Percentage of humanity who have flown


I had a discussion with a friend the other day and he claimed that only 2% of human beings alive today have ever flown. I thought about this, and realised that it could easily be true and also that it seemed not to be true. I looked for somewhere that might answer the question and came across this forum. No doubt you have discussed this before, but I spent some time looking and failed to find the answer.

Can anyone help? Thank you.


Perhaps worldwide it’s only 2%.

The only figures I’ve been able to find was for the percentage of the adult population in the USA that has flown on commercial aircraft. This number ranges from about 70% to 85%. has a wide variety of transportation statistics but I couldn’t find the one you were asking about.


This guy was British and we agreed that more people in the USA had flown than in any other country, but we could not find out the data about Britain either. The argument had to do with whether, globally, it was a privileged or grossly privileged mode of transportation.

Thanks for what you did find though. And for the site.


My personal opinion, for what it’s worth*, is that it is neither when.

In any case, I found another site which may or may not be correct. It’s a site that lays the blame on climate change to mankind**. It says that 5% of the world’s population is destroying, er, has flown. The site is

*Several people on the forum would say my opinion isn’t worth used toilet paper :slight_smile:

**What BS!!


Two data points to consider. I only looked at the USA stats.

Last year there were 581.2 million passengers per New York Times
US Census reports 301.6 million people in the United States

Figuring out the population count is straight forward.

Trick would be how to extract individual names to eliminate duplicates as it almost seems like the average person takes 2 flights a year which is obviously not the case.

More questions in my mind.

What defines a passenger in the count above? Is that one individual counted as one passenger on a multi leg flight from point A to point B or is it 2 passengers on the for the same person on each leg. If you count one person as two passengers for a multi-leg trip then the airline passenger count gets inflated. Flight attendants take head counts when they pass through for connecting flights on SWA which makes me think that one person is counted more then once on a multi leg flight

It wouldn’t surprise me if each airline handled their passenger counts with different methods.

I doubt there is a “real solid” answer to your question due to the ambiguity of “passenger”.

I’d suspect the US Census bureau would be good place to maybe poke around in.


I think too much is being read into the question. It’s a simple question: out of the world’s total population (roughly 6.7 billion), how many have flown. The question refers to unique individuals.

There is one thing that does need to be clarified: is the original poster talking about the number of people who have flown at least once in his lifetime or is he talking about how many unique individuals fly in a given time period such as a year? My feeling is it is how many have flown at least once sometime during his lifetime.

Worldwatch Institute also states that 5% of the world’s population has flown. Based on 6.7 billion, this would be 335 million people who have flown.


You guys are good. Thanks very much for your efforts. I have written to both sites to find out how they got their 5%. I will tell you if I get any good data.

I agree that when you look for facts, how you define your question means you get this or that answer. I had in mind how many people have ever got on a plane and flown in their entire lifetime. It would also be interesting to see how many different individuals fly per year, but loads trickier, as you all point out.

What was behind it was trying to figure out how the lives of richer people (globally) are so different to most of humanity. In small ways I don’t think about. For example, I have also heard that half the people on earth have never made a phone call. No doubt this has altered with mobile networks,much cheaper to set up than land lines. those kind of facts are sometimes startling.

Thanks again for any other data you might come up with, as I am curious how anyone can actually find this out as well as the actual fact.


Your question was quite straight forward as you posted it How many people have flown on this planet, and on the surface, one would think easy to answer by just getting the two data points (population vs passenger count). It’s the collection process for the passenger counts that seem to be the problem. When the passenger count is higher then the population, thats what set all the bells and alarms off on what is the definition of a passenger that the airlines use for their count.

As stated earlier, one can’t inflate the world population count by method of double counting but that could (or or is) be done on the passenger count as posted in my original post.

On the flip side of my original post, couple of points to capture that won’t be captured is GA passenger traffic such as business traffic and the like. There are a lot of people that may get on a LJ or King Air charter that never may set foot on an airliner. I guess a number could be extrapolated from the SOB on a flight plan if that data was readily available, but not so readily available for those “discovery flights” at a flight school where a flight plan was never filed.

2 of my 3 Angel (Grace) flight patients had never set foot on a commercial flight, yet had been on many Angel Flights. One of my passengers (husband) had never set foot on a plane. I could conceivably see passengers in underdeveloped or your third world countries not counted on your Caravan type sorties.

I would be interested in hearing the results of your email to the websites in question, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they give you nothing and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was just a WAG.


This web site might answer some of the questions and possible pose more.



Just to keep you up to date, the World Watch person relied instantly and said they got the 5% figure from the other site, the atmosfair one. I have heard nothing from the atmosfair one, so I don’t know where they got the figure.


Hey Fred,

I took a look at the BTS site, as you suggested. Full of data. I could spend hours there. But fifteen minutes showed me that unless I have missed something, nearly everything is centred around the USA or North America. I know that tons of USA citizens have taken a plane once, a huge percentage. I am looking for global data, that is, the flying experience as a global phenomena.

