Flying is safer than you think

Stephen J Dubner 

A recent post on, a US website with articles on making the most of your money, recently asked for comments on a plan to install rear-facing seats on airplanes.

The options for commenting were basically: a) I don’t like it. b) I like it fine. c) Whatever. … No comment. … Who cares? … People should just be happy airlines provide the miracle of flight, so let them do whatever they want.

For the most part, I agree that airlines should just do what they want. I am constantly amazed at how unamazed passengers are at the efficacy, safety and low cost of airline travel — and especially at the engineering marvel that it represents. Although I have a brother who is a pilot, and have had the science of flight explained to me many times, the whole prospect still strikes me as something almost miraculous.

Recently, as I was getting ready for my flight from Washington, DC, to take off, I watched as the plane ahead of us swooped skyward. The Washington Monument gleamed in the background and I was awestruck by the sight. 

What awes me most about commercial air travel is the safety.

I was reminded of this recently as I read a Reuters article summarising a new safety report from an industry group called the International Air Transport Association. It noted that Russia and the other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States are still, as in previous years, the most dangerous places in the world to fly, with an accident rate 13 times the global average.

Statistics such as these are why my wife, who spent years in Russia as a photographer, always referred to the national airline as ‘‘Aeroflop’’. But the real news is that, even including Russia, there were only 77 major global accidents in 2006, down from 111 in 2005.

‘‘That’s one accident per 1.5 million flights on Western-built aircraft,’’ as noted by USA Today, one of America’s national newspapers.

One accident per 1.5 million flights! That’s the equivalent of you and 100 of your friends taking one flight every day of the year for 40 years straight. For something as complicated as flying, this is a monumentally low fail rate.

Furthermore, as USA Today summarised, the key factors in the accidents were ‘‘bad weather, miscommunication and lapses in crew training’’.But not, notably, equipment failure or aeronautical miscalculation.

Like most people who fly often, I find it all too easy to track the minor and major infractions committed by airline companies. In just the past week, I witnessed at least a half-dozen idiocies. But I’m going to put them aside. I’d rather simply appreciate something that so often goes so right.

  1. May 13, 2007 at 9:51 am

    hey this one makes me comfortable for my first flight. its a relief.

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