A Near Death Experience is Apparently Worth $5,000, Worth It?

By April 23, 2018Blog

Written By:  William Mellor, Vice President at AngelouEconomics |  What is the Economic Impact of a Near Death Experience?

Earlier this week, a freak accident on an airplane led to an engine explosion mid-flight on a Southwest Airlines plane. In the accident, 1 person was killed, and 7 others were injured. While this is a terrible accident, remarkably, this is the first death to occur aboard an American flight since 2009.

Now, Southwest Airlines is known for excellent customer service, but to say that this situation requires a deft touch would be an understatement. In the follow up to the aftermath, Southwest Airlines has reportedly offered each of the remaining 143 passengers $5,000 and another $1,000 in flight vouchers.

It’s not uncommon for companies to respond in this way after a fatal accident, but what does the money really mean to someone that just experienced a traumatic event like one on the Southwest Airlines flight? How far does that money really go towards mitigating the damage done?

First, let’s define the costs. Most obviously, many will choose to undergo therapy to work though their experience and figure out how to deal with the traumatic experience within the greater context of their lives. Next, there will be lost productivity in the short-term. Individuals will either need time off work to attend therapy or will likely take a few days off just to process their experience and regroup.

Unsurprisingly, the costs of therapy can range significantly. It seems a good benchmark is about $150/hour. If that’s the case, $5,000 can buy you about 33 hours of counseling. How much time any given person will need with a therapist will vary, but most will be able to get the help they need within that time frame.

In terms of lost productivity, the costs would be relatively minimal. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the weekly median earnings are $881, or about $45,812 annually. So those Southwest Airlines passengers could afford to take a week off of work to regroup and still have enough for about 27 hours of therapy going forward. This assumes that each of the individuals on board the flight has the time to take off through their employers. This also, however, doesn’t account for lost productivity even when they return to work, each person is likely to be slightly distracted over the next few weeks as they continue to process the event.   

Of course, there are also costs that cannot be calculated. Family and friends will be affected. Loved ones will want to help but may not know how. Colleagues may not know how to approach the individuals when they return to work, creating a slightly awkward environment for everyone.

Basically, $5,000 and some travel vouchers may be enough to economically cover damages, but I’d bet my bottom dollar that no one on board flight 1380 would be willing to go through that experience again just for the money.


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