You remember the scene: Lois is hanging from the open door of a helicopter that is itself dangling over the side of the Daily Planet. Superman, protector of Truth, Justice, and the American Way come to her rescue. As he sets her (and the helicopter) down safely back on the landing pad, he gives a wink and tries to comfort her by saying, “Well, I certainly hope this little incident hasn’t put you off flying, miss. Statistically speaking, of course, it’s still the safest way to travel.”
It’s hard to believe that the Big Blue Boyscout would ever tell us anything that wasn’t true, but in today’s day and age, when we have so much to worry about on airplanes, from pandemics to terrorism, can the same be said today? Let’s take a look at the state of aviation, and specifically the safety of air travel today. Statistically speaking, of course.
Covid Flight 19
The big question on everyone’s mind right now is “how safe is it to travel during the coronavirus pandemic?” It’s a fair question — airplanes are essentially big, pressurized buses with wings, and there’s no way to pop open the window for some cross-ventilation. Is there a good chance that someone will contract the virus while traveling in an airplane? Even if they’re wearing a mask? The CDC has been perfectly clear on this point:
- Avoid flying unless absolutely necessary during this time of COVID-19. If you must fly, follow proper PPE guidelines by wearing a mask and using copious amounts of hand sanitizer. Bring extras of those things if you are able.
- Make sure to get a flu shot ahead of time so that you aren’t sick on the flight.
- Consider getting a coronavirus test to make sure that you are not traveling while infected. If you or another person is showing symptoms of the virus, delay your trip.
- Prepare all necessities to remain clean and out of direct reach of others. Make sure you have enough medicine, food and drinks, and anything else that would otherwise draw you to go to the store or a restaurant.
By following these guidelines you are in the best position to avoid getting the virus or spreading it to others around you. This follows in conjunction with airline mandates to have a mask on at all times as well as declaring your health upon check-in.
How Has It Worked?
The question of course is, how has it worked? Well, according to The Washington Post, nearly 11,000 had contracted the virus while on an airplane between the start of the lockdown and mid-September, 2020. Considering these statistics are already months old, the number has unmistakably risen. At the time of writing, there have been over 25 million cases in the United States alone thus far, with no signs of slowing down. If everyone is following the airlines’ mandates for safe travel, it seems like the likelihood of catching the virus is relatively low, but in the interest of COVID containment, it might be best to treat air travel as “unsafe” for the time being. There are always other ways of getting around the country that won’t put you in the direct path of so many potential virus carriers — you could always drive.
Flying Post 9/11
The coronavirus might cause the type of far-reaching flying mandates that we likely won’t see returned to normal for a long time, if ever. Besides the global pandemic, the event that has had as much of an impact on the way we plan for and measure the safety of air travel must undoubtedly be 9/11.
According to a paper published by the University of Chicago Press, the airline industry lost over $10 billion as a direct result of 9/11. Those of us who fly regularly are all familiar with the TSA’s security measures in order to prevent another 9/11.
- All passengers aged at least 18 years old must have a government-issued ID
- Full-body scanning to detect weapons or explosives
- Removal of shoes, belts, and anything metal during security checks
- Restrictions to fluid ounces that can be brought on board in a person’s bag
How Has It Worked?
Happily, we haven’t had any major terrorist incidents in the United States since 9/11. As airlines began to impose baggage screening as a security pre-check before flights, passenger volume went down by 6% across all flights, which has no doubt contributed to the safer state of flying today.
General Safety of Flying
Granted, the safety of every flight will not be compromised by terrorism or a global pandemic. Some people may just be nervous in general about how safe the actual act of traveling by air might be. The National Traffic Safety Board has reported that on average 1 in 1.6 million passengers on an airplane will die each year. That’s 1 passenger in 4 million flights; your odds are better to win the lottery than die in a plane crash. Driving, on the other hand, tells a different story: 1 in 6800 drivers will perish in a car crash each year.
If upon learning this, you are tempted to swear off driving, you may be in luck! There is more need now for professional pilots than ever before. If learning to fly sounds fun, but impossible, don’t count yourself out. Getting a pilot’s license doesn’t have to be an ordeal. Right now there are academies that make registering and taking lessons easier than ever. If you are interested in flights remaining safe for everyone, you could be the answer. Statistically speaking, you could pick a more dangerous job.