What are the odds of being on a commercial air flight with a terrorist? After crunching the numbers, Nate Silver tells us: Not very high (emphasis is Nate’s).

Over the past decade, according to BTS, there have been 99,320,309 commercial airline departures that either originated or landed within the United States. Dividing by six, we get one terrorist incident per 16,553,385 departures.

These departures flew a collective 69,415,786,000 miles. That means there has been one terrorist incident per 11,569,297,667 mles flown. This distance is equivalent to 1,459,664 trips around the diameter of the Earth, 24,218 round trips to the Moon, or two round trips to Neptune.

Assuming an average airborne speed of 425 miles per hour, these airplanes were aloft for a total of 163,331,261 hours. Therefore, there has been one terrorist incident per 27,221,877 hours airborne. This can also be expressed as one incident per 1,134,245 days airborne, or one incident per 3,105 years airborne.

There were a total of 674 passengers, not counting crew or the terrorists themselves, on the flights on which these incidents occurred. By contrast, there have been 7,015,630,000 passenger enplanements over the past decade. Therefore, the odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning.

Via Memeorandum.

Kathy Kattenburg
Leave a replyComments (11)
  1. spirasol December 28, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Must be all that good airport security heh………….Also, they have confiscated enough water bottles to replenish the Sahara, enough nail files and small knives to make stocking stuffers for the next 20 years, and enough oversized bottles of perfume to have the entire administration smelling sweet for quiet a while.But they failed to catch a guy whose father turned him in a month earlier and using all their aquired skills they could not quiet grinchy Ivana Trump.

  2. archangel December 28, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    like spirasol said


  3. casualobserver December 28, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    TSA………Thugs Standing Around

  4. oaechief December 28, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    There are no guarantees in life. Sometimes airplanes crash because of inexperienced pilots (think: Buffalo last winter) or because profit making airlines scrimp on maintenance. If you want to fly, you must be willing to take some risk.

    • Sabinal December 29, 2009 at 7:13 pm

      People know that, but are too busy bashing Obama with this issue.
      I didn’t vote for Obama, and his response seems cold if not scared, but the anger by many are disengenous. They are using what happened to get at O because he’s not one of them or doing what they would do “if they were in charge”

  5. adelinesdad December 28, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    You might be surprised that I agree with you Kathy (assuming you agree with Nate). I think the scare over air travel has been highly exaggerated. I ask myself the questions, “why are airplanes such a target? Wouldn’t it be easier for terrorists to attack other places that have less security and maybe even more gathered people?”. Here are a few potential answers and my reasoning:1) Planes can be used as weapons to cause mass destruction (see 911). But with the procedure of enclosing the pilots behind locked bullet-proof doors (at least that’s my understanding of the current procedures), it’s hard to imagine how someone could turn a plane into a precision missile anymore. The best a terrorist can reasonably hope for is to bring down the plane itself and kill the few hundred people on board. A tragedy, yes, but the same thing can be accomplished in many other (perhaps easier) ways, not just blowing up an airplane. I’d argue that the best thing we can do to minimize airplane terrorism is to continue to try to minimize the impact of any potential attack (thus minimizing airplanes as a target), rather than trying to ratchet up the security to unrealistic levels.2) Is it because planes can be boarded outside of the US? Maybe, but if someone can board a plane to the US, then presumably then can also enter the US, so there’s no reason to suspect a person boarding a plane to the US is more dangerous than someone already here.3) Is it because of the captive audience? Maybe. At least in a crowded stadium you have the chance of running away. But when you consider the destructive power of these explosives, the ability to run away is probably over-rated.Still, I admit there’s something particular terrifying about being aboard a plane with a terrorist, and certainly 911 still weighs heavily on our minds for good reason. But when I step back from that and think about it rationally, I don’t understand why airplane security should be our primary concern.

  6. spirasol December 29, 2009 at 2:22 am

    So if we are not really at such risk, why does it deserve the coverage, and what does it do to stir the fear pool, the ever hypnotic message to “be afraid, be afraid, be afraid.”

  7. oaechief December 28, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    I will not argue that point. Logically I know that to be true. There are very few airplane accidents that involve the death of passengers. But, emotionally, I will not fly commercial.
    I have no qualms about flying on a military plane. Any pilot that is/was a Naval Aviator and has landed a plane on an aircraft carrier, can fly me anywhere. But as I said above, some airlines scrimp on maintenance.

  8. JeffersonDavis December 28, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Go Navy!

  9. spirasol December 29, 2009 at 8:16 am

    …..and look, my god, your seat assignment turns out to be beside Ivana. Months later the heart remembers, going thump-a-de-thump.

  10. oaechief December 29, 2009 at 8:16 am

    While a good number of commercial pilots learned their craft in the military are are very good pilots, think Capt. Sullenberger landing in the Hudson River, those commercial pilots are working for a “for profit” company. It is the maintenance at the “for Profit” operation that tends to get cut, whether it is the maintenance itself or the quality/experience of the mech doing the work.

    Your second graf is full of generalities that I will not try to refute or confirm, except to say that Senator Jon McCain, while a Naval Aviator, did lose 5, that is five, Naval aircraft.

    As a navy retiree, I have the privilege of being able to fly, space available, on any U.S. military aircraft that take passengers. That is NOT a C-130 with a cargo net, but a regular airplane with out the fancy paint job.