For example, the number of people who don’t have toilets or clean water or a car in the USA is pretty small. globally it is huge. Its the global I am looking for.

But thank you for trying. And if I missed the global element to that BTS site, put me right.


It wouldn’t surprise me that they just made it up to support their bullshit carbon credits. 5% sounds very low.

80% of the American population has flown. With about 300 million people, that’s 240 million flyers. Atmosfair says only 5% of the world’s population has flown. The 240 million American flyers is 4% of the world’s population so what they are saying is that out of the rest of the world’s population (6.4 billion), only 1% has flown.


I suppose I should get this data too, so as to be complete and either show that the data of the 5% people is nonsense or to show that the USA citizens, as one might suspect, fly more than anyone else, just like they do more of many things than anyone else. the scale and the data is important.

So my question is where did you get the figure of 80% of Americans have flown in their lives? Seems quite high, but anything is possible.


All you need is the passenger data. World / US population is easily obtainable through credible sources.

Passenger / souls on board data is the 64K question / variable and unreliable portion that I see for reasons already posted. I checked through the Census bureau website and came up with nothing.

Computing the percentage is straight forward and from what I have researched, I doubt anybody can give you a straight forward answer outside a WAG.

I am always for learning new searching tips. :wink:


Hi Lieberma,

I want to know NOT the total number of passenger-trips per year, some passengers having flown many times in a year or a lifetime.

I want to know whether a person has flown in their lifetime or not. That is, I also want to know the percentage of people globally, that is in the whole world, that have ever flown and the opposite, how many have NOT ever flown.

There is something about your response that makes me think you don’t quite get my question. It is, as you might have found, not an obvious answer. I don’t think the USA census asks such a question and even if it did, it would not help since I am interested in the global totals. But thanks for looking.

The point of this question is to establish whether an incredibly small, or large or unsurprisingly middling number of actual humans have ever flown.


Oh I fully understand your question and it’s a very easy yes or no question to the question “Have you ever flown on an airplane” If you have flown, you would be considered a passenger (GA or commercial)

Being a passenger on an airplane is 1/2 equation to your question. (I can’t imagine anyone piloting a plane without ever being a passenger first).

I just don’t see how you can get a good reliable answer with the available data. I was hoping the census bureau would have had some type of “survey” have you ever taken a plane ride thus me poking my head extensively in their website…

The way passengers are counted now, with all that I saw, you won’t be able to differentiate between who has only flown once vs frequent fliers.

The passenger counts on commercial airlines are inflated for your question “how many people out of a certain population figure has flown”

Using airline passenger count is suspect in trying to figure out a percentage of a certain population that may have ever been on an airplane.

Your question doesn’t address commercial or GA, but that adds to the equation.

The percentage of people “who have flown” globally or on a national basis on commercial ONLY will be less then if you ask the question have you flown on GA **OR **commercial.

I have been focusing on USA data because that data is probably the most readily available “online” as a starting point. I realize the USA data is not indicative of the rest of the world, but clearly the rest of the world data may not be as comprehensive especially when you include third world countries where people could have been on a Caravan flight out of the bush.


Some data points from a pilot perspective…

FAA reports 590,349 estimated active airmen certificates for 2007
USA population was 301.6 million
Percentage of pilots in the population of the US of A is 0.0019573905835543766578249336870027

Looking for worldwide data on pilots, I could not find a source. One thing for sure on a world wide basis, my WAG would the percentage of pilots within the population will be far less,

No different in what your question is asking.

The number you are seeking is the “590,349” for the people who have flown (which I am classifying as a passenger).

I doubt there are any credible statistics to find out a percentage of humans that have flown when I can’t even find the world wide pilot numbers which is a much more controlled subset of numbers.

Using 2002 (the highest value of 631,762 pilots in the past 10 years) and the CURRENT USA population the percentage goes up to 0.0020947015915119363395225464190981


This Chicago Times article states 72% of Americans have flown. Other sites I have seen state 75 to 80%.

Some people are making this simple question harder than it should be. Let me make sure I have it right.

*You are asking how many people have flown at least once in their lifetime.

You don’t care if they flew once in all of their life or once a day.

You also don’t care if they flew in a general aviation aircraft (which could be anything from a ultralight to a 747) or on a commercial airliner.

You don’t care if they flew as a passenger or as a pilot or as whatever.

The bottom line is that you are trying to find out how many unique people have left the ground in an airplane.*

If the above is correct then I also think it would be impossible to get an accurate figure. You will need to determine why the source states it percentage. In the case of atmosfair, they are going for a low number because they are trying to get money from people who are “destroying the earth by flying.”


move decimal two places to the right to get your percentage :wink:


Uhg… Thanks!

Durn calculator forgot to punch *100

Surely wasn’t human induced :stuck_out_tongue: