Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.


Bar the odd grounding, these enormous technological advances help us take flight

America hasn't had a fatal crash on a commercial airline for four years

As I stood there in the freezing cold, trying to pay for my car parking in central London by mobile phone - it would probably have been easier, and more appropriate, to apply for a mortgage - and getting cut off every time I started punching in my credit card number, I found myself suddenly channeling Basil Fawlty and raging against the way in which technology has made our lives more complicated and frustrating. What happened to the days when you could just put money in a meter, I asked, to the heavens?

By and large, however, I feel that the modern world suits me. Although I sometimes hanker after a simpler time when we had less choice, and it didn't seem to rain quite as much, I recognise that, in many ways, life works so much better these days. Those of us of a certain age often don't notice these improvements, while there's a generation growing up who expect, for instance, to be able to make a phone call from an aeroplane, or to have their entire music library on a machine the size of a matchbox, or to be able to watch their favourite TV programme on a Tube train.

But occasionally something stops you in your tracks, and gives you pause to reflect on how largely unheralded technological development has changed our lives. Such a moment was a captivating discussion on Radio 4's Today programme about the remarkably improved safety record of commercial airlines. We will have been vaguely aware that air disasters do not occur as often as they once did, but the figures are quite astonishing.

Globally, 2012 was the safest for air passengers since 1945 which, given the massive increase in the number of flights taken, is utterly extraordinary. America hasn't had a fatal crash on a commercial airline for four years, the longest period since the advent of the jet engine. And, by applying the statistics, a passenger could fly every day for 123,000 years before being in a fatal crash. Engines are more reliable - we see that with our own motor cars - and navigation and warning systems are more advanced.

Of course, there is no avoiding the tempting of fate in such a discussion, and for those who have a phobia of flying, the statistics are meaningless and unhelpful. If you have a deep-seated fear of something, no amount of rational explanation will change anything.

I often travel with someone who has to have a handful of Xanax, a few tumblers of brandy and an hour with a Paul McKenna CD before she'll get on an aircraft. I try to explain how safe flying is, and now I'll have a battery of facts to back me up. But I can't compete with her pharmaceutical armoury.

A clinical psychologist on the Today programme focused instead on the discrepancy between what the phobic feels and the reality based on the statistics. So Dr Jennifer Wild puts it another way: if you had cancer and went to a doctor, would you prefer treatment that was felt to be right, or one that was based on hard evidence? Cancer treatment? Now that's a whole other story of technological advancement...