A young woman looks out at planes from an airport window. The chances of a plane crash are extremely...

If You're Afraid Of Flying, The Odds Of A Plane Crash Will Reassure You

by John Haltiwanger and Lilli Petersen
Originally Published: 

Are you flying somewhere today? Feeling somewhat nervous about it? Well, there’s no reason to be worried; probability is on your side. Sit back, relax, and check out the in-flight drink list, because the odds of a plane crash are very much in your favor.

The likelihood of dying in a plane crash (or even being in one, fatal or otherwise) is basically non-existent. According to 2015 statistics from The Economist, the probability of your plane going down is around one in 5.4 million. Other reports have even better odds — David Ropeik, an Instructor in Risk Communication at the Harvard School of Public Health, found in 2006 that the annual risk of dying in a plane crash was one in 11 million. And the probability-calculating app Am I Going Down? gives you odds as good as 20 million to one that you’ll make it safely from point A to point B, per Newsweek. Really, it looks like the one in 5 million odds of a plane crash are the high end of the probability scale, which is pretty reassuring.

To put these stats into perspective, you’re far more likely to be struck by lightning (one in 1.2 million, per the National Weather Service) or attacked and killed by a shark (one in 3.7 million, according to the Florida Museum's International Shark Attack File) than you are to die in a plane crash. Even traveling by car is 100 times more deadly than hopping on a plane.

David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images

“When you talk about the safety standards in aviation, it's unparalleled because we make sure that we cover [everything],” says Daniel Adjekum, Ph.D, an assistant professor of aviation at University of North Dakota. He notes that there are a lot of redundancies and safety checks involved in air travel, from maintenance cross-checks to autopilots to thoroughly-trained human professionals. “Almost every system in the aircraft is backed up by some redundant feature. So if one fails, the other takes over.”

“In terms of the likelihood of dying, if you are not scared driving your car, then I don’t think that people should be scared of flying,” Adjekum says.

The stats confirm air travel is super safe. A January 2021 study by Aviation consulting firm To70, as reported by Reuters, found that in 2020, large commercial aircraft had an average of only one fatal crash every 3.7 million flights.

Of course, that rarity is probably why everyone is so captivated by a crash when it does happen. In 2018 and 2019, two major plane crashes made the news: A Lion Air flight went down in October 2018 and an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed in March 2019. The crashes raised questions about the safety of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft used in both flights, and many airlines responded by grounding the aircraft. In a March 2019 statement to Elite Daily, Lion Air confirmed it was pulling the planes until further notice. Representatives of Ethiopian Airlines and Boeing did not respond to Elite Daily’s request for comment at the time. As of early 2021, many airlines announced they would resume use of the Boeing 737 after the aircraft manufacturer made changes to safety functions. However, in early April 2021, Boeing advised 16 airlines not to fly the updated planes until they could be checked for a possible new electrical problem.

Hopefully, the odds of a plane crash will calm your fears. But if you’re still nervous at check-in despite these numbers, well, you’re not alone. Aviophobia, or the fear of flying, affects an estimated 6.5% of the population, per ABC News. A 2018 survey from Chapman University also found that 12.7% of Americans were “afraid or very afraid” of flying — more than the 7.1% afraid of clowns, but less than the 17.1% afraid of “technology I don’t understand.”

But of course, fear can’t stand in the way of flying to a great vacation. Ahead of your next flight, take a deep breath — or a shot of liquid courage — and rest assured that (in the skies, at least) the odds are in your favor.

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