Nervous Flyer? Inside, Most of Us Are.

American Airlines had a problem this past Friday. One of their planes, a Boeing 767, caught fire on a runway at O’Hare in Chicago. The engine on the right side of the aircraft failed spectacularly shortly after the pilot had begun the take-off roll. He stopped in time and everyone safely evacuated the plane, although there were a few minor injuries.

I suspect that almost everyone who flies experiences at least a little anxiety from time to time. I know I do. And, yes, I realize that there are many thousands of take offs and landings occurring every day . . . probably every hour. But to adapt a line from the great cartoonist Bill Mauldin’s Willie and Joe characters: “Th’ hell this ain’t th’ most important flight in the world. I’m on it!”

Several days earlier, American had not one, but four incidents, known as “mechanicals”, that resulted in flights being delayed or cancelled and passengers rebooked on later flights. None of those incidents were anywhere near as serious as the one in Chicago.

Nevertheless, events like these cause nervousness among air travelers, and generate comments on travel websites. I came across one yesterday from someone who wanted to know if it was still safe to fly on American Airlines.

Of course it is.

I had a friend years ago who was a captain with a major airline. I was planning a trip and half-jokingly expressed some mild concern to him about air safety. He laughed and held up his copy the Official Airline Guide. The book was almost two inches thick.

“This book lists all the routine take-offs and landings in just one month” he said. “The odds of your flight having a serious problem are many thousands to one.”

I know, I know. But just call me Willie.


  1. Truly, it doesn’t matter whether the odds are a million to one or a hundred to one, if you are the ONE.

  2. Well, Jim, flying makes me nervous, too. Evacuations may be infrequent, but they do happen. And when they do, speed is critical to saving lives.
    On Friday afternoon, NBC interviewed a survivor of this incident who said that, despite the safety video that had just played, passengers were stopping to retrieve their carry-on bags from the overhead bins. Sure enough, video of the scene showed a considerable number of people milling about beside the plane with all kinds of hand luggage – some even wearing enormous backpacks. American Airlines should have prevented this. Disobeying the instructions of the crew is illegal and airlines do prosecute unruly passengers who’ve been warned. Will AA? I doubt it.
    Everyone on that plane last Friday was extremely lucky and the successful evacuation was commendable. But it points out the reality of air travel today: The people sitting around you might rather die, or cause the deaths of others, than risk losing their carry-on bags. And that’s what makes me nervous.

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