Poll: Fear of Flying Has Eased

Oct. 9, 2001 -- Confidence in the safety of air travel has improved after the initial shock of last month's terror attacks in New York and Washington, but it has miles to go before the skies will seem safe to millions of Americans.

In an ABCNEWS.com poll completed Sunday, 42 percent said they were worried about the risk of air terrorism. The figure is still troubling from the travel industry's perspective, but it is down from 56 percent just after Sept. 11, when terrorists crashed hijacked two passenger airliners into the World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked plane went down in rural Pennsylvania.

The percentage of people saying they were "very worried" about terrorist attacks while flying fell by half, from 25 percent to 12 percent, while the percentage expressing no worry rose 16 points, to 56 percent. Frequent fliers were far less likely to express concern than infrequent fliers or those who've never flown.

Interviews for this poll were conducted Wednesday through Sunday, with nearly all completed before the U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan on Sunday. A separate ABCNEWS poll Sunday night found no change in broader public worries about terrorism in general: 81 percent said they were worried, including 41 percent who expressed a "great deal" of worry.

Flying vs. Driving

Concern is still high. Just 44 percent now say flying in a commercial airplane is safer than driving, while 48 percent think driving is safer. Two years ago, by contrast, Americans picked flying as safer by 19 points. (Far more people are killed in traffic accidents in this country — more than 40,000 last year — than in plane crashes.)

As noted above, experience matters: Frequent fliers are less worried about airline terrorism, and more likely to think flying is safer than driving.

Just 22 percent of frequent fliers (people who fly at least every few months) say they're worried about flying because of the risk of terrorism; this soars to 50 percent of those who've never flown. Similarly, by 66 percent to 25 percent, frequent fliers say flying is safer than driving in a car. Those who have never flown think driving is safer by a 78 percent to 12 percent margin.

More than 85 percent of the public flies infrequently if at all: More than seven in 10 can be described as infrequent fliers, flying once or twice a year or less; and 14 percent have never flown. Another 14 percent fly at least once every few months.

Forty-eight percent of women express concern about terrorism in air travel, as compared with only 35 percent of men. And most women think driving is safer than flying, whereas a majority of men opt for flying, albeit by a fairly narrow 50 percent to 43 percent.


This ABCNEWS.com survey was conducted by telephone Oct. 3-7 among a random national sample of 1,021 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation were done by TNS Intersearch of Horsham, Pa.

Previous ABCNEWS polls can be found in our Poll Vault.