Which is Better: Traveling by Car or by Airplane?

W hich mode of travel you believe is better — by car or by airplane — depends on what is important to you.

A significantly greater number of people are traveling by car instead of by airplane for the upcoming holiday season, according to this article written by Greg Keraghosian, who is the associate travel editor of Yahoo! Travel.

“The survey by Airfarewatchdog asked more than 3,300 travelers a simple question: Will you be flying for the holidays this year? Thirteen percent answered, ‘Yes, I always fly for the holidays,’ which is a precipitous drop from the 32 percent who said so in 2013.”

There are a number of factors which have caused more people to consider driving a car to their destinations rather than flying as passengers on airplanes, including but not limited to:

  • Crowds and long lines
  • Cost
  • Convenience
  • Security screenings and procedures at airport checkpoints


Even though fuel prices are at the lowest point in the past four years, airfares have not been reduced — significantly, if at all. Instead, airlines continue to add fuel surcharges to certain international airfares — and even increase airfares in some cases — potentially pocketing the difference which decreasing fuel costs can bring…

…so does that mean that you should start driving more? That depends.

If cost is the main issue for you, air travel may not necessarily be more expensive than traveling by car depending on all of the factors involved. This handy interactive dynamic calculator can help you ascertain whether or not you should travel by airplane or by car, as it takes into account such factors as the…

  • Miles per gallon of the vehicle you intend to use
  • Cost of fuel for the vehicle
  • Maintenance costs for your vehicle
  • Miles to your destination versus to the airport you would use
  • Time to reach your destination
  • Lodging expenses during your road trip
  • Meal expenses during your road trip
  • Airfares and ancillary fees you expect to pay
  • Cost to park your vehicle at the airport
  • Rental car expenses


…and it gives you two visual graphic in the form of pie charts to instantly see what attributes to the percentages of your expenses.

If energy efficiency is more important to you, it may surprise you to know that — unless you drive a car that gets 33.8 gallons per mile or carry more than one passenger in your vehicle — flying as a passenger in commercial air travel is typically more fuel efficient than driving your car; but then again, that could depend on how you drive.

If potential harm to the environment is more important to you, you might be interested in reading up on this study released earlier this year as conducted by the Transportation Research Institute of the University of Michigan, which analyzes recent trends in the amount of energy needed to transport a person in the United States a given distance either in a light-duty vehicle or on a scheduled airline flight.

If safety is paramount to you, fly as a passenger on an airplane rather than drive a car. According to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the United States, 33,561 traffic fatalities occurred in the United States in 2012 — or approximately 11.3 deaths per one billion vehicle miles traveled. In contrast, the chance of you suffering from a fatality from being a passenger on an airplane is remote at best.

In other words, passengers of commercial airlines reportedly die at a rate of 0.07 per billion passenger miles flown, according to this study conducted by the Department of Economics and the Transportation Center of Northwestern University.

I asked on July 31 earlier this year if commercial aviation is safe after the following four major incidents:


Fears may not allow you to have much control over your decision. If you have aviophobia or acrophobia, a flight is something which you might automatically dismiss more often than not.

Of course, there are other forms of transportation to consider — including travel by rail, bus, and vessel at sea. Many of the aforementioned factors apply to your final decision here as well…

…so now it is your turn. Which is better for you: driving a car or flying as a passenger to your destination — and why?

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