Commercial flying is it safe?

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.

Safety is a concern of everyone who flies or contemplates it. No other form of transportation is as scrutinized, investigated and monitored as commercial aviation. 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.

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 1990, in the US, 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 thirtynine lives. During that same year the US National Transportation Safety Board’s report shows that over fortysix 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.

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

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!


  • Cardiovascular disease: 1 in 2
  • Smoking (by/before age 35): 1 in 600
  • Car trip, coast-to-coast: 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