landing struts and two on the nose wheel. Computers on the planes built this decade have two or three autopilots and generally three computers, each one on its own able to handle all necessary functions.
- Commercial aircraft average twelve hours of maintenance on the ground for every one hour spent in the air. Commonly scheduled maintenance checks while the plane is grounded include twelve person-hours daily; another seventeen person-hours every four or five days; one-hundred twenty-five person-hours every thirty days; a two-thousand person-hour inspection (involving one hundred and ten people) once every twelve to eighteen months; and a major overhaul every four years, taking four to five weeks and requiring twenty-two thousand person hours of labour.
- Air traffic controllers go through rigorous training and internship that lasts three to four years. For every eight-hour shift, a controller is restricted to a maximum of five or six hours actively directing traffic, with several breaks throughout that time.
- Each plane flies right down the middle of a private highway in the sky that is ten miles wide. No other plane is allowed in that space.
- Standard industry policy is to avoid all thunderstorms by at least twenty nautical miles.
- We measure turbulence, or “chop”, in terms of gravitational “g forces”, just like spacecraft take-off. Those stomach-in-the-mouth moments of turbulence when you wonder if the wings will drop off are 0.4 g. Such force is considered “severe” and is rarely experienced during commercial flight. But federal regulations require planes to be able to fly without problems through at least two g’s, and today’s manufacturers build planes that are tested to withstand six to seven g’s of force. Mother Nature won’t be creating any turbulence to match that.
Aircraft bumps and rumbles
On a flight, you may notice a number of “unusual” sounds and sensations that are actually normal and appropriate operations. For example:
- Cargo pallets are loaded while you are boarding the plane. You may feel the plane suddenly move in response to the pallets being positioned in the cargo bay.
- You may see “clouds” emerge from the air conditioning ducts on the lower wall next to your seat or in the ceiling ducts. It is not smoke, it just looks like it. Condensation occurs when the cold air from the A/C system circulates into the hot, humid cabin. The cold air mixing with hot, moist air causes “clouds” of condensation.
- If you’re sitting in the middle of the airplane, you’ll probably encounter more sounds prior to takeoff and during the flight. All the flight controls and devices on the airplane are either electrically or hydraulically activated. Most of the hydraulic pump system’s actuators are located in the middle of the airplane in its belly, close to the landing gear. Therefore you may hear pumps that cycle on and off. They are designed to do that to maintain a certain pressure. As the pressure slacks off, they pump it up again. You may also hear other pumps being activated to energize the hydraulic system operating the leading edge devices and trailing edge flaps, the main landing gear and nose wheel, the spoilers, and the speed brakes.
- Occasionally you might feel a light bumping of the tires during takeoff or landing. Don’t worry; the plane doesn’t have a flat tire! Down the centre of the runway are reflectors that are slightly raised. If the pilot is exactly on the centre line of the runway, the front nose wheel tires will ride directly on top of the reflectors. (Many pilots choose to move just a few inches to one side to avoid these bumps.)
Commercial flight is very, very safe
Safety is a concern of everyone who flies or contemplates it. I can provide you with volumes of information about the attention to safety given by the airline industry. No other form of transportation is as scrutinized, investigated and monitored as commercial aviation.
Yet if you decide to hold onto the belief that flying is dangerous, then these reassuring safety facts are lost to you. Statistics and figures that prove airline transportation to be the safest way to travel relate to our logical, reasoning, rational mind. Worry about safety is an intrusion that seems to bypass those faculties of logic and go directly to our emotions. And you will always find another article about some “near miss” or “the crowded skies” that will reinforce your belief.
Even if you hold the belief, “Statistics about flying don’t help me,” give yourself another chance to re-examine your judgment as you read through this section. After all, your goal is to feel as comfortable as possible when you fly, and there are some very comforting numbers here.
Most passengers who have knowledge of the commercial airline industry believe that flying is safe. But when something occurs that we don’t understand, any of us can become quickly frightened. That’s why I encourage you to study as much as you need to reassure yourself about the industry and to take some of the mystery out of commercial flight.
However, some small thing may occur on one of your flights that you haven’t studied. If you become startled or frightened at that time, the statistics that I am about to present may come in handy. An airline accident is so rare, when some unfamiliar noise or bump occurs, your response need not be, “Oh, no! What’s wrong?!” Instead, it can be something like, “I’m not sure what that sound was, but there’s nothing to worry about.” Feel free to press your overhead call button to page a flight attendant whenever you want to ask about unfamiliar sights or sounds. But you needn’t jump to fearful conclusions.
