Afraid to Fly? Marion Blakey Talks Travel Safety

The Aerospace Industries Association president and CEO helps put your mind at ease

by Lesley Kennedy
marion blakey image
Marion Blakey says air travel is extremely safe.
Photograph: Aerospace Industries Association

Plans have been made, flights booked, bags packed. Yep, it’s holiday travel season. But what if you’re nervous to get on that plane? Or cringe at the thought of airport security lines? Take a deep breath and let Marion C. Blakey, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association—and former administrator of the Federal Aviation Association—give you reasons not to worry.

“One of the things many people who fly don’t realize is, not only is it the safest mode of transportation, by far statistically safer than getting in your car, but even when there are accidents —and I’m talking about when a plane comes out of the sky, not just clipping a wing at the terminal —the vast majority are survivable,” she says. “Survivability is much higher than people know—above 90 percent. Just knowing that can be reassuring.”

We spoke with Blakey about common flying fears, how to inform yourself on airplane safety and ways to make your holiday air travel experience easier. An edited version of the interview follows.

MORE: With travel season getting in high gear, what are the most common fears people have when it comes to flying?
Marion Blakey: You can put them into two categories, catastrophic and annoyance. I think a lot of people are reluctant to fly, in part, because they perceive there’s a lot of hassle. But if you’re talking about the true fear of flying—people who are worrying that we’re up at 30,000 feet and can’t put our feet down—I think it helps to point out some of the facts. Not only do we have an extraordinarily safe system these days, but if you look at the curve on aviation accidents—and I’m talking about commercial, not general aviation—there’s a dramatic drop in the number of accidents and certainly of fatal crashes since deregulation of the airlines back in the late ‘70s.

MORE: So knowing air travel really is safe can help calm some nervous flyers?
MB: I think people who are afraid of flying probably don’t have as much background on the kind of safety training the crews of any airline go through. We see flight attendants as being people who are there to cater to the wishes we have as passengers, but there’s a lot more to those jobs. Their training is extensive and they really do know a tremendous amount about safely evacuating [a plane] and addressing safety issues as they come up. If you’re a nervous flyer, it probably would helps to spend a little time talking to a flight attendant about those things because they can provide you with important information.

Survivability also goes to things like paying attention to the briefing, the safety exit, counting the number of seats between your seat and the exit, so that if you are in a situation where you have smoke in the cabin, the lights are out or it’s a bit chaotic, you already took the time to figure out your surroundings. Being informed and aware, I believe, contributes to the confidence of people who fly.

MORE: Are there places online where people can go to check on air safety information?
MB: In terms of safety, the National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA have some very practical tips.

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