For an already anxious flier like Allyse Sanchez, hearing about each recent incident adds to the unease. "It always just kind of sits in the back of your mind," said the 25-year-old Denver resident. Sanchez said she had a panic attack on a flight Wednesday to Seattle for business, after a friend texted her shortly before takeoff to tell her about the TransAsia crash. "By the time I got off the plane, I was still shaking," she said. "Knowing I have to get back on a plane again today, it already makes me very nervous."
But despite 2014's high casualty totals, there isn't a pattern in the recent incidents that shows a safety issue in common for travelers to worry about, said Harro Ranter, president of Aviation Safety Network. "When we look at the number of fatal accidents that we've had this year, there's no apparent reason for concern," he said. "Especially the last couple of years, both in terms of the number of accidents and the number of fatalities, were among the safest in airline history."
On "Squawk on the Street" Thursday, Southwest Airlines chairman and CEO Gary Kelly downplayed concerns. "I think we're all very aware of risk around the world in our industry," he said. Air travel is already the safest mode of travel, he said, and the industry is working to make it safer. "We'll continue to keep safety of customers and our crew as our absolute top priority, and look for every opportunity to mitigate risk."
Read More Air travel still safe, says Southwest CEO
If there is a dip in air travel demand from nervous fliers, it's likely to be both slight and short-lived, said David Fuscus, chief executive of consulting firm Xenophon Strategies. "Consumers know, especially in the U.S., that it's very safe to fly," he said.
By the numbers, travelers face long odds on being in a fatal crash. Flying on one of the world's major airlines, on any single flight, you have a 1 in 4.7 million chance of being killed, according to PlaneCrashInfo.com, which tracked accident data from 1993 to 2012. Even if you're flying on one of those with the worst safety records, your odds are still 1 in 2 million.
Over a lifetime, the chance of dying in an "air and space transport incident," as the National Safety Council describes it, are 1 in 8,357. To put that in perspective, by their data from 2010, you're more likely to die from other less-expected causes including heat exposure (1:8,321), choking (1:3,649), in an accident as a pedestrian (1:723), a fall (1:152) or unintentional poisoning (1:119). Of course, causes such as heart disease, cancer and car accidents are also substantially more likely to occur.
"The most dangerous part of your airline flight is the trip to the airport," said aviation and national security expert Carl Rochelle.