Daniel Jensen Unsplash @dallehj
Daniel Jensen Unsplash @dallehj

You will die

Bob Commander

Bob Commander

Aviation Consultant CAS Ltd

When I was working for the CAA, I produced a slideshow on comparative risks, mainly to show that recreational flying was “safe” in comparison to the other risks we accept as part of life. I still get a bit confused about compounding risks – smoking in a hydrogen balloon – calling your wife by the wrong name at an exciting moment in life that is already risking heart failure – you know the sort of thing. Anyway, with this nasty virus about, I thought I would revisit the risks before I set foot in a commercial aeroplane again.

As a reminder for those who missed the excellent original slideshow, here it is:

Sorry Slide 2 is a bit difficult to read – that’s why I need to update it. To make sure you’ve read it – on Slide 2 under Level 8, what recreational activity equates to leprosy? Yep – inter alia computer games, all risks you’ll probably continue to accept – if not all are acceptable in public. However, you’re unlikely to take up Russian Roulette (or Base Jumping – or Smoking?) anytime soon, so we’re looking for the risks you WILL accept. To help you decide, here is an updated look at the odds of dying in the United States – remember, I get confused by compounded risks, so let’s ignore the obvious increased risk you’re taking by living in the US rather than the peace and quiet of downtown Brixton.


Doesn’t mention aeroplanes? That’s because the risk is too low to calculate from the data available. Here’s an up to date list for those who turned off the video because of the xylophone:

Why use American data? Because it’s easy to understand and written simply – stop making inferences at the back. Obviously there are similar figures for the UK and with a good degree of correlation, apart from getting shot at, and I said stop inferring. There’s a simple infographic from the Guardian if you like that sort of thing. You can also try the UK Office for National Statistics – let me know how you get on!

So……… I knew you wanted to ask – what about COVID-19? That’s the difficult one, and I may have to get serious here. It’s still too early to try to fit the statistics into the risk table above, although there is some suggestion it will come in around the car accident level, but here’s a quote from the American National Safety Council:

“Odds of dying estimates assume that mortality trends change slowly over time with changes of only a few percentage points from year to year. Currently, COVID-19 trends are changing too rapidly to confidently anticipate future risk levels.”

Gulp. And if that’s not depressing enough:

“The total number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. exceeds 160,000, more than doubling each of the leading causes of preventable injury death (58,908 preventable drug overdose deaths, 39,404 motor-vehicle deaths, and 37,455 for all deaths in 2018). However, the full impact of COVID-19 is even greater than the number of deaths and confirmed cases. The rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, the uncertainty regarding how long the pandemic will last and the disruption to normal everyday activities is impacting society like no other safety issue in modern history.”

So – as I read it – let’s go flying again! Mind who you sit next to and probably best to wear a mask (but not if your friends are likely to call out “Hi Jack!” if they recognise you). BUT, be very careful on the drive to the airport AND you should’ve stopped smoking years ago. A final bonus – during the flight, you can play with your computer to your heart’s content.