If it's in the News, it's in our Polls. Public opinion polling since 2003.


Fear of Flying

A Commentary by Susan Estrich

Now is the time for those of us on vacation to start talking ourselves back onto the planes we have to board to get home. Here I am in paradise -- actually, the Grand Wailea in Maui, which looks like paradise to me -- and around the pool and on the beaches, almost everyone is squinting into BlackBerries and iPhones trying to figure out exactly what is going wrong in the rest of the world. Actually, I was going to write a column making fun of all of us for our crackberry addictions, even on holiday, but it stopped being funny when the news we were getting was of terror in the sky. It's the last thing you want to think about, and the first thing on everyone's mind.

I know all the reassuring things. Flying is still safer than driving (especially with me, according to my kids). The Maui airport is not exactly a hotbed of al-Qaida activity. There's no reason -- after all, this is vacation (my first in three years) -- not to get to the airport early, be patient with security and be thankful that, as always after a major threat, security will be at its most stringent. It couldn't be a safer time to fly, we tell each other over our "Breaking News Alerts" by the pool, and even if that's not really true, it certainly sounds good, especially to the children.

So how come I'm still nervous?

There's no way for many of us to live without airplanes. My daughter flies to get to school. I fly all the time for work. Vacations are actually a great thing, and getting away, seeing new places and meeting new people is part of what makes life fulfilling and exciting. Getting off airplanes is just not an option. Besides, trains and busses can be bombed even more easily, I suppose.

The problem with terror threats is not so much that they force us to live differently. I'd be almost happy to live differently, if it would make a difference. No, it's the inability to do much of anything -- other than get to the airport early and be patient in line -- that makes living with the threat of terror so frightening. For those of us who crave control, crave the sense that we can make things better by doing something, nothing is harder than doing nothing.

Of course, awareness is important. Thank God the passengers on Flight 253 were aware and proactive. But should we all sit alert on each flight, watching for false moves by men who look Muslim? I'm sure some people are doing just that, and all I can think of is all my young male students who are dark complexioned or Muslim and are the subject of hostile stares on their way back to school.

What makes it even worse, of course, is that terrorists aim for surprise. If we're all looking for Arab men, leave it to them to use a woman or a child. If we're focused on flights from Europe, leave it to them to find a flight from somewhere else. If we're looking on the plane, leave it to them to hit at the ticket counter. If you really want to be vigilant, you have to consider the unexpected, not the expected, which sounds a lot like walking around in a constant state of paranoia, knowing that even paranoids have real enemies, as America does.

So we must be vigilant but not vigilante, careful but not paralyzed, alert in situations where, by definition, we have almost no control.

This was not what any of us wanted to be thinking about on vacation, but terrorists don't take vacations. And because of that, Christmas holiday this year is not nearly as peaceful as I'd hoped. So it goes. In a world facing terror, you take your rest where you can find it. I'm grateful for my days in paradise. And I'm ready to sit in my seat without moving if that's what it takes to get home safely. If only it were that easy. Happy new year. And a safe one.


See Other Political Commentaries

See Other Commentaries by Susan Estrich

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.

We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.

Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $4.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.

To learn more about our methodology, click here.