Air Travel Statistics: On Safety and Pollution

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

Believe it or not, according to the latest air travel statistics, flying is far safer than other methods of transport, including driving a car, taking the train, sailing a boat, and even walking. 

This partly has to do with the fact that air travel is the most carefully regulated and monitored transport method. 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 lover, or a traveler looking to ease your mind before your upcoming flight, our list of numbers and stats about air travel is bound to provide sufficient, reliable, and accurate information. 

Let’s dig right in.

Top Statistics on Air Travel: Editor’s Choice

  • The number of international arrivals per year has increased 56 times since 1950.
  • Statistics on air travel reveal that there are around 500,000 people in the air at any moment.
  • There were only 1.8 billion passengers on commercial airlines in 2020, global air travel passenger statistics reveal
  • The U.S. has the largest commercial air travel market with over 926.7 million passengers.
  • 7.9% of pilots are female.
  • Air travel statistics say the odds of dying in an airplane accident amount to 1 in 11 million.
  • By 2050, the aviation sector will cut its net carbon footprint to half of 2005 levels.
  • Statistics on air travel reveal that there are around 500,000 people in the air at any moment.
Air Travel Statistics

General Air Travel Stats

1. The number of international arrivals per year has increased 56 times since 1950.

If you’re wondering how many people travel a year, that’s 1.4 billion according to the latest worldwide air travel statistics. This number represents a 56-fold increase in the number of travelers all over the world since 1950.

Back then, there were just 25 million international arrivals based on the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates.

2. There were only 1.8 billion passengers on commercial airlines in 2020, global air travel passenger statistics reveal.

Since many countries shut down borders, canceled, and reduced the number of their flights in 2020, a reduction in commercial airline passengers is expected.

With only 1.8 billion passengers, the aviation industry generated global revenue of only $328 billion.

3. Statistics on air travel reveal that there are around 500,000 people in the air at any moment.

The daily air travel statistics show there are 10.18 million people working in the aviation industry at the moment. This only proves that the aviation industry is a major staple of developed countries.

Additionally, the data suggests that there’s a huge number of customers requiring the services of aviation personnel.  

4. The Federal Aviation Administration oversees 16,405,000 flights per year.

The FAA oversees a massive number of flights on an annual basis. The US air travel statistics state that more than 16 million flights occur under the FAA’s watch. That amounts to roughly 45,000 flights every day.

5. Aviation jobs are, on average, 4.4 times more productive than other jobs.

The air travel sector indirectly creates much more value than the average industry. It’s for this reason that the global air travel statistics point to airline jobs being 4.4 times more productive than other jobs. 

But why does the airline industry generate an abnormally large value? This is mostly because airlines transport people, goods, and information, all of which help other sectors function faster and more efficiently.

6. The worldwide Revenue Passenger-Kilometres has been increasing at an average annual growth rate of 5%.

In terms of air travel economic growth, statistics show an increase in profits correlating with the 5% increase in RPK.

Notably, the air travel industry has maintained this growth despite a series of global or near-global disasters, from the 1998 Asian Crisis to the 2008 recession.

7. International flights in 2020 were less than half of that in 2019.

The anticipated increase in air travel statistics did not happen in 2020. International flights fall drastically in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.

From a total of 38.9 million flights in 2019, the figure went down to 16.4 million in 2020. This over 50% decline broke the record of steady increase the airline industry enjoyed since the early 2000s.

Air Travel Statistics - airplane

Air Travel Statistics 2020: COVID-19 Impact on Aviation

8. World freight traffic declined by 27.7% YoY in April 2020.

As with most industries, the coronavirus made a serious dent in the air travel industry. Fewer people and goods are flying now than they have been in years, as we can see from the air travel demand statistics. 

As the viral outbreak reaches a fever pitch in many countries worldwide, the global demand for freight traffic has slumped by over 27% in April 2020.

9. Commercial flights dropped by 73.7% in April 2020 compared to April 2019.

It surprises no one to learn that commercial flying has slowed down to a crawl in the face of the coronavirus crisis.

All the statistics about air travel mention a dip in commercial flying, but its severity may shock some. The number of commercial flights in April 2020 was only 26.3% of the number in the same month of the previous year.

10. 40% of flight reservations were canceled by March 25, 2020.

