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Has Al Qaeda made air travel more dangerous?

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Elaine Thompson/AP

(Read caption) Passengers wait to go through a screening area at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Monday.

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The 9/11 attacks changed air travel, perhaps for ever.

"No fly" lists that saw famous Muslims like Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) prevented from boarding airlines, longer and more thorough security checks, and questioning from airline agents proliferated globally. Richard Reid, the would-be shoe bomber forced us all to take our shoes off. Now, the would-be underwear bomber Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab is likely to force many of us to be virtually undressed.

But with the 9/11 attacks factored in, how much worse was the past decade for attacks on civilian aviation? Well, pollster and statistician Nate Silver, whose blog typically analyzes US political polling data, took the time to crunch the numbers. His answer is that – if you count passenger deaths alone – the last decade wasn't worse at all. It was better.

Using data from he found that "passenger violence" on commercial flights led to 469 fatalities amongst passengers, crew, and attackers in the 2000s (265 of these deaths were on 9/11). That was slightly worse than the 1990s, when onboard violence led to just under 400 fatalities, but much better than the 1980s when over 1,400 people were killed in such incidents, or in the 1970s, when just over 800 people were killed.


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