12 Awesome Air Travel Statistics [2020 Update]

You’ve probably heard that air travel is widely considered the safest mode of transportation. 

Indeed, believe it or not:

According to the latest air travel statistics, flying is far safer than other modes of transportation, including driving a car, taking the train, sailing a boat, and even walking. 


Part of the reason has to do with the fact that air travel is the most carefully regulated and monitored mode of transportation. In fact, it has been ever since its inception. 

What’s more:

Air travel has a long and proud history that testifies to mankind’s desire to reach for the stars. At the same time, that history has its fair share of setbacks. 

But whether you’re an airline CEO, maintenance worker, air travel safety statistics aficionado, or a traveler looking to ease your mind before your next flight, our list of numbers and stats about air travel is bound to provide sufficient, reliable, and accurate information. 

Let’s dig right in.

Fun Air Travel Facts (Editor’s Pick)

  • Close to 12.6% of Americans have a fear of flying.
  • You’re more likely to be eaten by a shark than to encounter a terrorist on your flight.
  • The plane accident with the largest death toll in history (538 lives) actually took place on the ground.
  • The risk of dying in a plane crash is lower than that in a car crash or being struck by lightning.
  • There are more than 87,000 flights crisscrossing each other every day in the skies above the United States.
  • In 2018, US airlines carried 777.9 million passengers on domestic flights.
  • Air transport today costs half as much as it did two decades ago.

General Air Travel Stats

1. The fastest passenger plane in use today is the 747 Jumbo.


Although it’s no surprise that most airlines are slowly phasing out this behemoth out of their fleets, the legendary 747 Jumbo continues to be the fastest commercial jet in the sky. 

In one of the more interesting air travel facts, it’s the 747-8i that takes the win in the battle of speed, thanks to is cruising speed of Mach 0.86. However, only Air China, Korean Air and Lufthansa still use this legendary plane, though plans are underway to decommission it. 

For the sake of comparison, the ultra-high-tech 787 Dreamliner achieves Mach 0.85 for steady cruising. 

2. UK passengers were the most frequent global travelers in 2018.

(Connected Aviation Today)

As far as global airline passenger statistics go, the list of international travelers saw 126.2 million passengers from the UK (or 8.6% of the total passenger number). Coming in at number two were passengers from the US (111.5 million or 7.6% of the total passenger number). Claiming third place, Chinese international passengers comprised 6.6% of the total passenger number (or 97 million travelers). 

3. Air transport today costs half as much as it did 20 years ago. 

(Business Traveller)

Nowadays, airlines are able to connect places and people that were impossible to connect in the past. Flying by plane is not only more accessible and practical than ever – but it has also become much more affordable. 

Statistics on air travel reveal that air transport today costs half as much as it did two decades ago. One of the biggest reasons for this is the rapid development of low-cost airlines, whose capacity rapidly outpaces growth among legacy airlines. 

So much so, in fact, that low-cost carriers accounted for nearly 31% of the world’s total scheduled passengers in 2018. In other words, that translates to an estimated 1.3 billion passengers over the course of 12 months. 

4. The risk of dying in a plane crash is lower than that of a car crash or being struck by lightning.


Once you’ve read the most recent air travel industry statistics, you’d have no problem boarding any flight bound for anywhere. Most of the time, it’s the media that gives fatal plane accidents so much attention that you start thinking they happen all the time. However, that’s not true. 

In fact, the odds of you being struck by lightning even once in your lifetime are 1 in 13,000. Car accidents are much more frequent, with the odds being around 1 in 5,000. But according to air travel statistics, your odds of dying in an airplane accident amount to 1 in 11 million. 

5. Close to 12.6% of Americans have a fear of flying.

(Fly Fright)

According to statistics on air travel safety, another 18.1% are anxious about flying. Also known as aviophobia, the fear of flying is often defined as the fear of being on either an airplane or some other type of flying vehicle (a helicopter, for example) while it is in flight. 

Out of those who are afraid to fly, 73% stated they feared mechanical issues in mid-air, 36% said the same of mechanical issues before take-off, 62% feared bad weather during a flight, 33% feared crashing into a body of water, and 36% were fearful of flying during the night.

6. The plane accident with largest death toll in history actually took place on the ground.

(SBS News)

Observing air travel safety stats, it becomes clear that the most likely reason why so many people around the globe dread flying so much is the low expectancy of survival in case of a crash. 

But it’s quite the contrary: 

95% of all air accidents have survivors, according to the US National Transport Safety Bureau. As a matter of fact, the plane accident with the largest death toll in history took place on the ground – in Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, in 1977. A total of 583 lives were lost when two planes collided on the runway.

On another note, drone statistics indicate that people are experiencing more accidents when flying their drones than while flying in an airplane.

7. 38 million more passengers flew internationally in 2018 than in 2017.


2018 saw an increase in air travel statistics compared to 2017, thanks to 38 million more departures across the globe. According to data from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), airlines across the world transported a total of 4.3 billion passengers in 2018, versus the 4 billion that traveled internationally in 2017. Measured by value, that air transport today accounts for nearly 35% of global trade. 

