Whenever there’s a major plane crash, people get anxious about flying. They postpone their vacations or try to drive to faraway destinations, overwhelming Yahoo and Google with search terms such as “driving distance from West Virginia to Hawaii.”
But here’s what everyone needs to know: aviation accidents are extremely rare, even if we include all those accidents we never hear about, such as when the drunk guy pulls a muscle getting off the sink in the washroom.
In fact, flying is MUCH safer than driving. In 2007, for example, air crashes in America killed only 44 people, while car accidents killed about 44,000. It should be obvious to you that if you are traveling by plane, you are one thousand times more likely to arrive at your destination, generally speaking, than your luggage is.
So why are we more likely to panic on a plane than in a car? Here are a few reasons:
1. Someone else is in control — and we usually haven’t met him or her. For all we know, Coco the Chimp might be sitting in the cockpit. Serves us right for flying Air Coco.
2. We’re afraid of heights. It doesn’t help that the pilot insists on telling us how high we are: “We are now cruising at an altitude of 35,000 feet. If you look down to the left, you will see the Rocky Mountains. And on the right, you will see Yao Ming.”
3. We are always being reminded what to do in an emergency. “In case of a water landing, your seat cushion can be used as a floatation device, the plastic cups can be used as goggles and the in-flight magazine can be used to beat off sharks.”
Imagine how my kids would feel if I made an announcement before every car trip: “Kids, in case I accidentally steer our car into a lake, please calmly remove your seat belts, move quickly to the front of the car and stop your mother from hitting me on the head.”
4. We don’t trust the other passengers. Some of them look like they could cause trouble. Like that 400-pound football player in the first row. What if he eats all the food on the plane? We’d all starve to death! And what about that busty beauty queen in the sixth row? What if the cabin pressure causes one of her breasts to explode? Then there are the two Arab men in the back who keep speaking excitedly in a language we don’t understand. What if they’re planning something evil, such as buying up all the good stuff on the liquor cart?
5. Planes are TOO BIG. They keep getting larger and larger, just like the passengers. The next generation of planes will offer more seats in Economy Class and a swimming pool in First Class. (Just so they can practice using their seat cushions as floatation devices.) Many of us spend the entire flight trying to figure out how such a huge body manages to stay in the air. But enough about the football player.
6. Airport security. It’s supposed to make us feel safe, but instead it makes us feel nervous, especially when we notice that the only person getting frisked is us. No one even touches the beauty queen. And here we thought there was a rule against taking too much plastic on board.
7. Newspapers don’t have headlines that say: “Auto Crashes Killed 44,000 last year!” They don’t even do it on a daily basis: “Auto Crashes Killed 120 Yesterday!” But if even five people die in a plane crash, it’s “BREAKING NEWS” on CNN. Larry King might even have a special show called “How safe is flying? Is it safer than dating Chris Brown?”