Picture this: You are on a flight when you learn that the pilots have fallen ill and can no longer fly the plane. A voice comes over the public address system, asking for a volunteer to help land the aircraft. You have no experience, but you have seen “Airplane!” and “Snakes on a Plane.” Maybe you’ve frittered away hours on Microsoft’s Flight Simulator. You throw off your seat belt and march toward the cockpit, your cape rustling behind you.
Hold on, hero. You might want to return to your seat for this reality check.
“There is a zero percent chance of someone pulling that off,” said Patrick Smith, a commercial air pilot and founder of the Ask the Pilot blog. “Do people think they can perform transplant surgery? No. Then why do they think they can land a plane?”
The clinical name for this type of baseless bravado is the Dunning-Kruger effect. It could be used to explain the results of a YouGov poll conducted in January. Out of 20,063 adults surveyed in the United States, nearly a third said they were “somewhat confident” or “very confident” that they could safely land a passenger airplane in an emergency, relying only on the assistance of air traffic control.
Almost half of the men who responded were confident they could do it, compared with 20% of the women.
Alas, ego is not a license to fly. “I think they would have a very difficult time,” said Brett D. Venhuizen of the University of North Dakota.