A normal way to travel

A graphic of an airplane with its front end stuck in orange Jell-O.
Silly plane! You belong in the air, not Jell-O.  OpenClipart-Vectors via Pixabay, manipulated by lee lim

Flying? It’s a breeze!

Flying is not for everyone, but it is not as bad as many people think. Flying can be fun, exhilarating even, but most of the time it is a completely normal event. Just like driving, another normal but fundamentally scary mode of travel. I spoke with Beverley Marsh, my aunt and regular plane-goer, on the topic.  

Taking a plane somewhere is pretty normalized nowadays. People go on flights overseas, between neighbouring countries, and even between provinces. In Marsh’s opinion, “That is the only way to travel if you are going more than a half a day’s drive.” 

A fair estimate, but who wants to sit beside a stranger for just an hour or so when you could be cooped up with your family for twelve instead? Absolutely bonkers, in my opinion. Clearly, driving is the superior normal mode of travel. 

According to Marsh, flying is safer than driving. “There’s more people killed at one time when a plane crashes, but if you take the number of fatalities travelling, I am quite sure that air travel rates way down from cars and other methods,” she said. 

Of course, who wouldn’t be scared of flying in a huge metal aircraft that seems like it could fall out of the air at any second? In movies and TV shows, we see clips of an airplane hitting turbulence and the entire thing shaking like a leaf in the wind! How on earth does it stay in the air?  

Have you ever heard of the Jell-O metaphor? Instagram creator @heleneinbetween shared a metaphor about turbulence and how it is much less dangerous than social media portrays it. Instead of a dooming sentence, “We’re hitting turbulence!” followed by the plane shaking and shuddering and lightning flashing all around the plane, about to down the whole thing, think of it like shaking a cup of set Jell-O with a rock in the middle. The turbulence is the shaking, the rock the plane, and the Jell-O the air pressures that keeps the plane in the air.  

While it is insane to just think about shooting through the air in a big, metal football-shaped thing, an airplane is kept “afloat” in the air like a toy boat is kept afloat in water. Air is not just empty space, you know. Air has mass, and an airplane must move through the air. When it is flying, there is air above and below that exerts force on the plane. Instead of buoyancy like a boat, a plane has forward and upward momentum that works against gravity.  

“But!” you say, jumping up to argue that airplanes do crash. Indeed, they do. They crash and the media oh-so loves to talk about that. Planes crash for many reasons, but as Marsh said, “Accidents are accidents and the planes, statistically, don’t fall out of the sky that often.” 

What are these so-called “statistics” we keep hearing so much about? Put on your seatbelts, my friends, because we have… a bit to get through.  

According to Simple Flying, “In [the International Civil Aviation Organization]’s most recent iteration, findings showed that in 2022, the aviation industry saw a nearly 10 [per cent] decrease in accidents compared to 2020 — furthermore, fatalities resulting from aircraft accidents dropped by over 65 [per cent].” 

“According to research by Harvard University, flying in the US, Europe, and Australia is significantly safer than driving a car. Your odds of being in an accident during a flight is one in 1.2 million, and the chance of that being fatal is one in 11 million. Comparatively, your chances of dying in a car crash are over 200,000 times higher, averaging around one in 5,000,” Simple Flying continued. So, your odds of being in an accident are low… but never zero.  

Of course, you could swear off flying if only for that small chance, right? After all, 1.2 million and 11 million are big numbers — that is a lot of people. Then again, only one person out of those big bad numbers gets the short end of the stick. Good chances? Maybe.  

Really, flying is just like going on a road trip. You experience hiccups on takeoff, like blowing a tire off. “It was very boring… [On] one flight they blew a tire on takeoff and we circled the airport for about two hours burning our fuel,” Marsh said. 

Or, and by far the most evil and terrible thing you could imagine, the airline misplaces your luggage. Marsh said, “They lose my luggage quite regularly. It never seems to arrive when I do… Especially if you’re changing planes in the middle of a flight. When I went on one trip to Mexico, I flew from Regina to Calgary and then got on a different plane [for] Calgary to Mexico. Well, somehow or other my bag didn’t get put from the Regina plane onto the plane going to Mexico, and it only took them a week to get it down there.” 

Losing one bag among thousands of others is quite a feat, but it is much more impressive to do so regularly. The airlines should get an award by now, being super safe because of the air-Jell-O and super good at losing luggage because of the sheer amount of it going around the airport. It seems that is just one of many normal things that happen behind the scenes during a flight.  

So, let us get this straight. Taking an airplane somewhere is much faster and safer than driving, and an airline can be counted on to lose your luggage when you go. Sounds like a nice, normal way to travel on your next trip, right? That is, of course, if you are not afraid of heights. 


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