Good news everyone! You’re not going to die in a plane crash! Even if you live to be a hundred and fifty and fly more than the average person drives, you will never, ever, even be involved in an airline disaster. Sure airplane tragedies will always occur every now and then in some part of the world, and the media will make sure you know every last detail about each and every one, but your personal chances of being a part of one are so minuscule that they are effectively zero. Every plane you will ever board will land safely (just like you will never hit the lottery, unfortunately.)
Now, I realize I’m not the first statistically-minded, skeptic to counter popular flight-anxiety with the impressive safety record of air travel, but the recent media bombardment concerning the tragic disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, seems to me, so unprecedentedly massive that the point is worth reiterating. Sure, everyone has heard that your chances of dying in the car on the way to the airport are about several hundredfold, or that 95% of those unlucky enough to be in a plane crash, survive it, or (if you’re a Texan) you have a better chance of death by court-mandated electric chair. Even Christopher Reeve had a line in the first Superman movie, explaining to a recently rescued Lois Lane, “statistically speaking (flight) is still the safest way to travel.” But are people able to effectively consider these facts when News coverage feeds them wave after wave of morbid detail concerning those rare instances when planes do crash? No. The media attention, driven by the “if it bleeds, it leads” philosophy, inspires people to drive instead of fly, where a much higher fatality rate is inevitable.
Now, I mean no disrespect for the unfortunate few in the world whose lives have been affected by airline disasters. Just like any preventable death, a life that ends by anything other than old age is tragic. I also don’t intend a shameful wave of the finger at the public’s fascination with such freak occurrences. Sure, it’s a little unfair to ignore the thousands of other preventable, yet less interesting, deaths every day, but it’s not like we can focus on every single sad event, and as humans, we love hearing dramatic stories about other humans. Hell, I can’t even blame media outlets for providing the public with what they want: violence, tragedy, and lots of it.
What I do take issue with is the media’s refusal to take responsibility for the consequences of fear-mongering, tabloid journalism. Here’s a sound byte you’ll never hear from Wolf Blitzer: “we now present a chart representing the number of deaths’ our news programs cause by scaring people into driving instead of flying and now here’s a chart showing the profits we make from advertisers during such tragic events.” Sure, the job of news outlets is to get ratings by giving viewers what the tabloid-drama they demand but don’t they feel any social responsibility in reminding people of the facts? Especially when the facts could save lives?
Air travel is a wonderful thing people. For most of human history people have fantasized about it, and now we get to do it at relatively low costs in money, and even lower costs in safety. Trips that used to take people months now take hours and you can even grab a cinna-bun after: something Lewis and Clark couldn’t have conceived of. Not only has it made travel much easier, but it has connected the world market place of ideas like never before and allowed aid to travel quickly to those in need. So just to add one more tiny bit of optimistic defense against the ever-ongoing invasion of doom and gloom media reporting, I repeat: you will never, ever die in a plane crash.