As technology has advanced over the last few decades, travel worldwide has become more affordable, accessible, and routine. In 2014, the recorded number of flights was 1.1 billion, compared to a mere 25 million in 1950.
Despite this drastic increase and decades of collected data, traveling by aircraft can still provoke a sense of anxiety or nervousness compared to traveling in a car. A common misconception is that car travel is safer than air travel, and this article will provide some insight into the reality of these reasons.
1. There are more fatalities in plane crashes
Approximately 493,228,118 flights are in operation as of 2022 within the United States, and 158 fatalities worldwide have been recorded for this year. In comparison to 9,560 fatalities in cars recorded in just the first quarter of 2022, within the United States.
You are far more likely to encounter unexpected situations or other reckless drivers that could put your life at risk than encounter an unexpected and avoidable dangerous situation while on a flight.
2. If a plane crashes, everyone dies
A common misconception is that should a plane crash, everybody on board is likely to meet a fatal demise. According to the European Transport Safety Council, you would have a 90% survivability rate even in a crash.
This would be attributed to the many advances in modern technology, the rigorous safety standards and guidelines governing aircraft carriers, and the passengers’ willingness to adhere to safety instructions.
3. Planes flying themselves can malfunction
While you perceive to be more in control when driving, there is a multitude of things that could affect your safety. Many people struggle with the lack of control they feel while on a flight, and not being the “person behind the wheel.”
Autopilot is essentially the program that keeps the plane stable as it cruises from point A to point B. A trained professional pilot has to operate the aircraft during take-off, landing, and any point that requires steering, all of which the autopilot operation cannot undertake.
4. You are more likely to get sick on an aircraft
Since COVID-19, people were extremely cautious and anxious about the possibility of contracting an illness. Airports and travel restrictions further added to this anxiety through the strict policies people were required to follow to be able to travel.
A common misconception is that a plane can be ‘a breeding ground’ of illnesses, perhaps due to being stuck in a crowded space for several hours. A study conducted by MIT scholars found that individuals have a 1 in 1000 chance of contracting COVID-19 while onboard a flight.
This low risk of transmission is explained by the air filtering systems within the aircraft, clearing out impurities and provide passengers with clean and sanitary air. Further, aircraft carriers often do a great job of cleaning and sanitizing the cabin after each journey, making contamination unlikely.
5. Mechanical malfunctions are deadlier on a plane
Most of us have been in a situation where we encountered a mechanical malfunction of a car, and while it was inconvenient, most times, they are non-fatal and easy to be taken care of. Mechanical malfunctions on a flight could contrastingly provoke significant anxiety due to the complicated nature of resolving the issue mid-air.
Mechanical failure makes up only 21% of any aircraft-related accidents. Human error is the main cause of the majority of mishaps on flights. To combat this, each commercial aircraft carrier is governed by stringent rules and guidelines for the maintenance and operation of flights.
Another important aspect to keep in mind is that the mechanics behind an aircraft have been rigorously tested out and engineered with contingency plans in place should there be mechanical failures.
1. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. (n.d.). Data elements. OST_R | BTS | Transtats. Retrieved December 15, 2022, from https://www.transtats.bts.gov/data_elements.aspx
2. Dizikes, P. (n.d.). Friendly skies? Study charts COVID-19 odds for plane flights. MIT News | Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved December 15, 2022, from https://news.mit.edu/2022/covid-19-odds-plane-0728
3. International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers. (n.d.). What’s changed in air travel since 1960? IAMAT. Retrieved December 15, 2022, from https://www.iamat.org/blog/whats-changed-in-air-travel-since-1960/
4. Nasr, R. (2015, March 26). Autopilot: What the system can and can't do. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2015/03/26/autopilot-what-the-system-can-and-cant-do.html
5. NHTSA. (2022, August 17). NHTSA early estimates show record increase in fatalities nationwide. Retrieved December 15, 2022, from https://www.nhtsa.gov/press-releases/early-estimates-first-quarter-2022