Now, you may notice something a little morbid about this section: most of these statistics have to do with DEATH! This isn’t the most pleasant of subjects, I know. But many people who are worried about flying concentrate on the fear that something will go wrong during the flight, and that the outcome of that error would be their own death. So let’s put this possibility in perspective.
Dr. Arnold Barnett, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has done extensive research in the field of commercial flight safety. He found that over the fifteen years between 1975 and 1994, the death risk per flight was one in seven million. This statistic is the probability that someone who randomly selected one of the airline’s flights over the 19-year study period would be killed in route. That means that any time you board a flight on a major carrier in this country, your chance of being in a fatal accident is one in seven million. It doesn’t matter whether you fly once every three years or every day of the year.
In fact, based on this incredible safety record, if you did fly every day of your life, probability indicates that it would take you nineteen thousand years before you would succumb to a fatal accident. Nineteen thousand years!
Perhaps you have occasionally taken the train for your travels, believing that it would be safer. Think again. Based on train accidents over the past twenty years, your chances of dying on a transcontinental train journey (in the USA) are one in a million. Those are great odds, mind you. But flying coast-to-coast is ten times safer than making the trip by train.
How about driving, the typical form of transportation in the US? There are approximately one hundred and thirty people killed daily in auto accidents. That’s every day — yesterday, today and tomorrow. And that’s forty-seven thousand killed per year.
In 1990, five hundred million airline passengers were transported an average distance of eight hundred miles, through more than seven million takeoffs and landings, in all kinds of weather conditions, with a loss of only thirty-nine lives. During that same year the National Transportation Safety Board’s report shows that over forty-six thousand people were killed in auto accidents. A sold-out 727 jet would have to crash every day of the week, with no survivors, to equal the highway deaths per year in the USA.
Dr. Barnett of MIT compared the chance of dying from an airline accident versus a driving accident, after accounting for the greater number of people who drive each day. Can you guess what he found? You are nineteen times safer in a plane than in a car. Every single time you step on a plane, no matter how many times you fly, you are nineteen times less likely to die than in your car.
The US Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 permitted the airlines to be competitive both in the routes they flew and the fares they charged. When the price of air travel decreased, the number who flew increased. In 1977, two hundred and seventy million passengers flew on U.S. scheduled airlines. In 1987 four hundred and fifty million flew. For passengers, that resulted in the frustration of crowded terminals and delayed boardings and takeoffs. But did deregulation cause safety to be compromised? Definitely not!
Accident statistics provided by the National Transportation Safety Board show that — despite a fifty percent increase in passengers during the ten years after deregulation — there was a forty percent decrease in the number of fatal accidents and a twenty-five percent decrease in the number of fatalities, compared to the ten years before deregulation.
If you are going to worry about dying, there are many more probable ways to die than on a commercial jet. Take a look at the chart below, which shows the chance of fatalities on a commercial flight compared to other causes of death in the United States. Notice that you are more likely to die from a bee sting than from a commercial flight. The number one killer in the United States is cardiovascular disease, with about eight hundred and eighty-five thousand deaths per year. Each of us has about a fifty percent (50%) chance of dying of cardiovascular disease. Whenever we fly, we have a one one-hundred-thousandth of one percent (.000014%) chance of dying!
Even bee-stings are more dangerous than flying
Your odds of death by:
- Cardiovascular disease: 1 in 2
- Smoking (by / before age 35): 1 in 600
- Car trip, coast-to-coast across the USA: 1 in 14,000
- Bicycle accident: 1 in 88,000
- Tornado: 1 in 450,000
- Train, coast-to-coast: 1 in 1,000,000
- Lightning: 1 in 1.9 million
- Bee sting: 1 in 5.5 million
- U.S. commercial jet airline: 1 in 7 million
Sources: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California at Berkeley.
How about accidental deaths? In the chart below you can compare the average number of airline fatalities per year from 1981 to 1994 with the most recent figures for other forms of accidental death. Again, you can see that flying is relatively insignificant compared to other causes of death.
Number of Accidental Deaths Per Year By Cause in the USA
- 100 on commercial flights
- 850 by electrocution
- 1000 on a bicycle
- 1452 by accidental gunfire
- 3000 by complications to medical procedures
- 3600 by inhaling or ingesting objects
- 5000 by fire
- 5000 by drowning
- 5300 by accidental poisoning
- 8000 as pedestrians
- 11,000 at work
- 12,000 by falls
- 22,500 at home
- 46,000 in motor car accidents
SOURCES: US Bureau of Safety Statistics, US National Transportation Safety Board