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Afraid to fly? You have a better chance of winning the lottery

I can understand why some people are afraid to fly. I personally don’t like turbulence when I’m in an airplane. It’s easy to let my imagination run wild and think that the plane will somehow fall out of the sky. But here’s the thing. Planes don’t crash. Not statistically.

This particular topic came to mind as I listened to an interview on CBC radio with Jeffrey Rosenthal, author of the book titled Struck by Lightning: The Curious World of Probabilities. In the interview, Rosenthal shared that the odds of being killed in a plane crash are 1 in five million. Statistically speaking, these odds are very much in my favour.

By the same token, I have never bought a lottery ticket. The reason I have never purchased a ticket is because I know I won’t win . Pure and simple. The odds of winning a really huge jackpot are what? Maybe 1 in five million?

The correlation is simple: If I won’t buy a lottery ticket because I would be throwing my money away, statistically speaking – almost like putting a match to it and burning it, if you will – then why would I be afraid to fly? The odds are the same!

It’s not much of a stretch to tell yourself that you should burn a twenty dollar bill every time the thought enters your head that you are afraid to fly. If burning the twenty feels too difficult – likely because it strikes you as a really stupid thing to do – then give the money to charity instead, as a reminder to yourself that you will not die in a plane crash.

You might be holding onto the thought that planes do sometimes crash, which is the very reason why some people are afraid to fly. I am not saying that planes are not capable of crashing. Rather, what I am saying, based on what Rosenthal shared on CBC radio, is that the odds of dying in a plane crash are 1 in five million.

So am I personally comfortable getting on a plane? I am scheduled to attend a conference in Orlando in a couple of weeks, which will require me to fly to and from my destination in order to attend. Am I comfortable with the odds? Absolutely.

You might think it is reasonable to believe it has become dangerous to fly after you hear about a passenger plane crashing in the media. You might think, “That’s it. Flying is definitely dangerous.” But I will counter that logic with the observation that we hear about people winning the lottery on a regular basis and we don’t suddenly conclude in response “Hurray. Winning the lottery is now within my grasp.”

So don’t get thrown off balance when you hear about a plane crash. Your odds of dying in a crash still remain in five million.

Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta 

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