The data on how many flights per day take place are far from encouraging. As the numbers suggest, 40% of people making flight reservations canceled said reservations by March 25, 2020. While that worrying trend decreased in April, the figures are still too high.

11. 70% of people believe flying is either very or somewhat unsafe due to COVID-19.

Judging by the statistics about air travel safety and the public’s current perception of flying, only around 30% of people consider flying safe at the moment. This is expected.

People observe flying during the coronavirus pandemic is like being stuck in a giant can for hours with who knows how many potentially infected people.

12. In May 2020, YoY flight frequency dipped by 75%.

April 2020 was a poor month for the air travel industry, but May of the same year has proven even worse in some aspects. From the air travel frequency statistics, we can see that the YoY frequency of flights has slowed down drastically in May 2020, decreasing by 75%.

13. In the first week of October, the private airline industry ran at 85% capacity.

The private flight sector hasn’t suffered nearly as much as commercial airlines. According to the corporate jet air travel statistics, private airlines are operating at a relatively comfortable 85% capacity. 

14. TSA-screened airline passengers have grown from about 80,000 per day in mid-April to around 901,000 on October 4.

While the number of people flying decreased, the number of passenger screenings mushroomed. As the stats and air travel safety facts on the matter indicate, the number of screenings grew by a factor of 11 from mid-April to October 4.

15. TSA checkpoint travel numbers for 2020 are roughly 35% of those from 2019.

Going in line with how many airline passengers per day fly, the numbers for TSA checkpoints have also decreased significantly. In 2019, there was an average of around 2.5 million checkpoints.

However, in 2020, the total traveler throughput struggles to even approach 1 million.

16. Airlines’ seat capacity to remain at least 10% below the 2019 levels.

In the first quarter of 2020, more and more countries worldwide shut down borders due to COVID-19, air travel statistics confirm. Flights have been canceled if not limited, which also changed airlines’ capacity.

While some countries started to recover, there are several factors causing the airline’s seat capacity to stay at least 10% below the 2019 levels.

American Airlines Statistics

17. U.S. airlines incurred a loss of $11 billion in Q2 2020.

The airline industry is among those greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on the U.S. air travel statistics 2020, this sector incurred a net loss of $11 billion in the second quarter.

The second-quarter loss demonstrates further losses the industry experienced in the same year, as data show an initial loss of $5.2 billion in Q1 2020.

18. The United States currently has 58 airlines.

How many airlines are there in the US? The data indicates that there were 58 airlines in the United States in 2018, and there haven’t been any new additions in 25 years.

Out of all these airlines, 17 fall in the major carrier category (meaning that they have annual revenue exceeding $1 billion).

19. There were approximately 19,636 airports in the United States.

Given that it’s the most prolific country in terms of flying, it comes as no surprise to learn that the U.S. has so many airports.

The most recent data suggests that the total number of airports in the US is a bit over 19,000. The majority of those (14,556) are private airports, while around 5,000 of them are public.

20. The U.S. has the largest commercial air travel market with over 926.7 million passengers.

The latest air travel by country statistics highlights how large the American commercial air travel market is. With over 926.7 million passengers boarding U.S.air carriers-registered planes, this demonstrates that the U.S. was well ahead of other countries.

China, the runner-up, had just under 660 million registered passengers, while Ireland had just over 170 million.

21. U.S. commercial air carriers have roughly 4% projected annual growth of RTM between 2020 and 2040.

The aviation industry was progressing across countries prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The yearly statistics for worldwide commercial air travel could attest to this.

It shows that the U.S. commercial air carriers will have nearly 4% annual growth of revenue-ton miles from international flights between 2020 and 2040. But with the pandemic being in effect, this figure will likely change.

22. Cargo carried by U.S. airlines weighed 7% more in 2020 than in 2019.

While the number of passengers significantly fell as shown by the  U.S. airline passenger statistics, 2020 is not all about a decrease in the aviation industry.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics report shows that cargo on U.S. airlines weighed 1,276 thousand tons more than in 2019. This accounts for a 7% increase in goods shipped by U.S. air transportation.

Intriguing & Fun Air Travel Facts

23. The Airbus A380 has a total of 320 miles of cables and wires.

Planes have a lot of wiring, but few people understand how much of it is in there. Nothing like some air travel fun facts can put that in perspective, though!

