I am quickly approaching my 1,000th flight as a wheelchair user (as of posting, I’m at 990), and the upcoming milestone caused me to wonder — How many flights does the average person take in their lifetime?

John seated in his wheelchair on the tarmac in front of a Boeing 757 airplane.

Although there is no definitive answer, it is possible to make an educated guess using available government data. To make things easier, I’ve focused on U.S. data sources, meaning the final estimate will reflect the number of flights taken over the course of an average American’s lifetime.

This is a blog, so we’ll stick with a simplistic analysis using just a few key pieces of data:

Here are the data points we’re left with:

  • 2019 and 2022 U.S. Airline Enplanements (Domestic + International): 928 million and 853 million
  • U.S. Population (July 1, 2019 and July 1, 2022): 328,239,523 and 333,287,557
  • U.S. Life Expectancy (2019 and 2022): 78.8 years and 76.1 years

Given the impacts of the pandemic on travel frequency, population and life expectancy, I’ve taken the average of 2019 and 2022 data points for this calculation. It’s a simple one, reflected below:

Enplanements: (928,000,000 + 853,000,000)/2 = 890,500,000
Population: (328,239,523 + 333,287,557)/2 = 330,763,540
Life Expectancy: (78.8 + 76.1)/2 = 77.45

(890,500,000 Enplanements / 330,763,540 Population) = 2.69 flights per person per year

2.69 flights * 77.45 years = 208.34 flights

Based upon the calculation above, the average American can expect to take approximately 208 flights in their lifetime. That’s a big number!

Taking a selfie on a Norwegian Air Boeing 737 MAX 8.
Taking a selfie on a Norwegian Air Boeing 737 MAX 8.

Obviously, this isn’t an exact science — it doesn’t account for things like occupation, income, location or disability. The data set doesn’t include flights operated by international carriers at home or abroad, where Americans also fly (check out my guides to traveling with a wheelchair on British Airways, EgyptAir and others). As a result, the number could be higher!

As an average, it’s obvious that some people will fly more or less than others. While road warriors might fly multiple times a week, some people do not fly at all. Many readers of this website routinely tell me that they won’t fly until there is a wheelchair space on airplanes or a wheelchair accessible lavatory on every flight.

What the average represents is potential: an opportunity for air carriers to develop a product that will encourage those who do not fly often or at all to travel more frequently. When air travel becomes more accessible to disabled people, airline ticket bookings from the disability community will skyrocket! The business case for accessibility is staring airlines in the face — when will they remove the barriers to flying and embrace air travel for all?

I’m obviously a frequent flyer, but I’d love to hear how often you fly or, if you haven’t been on an airplane in awhile, what keeps you from flying more often? What can airlines do to win your business? Let me know in the comments below!

You May Also Like