In January 2014 I planned a weekend trip to Yogyakarta — a quaint city ranked on the NYT places to visit in 2014. In an attempt to save money I flew via Sriwijaya Airlines, a budget carrier. It’s a small Indonesian airlines and I never heard of it prior. The way there was fine, but I’ll never forget my return trip. Fortunately it was a short flight at less than an hour. But the bumpy landing (where one side of the plane hit the ground before the other) led me to promise myself I would stop taking these unknown, low cost carriers. It was just too risky. Well, it felt that way.
As a result of my promise, I found myself “splurging” on Malaysian Airlines flights — ranked number 14 in the world according to Skytrax. My experience with Malaysian Airlines had always been pleasant. I vividly recall my flight from Bali to KL (just a few hours) when we were fed a full-blown meal and countless beverages. On the other hand, I once had a flight to Las Vegas from Boston where we weren’t even fed. Moreover, the staff was always attentive. Even at the check-in counter I only witnessed utmost professionalism from the Malaysian Airline employees. All of these reasons, and then some, left me completely shocked to hear about the missing Malaysian Airlines flight on Saturday heading to Beijing.
After the Malaysian Airlines flight carrying 239 people vanished early Saturday AM (local time), it’s easy to find yourself in a panic. Especially when you had been flying the day before to Malaysia.
On Friday (March 7) I headed from Phnom Penh (PP) to Penang (a Malaysian Island). I spent most of the day in transfer; I had a several hour layover in Singapore. But this wasn’t supposed to be the case. Original plans had me flying on Malaysian Airlines from PP to Kuala Lumpur (KL) to Penang. It was a much quicker route. But, last minute, I had to to change itineraries and fly via Tiger Air instead.
Perhaps even more stirring is the fact I have three upcoming flights booked on Malaysian Airlines. The first is a roundtrip ticket from KL to Yangon leaving this Thursday. The second is a one-way ticket from KL to Seoul departing March 20. It’s an overnight flight scheduled to land at 6:50 AM. Similar to the overnight Beijing flight which was intended to land at 6:30 AM.
Stating all the above could send me into a storm of panic. (I’m not going to lie; it did at first.) But I’m not going to let this, or any other in-flight anomaly, prevent me from flying.
Look at the data
Planes are safer than ever.
Plane crashes and subsequent fatalities are less common than ever before. The biggest factor contributing to lower crash-fatalities include advanced technology, better exits, stronger seats and better training/preparedness.
Today, thanks to these advances there are about two deaths worldwide for every 100 million passengers on commercial flights, according to an Associated Press analysis of government accident data.
Just a decade ago air travelers (on US planes) were 10 times more likely to die while flying.
Even in the most serious crashes, the rate of survival is high.
Flying is less fatal than driving. By a lot.
The odds of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 11 million. Comparatively the odds of dying in a car accident are around 1 in 5,o00. Basically, there is a higher chance of dying while driving to the airport than flying to your next destination.
More likely to die in a shark attack.
With that being said, dying from a shark attack is very rare— about one in 3.7 million. But even rarer are fatalities from a plane crash.
Many more likely ways to suddenly die than a plane crash.
While this data was collected in 2002 and therefore is a bit outdated (especially statistics on perishing in the air), it still paints a clear picture of all the ways you could more likely die than in an aviation accident.
All the following are more “deadly” than flying: riding a horse or horse-drawn vehicle, drowning, falling off a bed, crossing the street, riding a bike, being unintentionally hit by an object, intentionally or unintentionally shot with a firearm, giving birth and many more.
This really brings the risks associated with flying into perspective, right?
More than just rational facts
Nevertheless, despite all these calming facts, many still fear taking flight— about one in five have some degree of “aviophobia.” Or Pteromerhanophobia. Even though there are lots of ways to overcome fears of flying, it continues to be a very common phobia.
Fortunately, for me, I have never been anxious when flying. Quite the opposite, actually—I enjoy flying. It means I am going somewhere new. It also means I can veg out and binge-watch TV series on my laptop with no guilt.
In the end, no amount of statistics will be able to alleviate the most serious cases of aviophobia. What it ultimately comes down to, at least for me, is the opportunity air transportation provides as a way to pursue dreams. Even more, live a fuller life.
We are so fortunate to live in an era where we can fly anywhere in the world in just a day or two. Obviously there are lots of reasons not to fly (financial, pregnancy, other health conditions and so forth). However, letting the fear of flying to be a reason not to see all this world has to offer is not logical.
It is like preventing oneself from living life to the fullest. Missing out on business trips and honeymoons and dream vacations— all due to a fear of flying— is not worth it.
After I heard about the Malaysian Airlines crash I panicked. And I quickly sent my father an email reflecting that: “I’m so scared”, “I’m freaking out”, “Should I cancel my plans? As my father eloquently included at the end of his response:
As fathers tend to be, he’s right. We have it thousands of times easier than all of our ancestors. And being scared to fly is like a petty-problem; I think of it as a very fortunate problem to have.
We take risks everyday: we walk outside, we cross the street, we eat food at restaurants, we drive in our cars, we fly in airplanes. Nothing is fool-proof. We have to take risks and face dangers to truly live. Otherwise, we’re not living. We’re just being. And with all other things considered, flying is actually a safe “risk” to take.