Airbus A380 is widely considered the airplane with the most wires and cables, all of which combine to a stupefying length of 320 miles. That’s roughly enough wiring to span from NYC to Ontario.

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

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

One of the more interesting air travel facts is that the 747-8i takes the win in the battle of speed, thanks to its 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. 

25. Air transport today is much cheaper than it was 20 years ago. 

Air travel facts reveal that air transport now is much cheaper than it was two decades ago. A key reason for this is the rapid development of low-cost airlines whose capacity swiftly outpaces that of legacy airlines.

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

26. 7.9% of pilots are female.

The air travel statistics by gender show us that gender disparity among pilots is significant. As the numbers show, not even 10% of all pilots are female. 

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

This is another entry of the most interesting air travel facts and figures. The Netherlands’ flag carrier airline, 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 the 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).

Statistics About Air Travel Safety & Pollution

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

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’s in the air. 

Out of those who are afraid to fly, 73% stated they feared mechanical issues in mid-air, 36% said the same for 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.

29. Air travel statistics say the odds of dying in an airplane accident amount to 1 in 11 million.

This probability is way too small compared to car accidents, with the odds being around 1 in 5,000. The introduction of self-driving cars is expected to reduce 94% of road accident-related deaths.

But the risk of dying in a plane crash is still lower than the risk of dying in a car crash or by being struck by lightning. In fact, the odds of you being struck by lightning even once in your lifetime are 1 in 13,000.

30. The risk of dying in an airplane has been halving every decade.

Traveling by plane is generally pretty safe nowadays, but the technology behind flight has been making it more and more secure for years.

The odds of a fatal flight accident have been lowered by roughly 50% every decade, which corresponds to the gradual drop in air travel death statistics.

31. TSA officers found a record of 4,432 guns in airports in 2019.

Airport security statistics show that 4,432 guns were discovered at airports in 2019 — a 5% increase from 2018. This makes 2019 a notable year in the TSA’s history, but not in a positive sense.

The agency found more guns in passengers’ luggage that year than ever before. 

32. The FAA requires that emergency evacuations take less than 90 seconds.

The FAA has very stringent requirements when it comes to emergency evacuation. One of the more fascinating facts about air travel is that an evacuation is considered successful only if everyone leaves the plane in less than 90 seconds.

The importance of such haste is far from arbitrary. The data indicate that a fire can envelop the entire plane in around 90 seconds. Now the demand for a speedy getaway makes much more sense, doesn’t it?

33. Ryanair holds a zero fatal crash record based on air travel fatality statistics.

Ryanair is technically the safest airline in the world. This Irish company is the biggest air travel provider in Europe, known for its low-cost services.

The most dangerous incident in the airline’s history was in 2008 when one of its planes had to make an emergency landing due to a bird flying into an engine and ruining it.

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

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

But it’s quite the contrary. According to the US National Transport Safety Bureau, 95% of all air accidents have survivors.

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 when flying in an airplane.

35. Commercial airplanes are safer than private ones.

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 airplane passengers and crew. 

This is due to many reasons, but overall, the training requirements for private pilots are less strict than those for commercial ones. Additionally, there are fewer safety features in private planes than in their commercial counterparts. 

36. You’re roughly 4–5 times more likely to be eaten by a shark than to encounter a terrorist on your flight.

Among the more interesting facts about air travel is one involving terrorism and sharks, believe it or not. In light of unfortunate occurrences worldwide in the past two decades, terrorism has become a significant threat to airline passengers worldwide.

However, it turns out that terrorist hijacking is highly unlikely to happen. 

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, while the odds of you getting attacked by a shark are around 1 in 3.75 million. 

37. With every kilometer flown, an airplane releases 285 g of CO2 per passenger.

When considering air travel vs. car travel statistics in terms of pollution, the airplane is clearly the more harmful mode of transport. The average car will release 55 g of CO2 for every passenger and driven kilometer.

On the other hand, an airplane will put out 285 g of CO2, which makes it the most severe polluter among the standard means of transportation.

38. Globally, the aviation industry produces 2% of overall human-induced CO2 emissions.

As we already established above, airplanes are serious producers of CO2 in comparison to other means of travel. However, air travel industry statistics claim airplanes comprise only 12% of CO2 emissions created by transport.

