Unpacking the Fear of Air Travel
Why you are safer than you may think at 36,000 feet.
By Cameron Heffernan
Photo by Pexels
Planes are one of the safest forms of transportation to exist. Statistically, the odds of dying in a plane crash are about one in 11 million, compared to one in 5,000 who die in a car crash, according to The New York Times. So, why is the fear of being that one in 11 million so common? It may be because humanity is still getting used to the idea of being six miles above the ground. This fear is nearly impossible to overcome without the proper knowledge of how planes function. While we may be 36,000 feet above sea level, the physics behind air travel has been studied and improved upon since the Wright brothers’ very first flight in 1903, and we as travelers really have no need to fear.
Let’s start with the basics: planes work on the principle of lift. The shape of the wings on an aircraft is designed to create lift, known as an airfoil. This causes the air to move faster over the top of the wing than the bottom, creating a difference in air pressure, which results in the lifting of the airplane higher and higher off the ground. Meanwhile, the engines move the airplane forward, helping with acceleration.
Most flyers dread a seatbelt sign pinging and a pilot announcing turbulent skies; however, turbulence is incredibly common during air travel. In the simplest terms, turbulence is the changes in the atmosphere only a few inches off the surface of the aircraft. The plane reacts to the atmosphere it is in, all while maintaining its speed, altitude, and wing function. The only thing that could bring the plane down is if the laws of physics were to change and the airfoil is no longer functional.
Another common fear amongst air travelers is engine failure. However, if an engine fails, the wings of the plane do most of the work, guiding the aircraft as it safely coasts down to the ground. It is important to note, though, the odds of a jet engine failure are one in every 375,000 flight hours, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
While flying may not be the most comfortable experience, one must remember that pilots are highly trained for all circumstances, and that you have better odds of being crushed by a meteor than dying in a plane crash.