Flying terrifies me; so to soothe my fears, I like to play this game mid-flight where I come up with 20 to 30 ways we could crash and burn, including but not limited to flying into a mountain and sucking a bird into the propellers and experiencing engine malfunction. This morning, though, I finally realized how ridiculous I'm being, because the moment when airplane accidents are most common isn't even when they're mid-flight — it's when the plane is taking off and landing, according to a new analysis by Boeing.
Boeing looked at commercial flights all around the world that happened between 2007 and 2016, finding 48 percent of all fatal accidents took place during the final descent and landing. While this portion of the flight is just four percent of the total journey, it accounts for nearly half of all fatal accidents. The second more dangerous part of a flight is takeoff and the ascent. These account for 13 percent of fatal accidents.
These four points of flight — takeoff, ascent, descent, and landing — are so notoriously shaky that we've got something called the "plus three minus eight" rule. As explained by Ben Sherwood, who wrote The Survivors Club — The Secrets and Science That Could Save Your Life, approximately 80 percent of all crashes occur within the first three minutes or last eight minutes before landing.
So basically, this whole time that I've been worried about the flight itself — and running out of gas mid-air or colliding with a UFO — was largely unwarranted. In fact, the analysis says just 11 percent of accidents happen while cruising, even though it's the majority of the flight (57 percent).
Understandably, many of us have at least some nervousness about flying. ABC News places this number around 25 percent of Americans — although the National Institute of Mental Health says it's closer to 6.5 percent (which is still over 20 million people). Ironically, traveling by plane is likely the safest mode of transportation, says HelloGiggles. They report, via Travel and Leisure, that you have only a 1 in 9,821 chance of dying in an air or space transport incident. Other statistics are even more reassuring. As a report in The Economist explained, the likelihood of your plane going down is one in 5.4 million. Other numbers say it's more like one in 11 million. If this doesn't already convince you that flying is safer than you think, chew on this: Boeing's analysis says the overall accident rate has been steadily decreasing since 1959. The beginning of their research puts it at around 50 accidents per million departures per year, down to about one accident as of 2016.
In other words, the odds of dying in a plane crash — or being involved in one in any capacity, for that matter — are slim to none. Odyssey says you're a lot likelier to be born with an extra finger or toe (one in 500), get killed by a meteorite (one in 700,000), or become a nudist (one in 6,000).
You know what's a lot more dangerous than traveling by plane? Driving on the highway, says Travel and Leisure, which is the worst, with a one in 114 chance of dying behind the wheel and one in 654 chance of dying as a passenger.
While the numbers pretty much confirm we really don't need to stress about flying, Travel and Leisure sums up nicely why people are still so terrified of hopping aboard. As rare as they are, plane crashes — when they do happen — saturate the media and scare the living daylights out of us, perhaps leading us to believe they happen more frequently than they really do. There's also the fact that when we fly, we feel we don't have control. We're largely helpless, and can only hope the crew is capable of caring for us. When we're driving, on the other hand, we feel way more in control, and we largely are — and yet, driving is far more dangerous than flying.
If a fear of flying keeps you awake at night, here's your friendly reminder: you're safe. Order a glass of wine, enjoy your free snack, and remain in your seat until the captain has turned off the "fasten seat belts" sign.