Even though they chug so much carbon dioxide, the entire airline industry makes up only 2% of overall human-made pollution.

39.  By 2050, the aviation sector will cut its net carbon footprint to half of 2005 levels.

It’s no secret that air travel pollution statistics weren’t exactly great to look at in the past. The evolution of technology and global progress come at a great cost — in the case of aviation, an environmental one.

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 that 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 of 2005 levels by 2050, thanks to technological advancements.

Air Travel Statistics

Other Fascinating Air Travel Statistics

40. 1,720,000 airplane seats are booked around Thanksgiving.

As Thanksgiving comes around, the roads and airlines become abuzz with travelers. Naturally, airports see a surge of people who want to travel for the holidays.

As Thanksgiving air travel statistics demonstrate, people book around 1,720,00 seats every Thanksgiving.

However, Thanksgiving is not the busiest time of the year at airports, nor is Christmas. Apparently, Halloween is the one with the most booked seats. On October 31, airports see as many as 2.06 million bookings.

41. 5% to 15%  of people miss their flights.

Not everyone who buys a plane ticket makes it to their flight. On average, anywhere between 5% and 15% of plane travelers miss their flight for one reason or another, as the air passenger travel statistics indicate.

42. 19,049,368 US citizens traveled to Europe in 2019.

Certain parts of Europe are a hotspot for tourism. The continent takes in an especially high number of US tourists.

The statistics on international air travel prove this: in 2019, a little over 19 million people from the United States went to Europe to soak up all the stunning sights.

43. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport sees 53.4 million passengers every year.

Atlanta International Airport is the busiest airport in the United States. Every year, around 53 million people make their way through its terminals (not counting 2020’s travel restrictions due to COVID-19).

As per the relevant city-to-city air travel statistics, Hartsfield-Jackson is way in the lead in terms of traveler throughput.

The Los Angeles International Airport, the second-busiest in the US, accumulates “only” 42.8 million passengers annually.

For the sake of comparison, the 787 Dreamliner achieves Mach 0.85 for steady cruising.

44. Statistics on air travel reveal that there are around 500,000 people in the air at any moment.

Looking at the skies, the great blue above looks quite lonely. However, the truth is that there are far more people up there than you might think.

At every given moment, there are some 500,000 people in airplanes making their way to their destinations. Meanwhile, if you wonder how many people fly a day, that number is 2,900,000 in the United States alone.

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

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).

The second place was reserved for 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). 

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

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, and yearly revenue, American Airlines is unmatched across all four categories.

The number of served countries is a criterion that doesn’t see any American carrier anywhere near the top of the list. According to the latest airline industry statistics, this is where Turkish Airlines reigns supreme, with 120 served countries.

For the sake of comparison, the next contender on the list, Air France, flies to 93 countries, which is 27 less than the winner.

Key Takeaways

The aforementioned statistics and facts demonstrate that air travel is the absolute safest mode of transport today. It has numerous advantages compared to all other means of transportation.

Apart from safety, there are many other interesting factors that contribute to air travel growth statistics. That said, the industry is likely to recover in no time from the adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many passengers travel by air per year?

According to the 2018 statistics on air travel from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the number of passengers that flew via scheduled airline services was 4.1 billion worldwide.

One thing should be noted regarding this 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).

How many planes are in the air right now?

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, 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 Thursday or Friday in July or August.

How many planes fly a day in the US?

More than 87,000 flights are crisscrossing each other every single day in the skies based on the air travel statistics USA from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Moreover, U.S. airlines carried 777.9 million passengers on domestic flights alone in 2018, according to the US domestic air travel statistics issued by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

What’s the longest direct flight in the world?

Singapore Airlines’ direct flight from Singapore to Newark, New Jersey – Lasting around 18.5 hours, this is the longest direct flight in the world. Moreover, it travels about 9,534 miles.

Why do planes not fly over the pacific?

It’s basically due to the fact that curve routes are shorter than straight ones. Traveling through curve routes offers the fastest and most fuel-efficient flight.

Which country has the highest air travel frequency in the world?

Without a shadow of a doubt, the country that has the highest air travel frequency 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 air travel statistics that explain why the US tops the chart, though two of the most obvious ones happen to be a fairly high income per capita and a powerful economy.

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