A week before the recent crash of AirAsia’s flight between Indonesia and Singapore I booked four tickets with this airline for my Southeast Asia trip in February. And when I mention this to people they inevitably look at me like I’m a gonner for sure, and ask if I’m going to change my plans.
It’s always tragic when we learn about a group of people losing their lives, in any circumstance. But it seems like an airplane crash captures people’s imagination in a way that wars and other far more dangerous and deadly events often don’t. At least here in America this is true. I think this is because anyone who ever flies in an airplane can imagine that they could happen to be on one of the few flights that ends tragically. This sort of accident doesn’t discriminate, or rather it does in that it targets the relatively wealthy who can afford to fly in airplanes. And once you are up in the air there’s nothing you can do to avoid an accident.
In reality air travel is among the most safe methods of transportation available. When we learn of a car crash we don’t talk about giving up driving. But even the relatively objective NPR news stories are asking the questions “Should we stop using AirAsia?” and “Does Malaysia need to do more to regulate their airline safety?” After three major airplane crashes this year on airlines based in Malaysia (two previous accidents with Malaysian Airlines flights and the most recent one with AirAsia), this is not a surprise. But this is the first Air Asia accident ever.
I’ve written about how irrational people can be about the safety of international travel. Flying suffers from similar irrational fears. Even those who are not actually afraid when on an airplane will ponder changing their plans and avoiding an airline or a flight when accidents are in the news. Putting fear aside for a minute, just consider that you have a 1 in 4.7 million chance of being killed on any single flight on a major airline according to PlaneCrashInfo.com, which tracks flight accidents since 1993. That’s a really low risk!
I found a great tongue in cheek article from The Guardian which warns that your fear of dying in an airplane crash is more dangerous than the act of flying. Opting to drive instead of fly greatly increases your risk. Actually you are probably in the safest part of your trip while up in the air, whereas that taxi ride from the airport that you’ll take without thought is much more dangerous. The Guardian points out that fewer than one flight in 300,000 had an accident in 2013, and of these accidents, only one in 3,000,000 was fatal. 2014 is going to end with some slightly worse statistics, but that won’t change the reality that flying is safe. If you want to obsess about something ending your life, worry about that unhealthy food they serve/sell you on board the airplane.