8. Commercial airplanes are safer than private ones.

(Mental Floss)

Commercial air travel safety statistics suggest you’re better off opting for a commercial flight than a private one if in-flight safety is your number one concern. In the period between 2000 and 2009, 549 out of 646 US airplane deaths were private passengers and crew. This is due to many reasons, but overall, the training requirements for private pilots are much less strict than those for commercial ones. Additionally, there are fewer safety features in private planes than their commercial counterparts. 

9. You’re more likely to be eaten by a shark than encounter a terrorist on your flight.


Among the more interesting facts about air travel is one that has to do with terrorism and sharks, believe it or not. In light of unfortunate occurrences around the world in the two decades, terrorism has become a significant threat to airline passengers worldwide. However, it turns out that’s highly unlikely as well. 

In fact, you’re more likely to be eaten by a shark than to encounter a terrorist on your flight. There’s approximately one terrorist incident for every 16.5 million departures, thanks to a report from FiveThirtyEight. 

10. The aviation sector will cut its net carbon footprint to half 2005 levels by 2050. 

(Airline Ratings)

It’s no secret that air travel pollution statistics weren’t nice to look at in the past. Evolution of technology and global progress come at a great cost – in the case of aviation, an environmental one. In other words, there is no denying that the world has become a more prosperous place because of our freedom to fly wherever we choose. 

But, the good news is:

Airlines are committed to reducing the environmental damage that came with that freedom. The industry will cap its net carbon emissions growth in 2020, and at the same time, it will cut its net carbon footprint to half the 2005 levels by 2050 thanks to technological advancements.

11. Founded on October 7, 1919, KLM is officially the oldest airline in operation today.


Yet another entry among the most interesting air travel facts and figures. The flag carrier airline of the Netherlands, the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, operates scheduled cargo and passenger services to approximately 145 destinations and is officially the oldest airline in the world still operating under its original name. 

The top ten entries on the list of oldest airlines in the world aren’t what you’d expect, either: 

LOT Polish (founded in 1929), Air Serbia (founded in 1927), Tajik Air (founded in 1923), Finnair (founded in 1923), and Aeroflot (founded in 1923). 

12. The biggest airline in the world measured by the number of countries it serves is Turkish Airlines.


Statistics for air travel provide insight into a ton of different information about airlines all around the world. For example, when measured by destinations served, fleet size, passengers carried per year, as well as yearly revenue, American Airlines is unmatched across all four categories. 

On the other hand: 

The number of countries served is a criterion that doesn’t see any American carrier anywhere near the top of the list. This is where Turkish Airlines reigns supreme, with 120 countries in its roster, the latest air travel statistics reveal. For the sake of comparison, the next contender on the list, Air France flies to 93 countries, which is 27 less than the winner. 

Why? Most likely because of Turkey’s unique geographical location and proximity to three different continents.

Air Travel Statistics - airplane

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How many passengers travel by air in a year?

A: The answer to this question depends on several different factors – the territory observed, the number of airline carriers involved, and so on. But, according to the 62nd annual report of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the number of passengers that flew on scheduled airline services in 2017, for example, was 4.1 billion worldwide. 

One thing should be noted regarding this staggering statistic – the number 4.1 doesn’t mean that 4.1 billion individuals boarded flights across the world. Instead, it means that there were 4.1 billion passengers (for example, one person who flew four times in one year counts as four passengers). 

Q: How many planes are in the air right now?

A: This is surely a question that every person in the world has asked themselves more than once. While this number will vary depending on different factors, such as the time of year or day, you could be looking at anywhere between 20,000 on the high end to about 8,000 planes on the low end flying over the skies at any given time. Between 2 pm and 4 pm in the summertime, for example, you can expect the number to be closer to the higher end of the spectrum. Additionally, the day with the highest number of flights in a year is usually a Thursday or a Friday in July or August.

Q: How many planes fly a day in the US?

A: Believe it or not, there are more than 87,000 flights crisscrossing each other every single day in the skies above the United States, according to data from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. 

Now, managing planes is difficult as it is, but dealing with so many of them up in the air at the same time is both a nightmarish challenge and a gargantuan responsibility. It comes as no surprise, then, that in 2018, US airlines carried 777.9 million passengers on domestic flights alone, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. 

Q: Which country has the most frequency of air travel in the world?

A: Without a shadow of a doubt, the country that has the most frequency of air travel in the world is the United States. It is followed by China and the United Kingdom to form the top three countries with the most frequent flyers. 

There are a number of reasons that explain why the US tops the chart, though two of the most obvious ones happen to be a fairly high income per capita as well as a powerful economy. So, entrepreneurs and employees choose quick flights more often than road or rail travel as a result of demanding professional lives and challenging business environments.


Whether you’re a business professional looking to invest in a new project overseas, a working mom looking for some alone-time away from the kids, a college couple in search of that perfect romantic getaway, or a student on the receiving end of a much-anticipated international scholarship, the aforementioned air travel statistics more than demonstrate that air travel is the absolute safest mode of transport today. 

What’s more:

It has numerous advantages compared to all other means of transportation. So, the incredible facts and stats we gathered in the previous text are ones we welcome you to use in the best way you see fit as they are accurate, precise, reliable and, most importantly, up-to-date.