For once, news about why we're safer than we used to be

Flight 587 Noaa Photo Of Crash Site

Greetings, people of BoingBoing! It's an honor to be here…

I thought I'd start things off with a little anecdote that came into my mind as I was reading the paper yesterday morning in Seattle, on the first leg of my West Coast book tour…

It's mid-November 2001. My wife and I are living in the West Village, about a mile north of Ground Zero. We have an infant son, our first, who was born three days before 9/11. We've stuck it out in the city for two months through the external chaos of that period, and the internal chaos of being new parents, but finally mustered enough courage to pack our little family onto a plane to fly down to see relatives in Florida. As we're taking off from Newark, we have a spectacular view looking eastward across Manhattan and Brooklyn. And in the distance, at the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean, we can see flames and a plume of dark smoke billowing out from a spot on the Rockaways. I say to my wife, "That's a very ominous location for a big fire — it's right in the departure flight path out of JFK."

My suspicions, unfortunately, turn out to be correct. That black plume was American Flight 587, which crashed after takeoff when its tail fin snapped off over Jamaica Bay. Interestingly, our pilot doesn't mention it until after we land, explaining that the authorities quickly identified the crash as an accident and not terrorism-related.

That was seven years ago. I bring up this story now because American 587 was the last fatal crash on U.S. shores involving a full-size jetliner. That is an incredible run, and for some reason it is almost never talked about. Seven years of a perfect track record is more than just a statistical anomaly; we have clearly taken what has always been a safe form of transportation and made it into a staggeringly safe mode of transportation. In an age where we are bombarded by fear media at every turn — from the household menaces of local nightly news ("Something in your kitchen may be killing your children — tune in at eleven for more!") to the endless scaremongering about international terrorism, you'd think there would be an appetite for news about how ordinary life just got a lot safer. Yes, if it bleeds it leads and all, but still, if you look at the history of aviation accidents, seven years with no fatalities is much more unlikely (and thus newsworthy) than a crash or two each year.

So it was heartening to see in my hotel copy of USAToday that the latest good news — zero fatalities on any US commercial aircraft in the past two years, a first in our jet age history — managed to get on the front page. My favorite quote was this:

[MIT Professor Arnold] Barnett calculates that it's more likely for a young child to be elected president in his or her lifetime than to die on a single jet flight in the USA or in similar industrial nations in Europe, Canada or Japan.

Those of you still suffering from a fear of flying might think about those odds next time you hit a little turbulence. And for the rest of us, let's just savor a little good news about the modern world for once…