Flying Doesn’t Scare Me,
But Crashing Sure Does!
By Captain Ron Nielsen
the first commercial airline crash in five years recently took place
in Lexington, Kentucky, fearful flyers are much more likely to dwell
on that crash. They’re likely to be focused on the fact that the
pilot took the wrong runway and crashed the plane. Recent
statistics about flying safety will not convince them that flying is
the safest way to travel on the planet. The odds of being killed in
a U.S. plane crash from 2000-2005 were 1 in 22.8 million, a 60
percent improvement from the ten-year period of 1990-1999. It’s
getting safer and safer to fly! If you’re a fearful flyer, you may
hear those statistics, but you’re really thinking, “Oh yeah? Try to
tell that to the 50 passengers who lost their lives in Lexington,
Kentucky, on Comair 5191.”
Crashes Lead to Aviation Improvements: Do airplanes crash on
occasion? Absolutely! Is it likely that one on which you are a
passenger will crash? Absolutely NOT! You have a better chance of
winning the lottery! So it comes down to a question of where you
place your thoughts. One pilot with more than 16,000 hours in the
air had never even had so much as a scare during that time. In
fact, one of the challenges of being a pilot is to remain vigilant
after countless hours of having nothing go wrong—a phenomenon that
has resulted in a whole new discipline of aviation called “human
factors.” And at first blush, it looks very much like this latest
commercial aviation accident will fall into that category—not only
from mistakes the cockpit crew may have made, but also other
contributing factors like staffing in the control tower, airfield
design and marking, etc.
assured, however, that this accident will be investigated with a
fine tooth comb, and changes within the aviation industry are likely
to prevent any future occurrence with similar circumstances. This
is why accidents in commercial aviation are so rare and becoming
increasingly more so, even though the number of flights has
increased dramatically. Granted, this provides little comfort to
the surviving friends and relatives of those who died. However, if
this same kind of diligence were to take place in the area of
automobile safety, we would not experience more than 44,000 highway
fatalities each year. Airplane crashes are “better” news because of
the changes they bring about.
What’s a Fearful Flyer to Do? Every pilot does everything they
can to insure a safe and successful outcome. Here’s what you can do
to insure your safety and enjoyment as well:
attention to the safety briefing that many people “tune out” at
the beginning of every flight. Stay seated with your seat belt
fastened when you’re not up using the restroom. Resist the
temptation to get up when the seatbelt sign is on.
Admit you’re afraid and share your story with others. Find out
you are not alone. Many people cover up their fear of
flying by saying they hate to fly or they’re “bad flyers.” The
truth of the matter is that flying scares them to death! But
hating to fly sounds a lot better than being afraid of it.
Explore the “stories” you tell yourself about flying. Replace
those myths you have acquired with the facts about flying and
why it is so safe. There may be a mystique associated with
flying, but airplanes take off, cruise above the clouds, and
land safely because of years and years of industry experience,
traditions, and layers upon layers of regulations and
monitoring. Once you understand some of these aspects about
flying, it is likely to seem less scary.
ways to cope and methods to distract your attention away from
those “obsessive thought loops” that can lead to anxiety and
panic attacks. Listen to unfamiliar audio tapes or music.
Solve a sudoku puzzle, a challenge that can be particularly
absorbing while diverting your thoughts away from those
obsessive catastrophic ones. Watch a movie on your laptop and
use a headset—get totally engrossed, again to break those
obsessive thought patterns.
Pilot’s Life! While there is the popular notion that pilots are
willing to make extraordinary sacrifices for the welfare of their
passengers, the truth is that they have a vested interest in the
outcome of every flight—their own survival. It’s not that pilots
wouldn’t go to extraordinary lengths to insure your safe passage;
they instinctively are motivated by that higher
calling—self-preservation. And that works to everyone’s collective
good even though it may be a little less romantic.
Allen says about death, “I don’t mind it; I just don’t want to be
there when it happens.” But, put into perspective, you don’t fear
crashing and dying each and every time you get into your car yet
based on statistics, you should! Maybe you should be even more
afraid of being a pedestrian—7,000 of them will be killed this year
and yet there is no public outrage over this.
Living Without Limits: So do fearful flyers fear crashing?
Absolutely! Pilots do, too! Crashing sucks, and everyone has a
right to be afraid of such a tragic event. But no one should let it
interfere with living a limitless life by unnecessarily worrying
about something that is hundreds of times safer than walking down
the street, Further, you have the pilots solemn promise that they
will stay focused on doing their best to stay current and proficient
at what they do best—piloting!
Read other articles and learn more about
Captain Ron Nielsen.
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