More than one in ten Americans say they are afraid of flying. It's the first jolt of moderate turbulence that gets our hearts pounding and our bodies shaking, even though we know it's an irrational fear.
Most of us have heard the facts, and know that we're safer in the skies than on the highway, but that still doesn't stop most of us from dreading that takeoff.
MIT airline safety expert Arnold Barnett did a study on aviation safety and found that the chance of dying on a scheduled flight, from propeller planes to jetliners, in the United States is 1 in 14 million. At that rate, you would have to fly every day for 38,000 years before you had a fatal accident.
His MIT colleague John Hansman agrees flying is the safest mode of travel available today. "Riding on a commercial airliner has about the same risk as riding on an elevator," says Hansman.
And as pilots always seem to remind us, flying is 22 times safer than driving your car. Still, all it takes is a few stories on close calls to bring back that emotional fear of flying.
So what are the chances of you surviving one of those extremely rare accidents? Believe it or not, the National Transportation Safety Board says 76 percent of passengers do survive the most serious of crashes.
Here are some ways to protect yourself if you're still nervous:
Sit within five rows of an emergency exit.
Make a mental note of how far away you are from the nearest exit.
Sit in an aisle seat.
Sit in the rear of the cabin. It is statistically safest.
Don't sleep during takeoff and landing. That is when most accidents occur.
So why are we so afraid of flying? Professor Barnett blames the media. Over a two year period, he studied the front page of The New York Times, looking for stories on flying. He found that for every 1,000 homicides, The Times published fewer than two stories. For every 1,000 AIDS deaths, there were 2.3 AIDS stories. But for every 1,000 airplane fatalities, there were 138 plane crash stories.