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Are Foreign Tourists Better Risk Assessors Than New York Journalists?

You probably heard about the terrible air crash in New York on Saturday between a small plane and a tourist helicopter. Nine people were killed.
There is a follow-up article today in the Daily News by a reporter, Joe Jackson, who went to check out the tourist helicopter trade a day after the crash. The article makes it sound as though he was expecting there would be no customers for rides. But there were plenty of people who still wanted an aerial tour of the city. Jackson got on a helicopter himself. The French family he rode with “were more interested in the sites below,” but “I was warily eying the other helicopters and planes off in the distance and kept wishing I could slide the window open to get a breath of fresh air.”
Perhaps it’s not so surprising that someone would be more apprehensive about taking a ride the day after a crash. What’s interesting, however, is that the journalist seemed to be the only person around who was really worried. Now, maybe his fear was really just shtick, or maybe he was sent by an editor to bring back a story about how tourists are petrified to ride helicopters — and, since he was the only one who was scared, he had to write himself into the story.
But to me, the story illustrates something else.
Most of the unperturbed tourists he writes about are Europeans, as were the people who died in Saturday’s crash. (It is, after all, high tourist season in New York; for all I know, 90 percent of the people who take these rides are foreigners.) Why are they so much less jittery than Jackson himself?
One thought that came to mind was that the average tourist may be a better risk assessor than the average New York journalist. (If so, that‘s a scary thought.) Maybe it also has something to do with the fact that media hysteria in Europe about this kind of tragedy tends to be a shade more subdued than in the U.S.
The fact is, there could hardly be a safer time to ride a tourist helicopter than immediately after a crash, when everyone is on high alert. But just as investors love to sell in a crumbling market, we are all groomed every day by media hysteria to throw away all logic when it comes to assessing risk. I am glad the French family didn’t fall for it, and that they had a nice ride.