We've heard the cliche a million times: You have a higher probability of dying in an accident driving to the airport than you do flying in a plane. One study claims you would have to fly once a day every day for more than 15,000 years to be involved in an accident -- about a 1 in 11 million chance.
Aircraft accidents, though, are between 150 and 200 times more likely to receive front-page coverage (according to some exceptionally unscientific data I choose to believe) than any other cause of death. I will concede that plunging 30,000 feet in a fiery mess of mangled steel holds an exceptional creepiness and is unquestionably newsworthy. Precisely because of this coverage, airlines have an overriding incentive not to be involved in an accident. The public remembers not only the airline forever but also the flight number.
No mode of travel is completely safe. And there is a clear need for an overhaul of the nation's air traffic control system. But airlines, already highly regulated, employ vigorous employment requirements for pilots and spend massively on safety.
LaHood's campaign of scaremongering shouldn't convince us that we need more scrutiny in hiring pilots, only that we need more stringent standards for Cabinet members.
(Karma now dictates that I perish in a horrendous airline crash over a swamp in Florida. I accept this but still maintain that my chances for survival remain greater in the air than on a Trek riding to work.)