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This year’s freak spate of crashes doesn’t mean air travel’s getting more dangerous

A passenger aircraft, with the full "Harvest Moon" seen behind, makes its final approach to landing at Heathrow Airport in west London, September 19, 2013. The Harvest Moon is a traditional name for the full moon that is closest to the autumn equinox, and at a traditional period where farmers would be harvesting crops. The moon's rise time and angle of path give the illusion that the Harvest Moon is both closer, larger and brighter; though actually it is not. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Reuters/Toby Melville
Still way safer than the streets.
By Gwynn Guilford
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Air Algerie’s crash over northern Mali marks the third horrific airline crash in a week. If, as is assumed, all 116 people on board died in the accident, that will put the airliner death toll at 461 in just seven days. And if that wasn’t enough to put a person off flying, there’s the fact that these disasters came mere months after MH370 disappeared somewhere over the southern Pacific, taking 239 lives along with it.

But even though 2014 has indeed been one freakishly bad year for air travel, flying is still one of the safest ways to get around. Here’s some key context, in charts:

If accidents continued at the current rate, 2014 would have 1,230 airline fatalities—but here’s how it compares with five months to go:

2014 reflects data as of July 24, 2014.​

But one unusually bad year can distort the overall trend in air-travel safety, which has been steadily improving:

Another sign that 2014 is a fluke: A flight’s most dangerous stage is at the end. But so far, the Taiwan accident is the only one that crashed while landing.


And overall, air travel is nowhere near the deadliest major form of transport: Driving is, of course.

Note: It’s hard to make apples-to-apples comparisons here. The ferry and airline data used here assume each trip is taken by a different person (“passenger”); the car fatalities data, however, use total population as a proxy for “passengers.” Given the amount of time people spend in and around cars (versus ferries and planes), this metric probably understates the fatality rate.

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