Fear of flying and how to deal with it

Four Reasons Why People Fear Plane Crashes and Why They Should Let Go of that Fear (guest author: Courtney Henderson)

The fear of flying is a legitimate phobia that can ground someone for life. Despite statistics reminding us how safe airline flying is, countless people still refuse to fly or they reluctantly fly with great stress and anxiety. Although some people do not like to fly because they feel uncomfortable in enclosed spaces or because of their fear of heights, most of those people who fear flying are actually besieged by the prospect of crashing.

Fear of flying can be overcome

    According to an article featured on PBS.org, the chance of an average American being killed in a plane crash is about 1 in 11 million. That’s a pretty small chance, especially when you compare it to the average American’s chance of dying in a car accident: 1 in 5,000. Although this article states that this number can change based on your own personal flying habits (your chances of dying in a plane crash slightly increase the more you fly), the article still concludes by saying that airline flying is very safe.

And yet there are people who can’t help but fear of dying in a plane crash. What are the reasons behind their fear, and how can they overcome this fear? Listed below are four reasons why people fear plane crashes and why they should toss those reasons into the trash.

  1. Hijacking: This phobia became more prevalent after 9/11 and still keeps many people who used to enjoy flying from getting on an airplane ever again. Even if they continue to fly, many people still experience increased stress and even panic when flying due to this fear. Although hijackings can still occur (the chance can never be reduced to zero), airport security across the world has become substantially more stringent since 2001. In addition to airport security checkpoints, undercover agents are also used to constantly look out for and monitor suspicious activity.
  2. Turbulence: Many people think that when a plane shakes, suddenly turns or drops a few feet in the air, it is crashing. This is just turbulence, which occurs frequently in unstable air. Indeed, one should keep in mind that the air we breathe and travel through not only moves horizontally, like the wind, but also up and down. Vertical movements of air are typically called updrafts or downdrafts. Sailors from centuries back know how violent downdrafts can be at sea. A sudden downdraft, like the ones associated with a squall, could roll a large square-rigger on its beam in a split second. Just like horizontal gusts of wind, updrafts and downdrafts exhibit irregular and apparently random fluctuations. This is enough to instill fear in anyone of us not used to such weather phenomena. Vertical fluctuations in air flow are what cause an airplane ride to be bumpy and trigger fear, although rarely so for pilots who are trained to slow down and deal with such conditions safely. Such fluctuations should not cause you to crash. Only extreme and very rare cases of turbulence could cause a crash, but then again pilots know how to avoid these pitfalls in the first place. They know how to interpret the weather and are furthermore backed by weather radar in the cockpit as well as by updated weather data sent by countless weather reporting stations on the ground, not to mention local weather reports made over the radio by other pilots flying in their vicinity.Even if your plane flies through powerful turbulence, the chances of the plane being damaged (let alone crashing) are slim to none. Of those airliners that suffered damage in violent turbulence, most landed safely without serious injury to passengers. In other words, passengers simply need to remember that turbulence rarely causes crashes, let alone deaths. Granted, injury can occur (such as bumping your head on the airplane ceiling or falling down in the aisle). For this reason, you should always keep your seatbelt buckled while in the air, in addition to during take-offs and landings, plus while taxiing to and from the airport terminal.
  3. Airplane malfunction: Many passengers fear that instruments will fail in flight, wings will rip off or engines will stop. As far as instrument and system failure goes, all modern airliners are equipped with two (sometimes three) backup systems. Most never even experience a failure of the first system because they are maintained to prevent failure. Wings on modern airliners are designed to withstand high levels of stress caused by turbulence and stand little chance of structural failure. In fact, wings are designed to naturally flex before actually bending and then maybe failing. Should an airplane’s engines fail, the plane can in most cases function as a glider all the way down to a safe landing on a suitable surface with non-life threatening damage to the cabin. Pilots are trained to do exactly that if and when they should lose power on all engines, a pretty rare occurrence. Airplanes do not “fall out of the sky”. Instead, they are designed to remain controllable in a host of unlikely hazardous situations. Another thing to remember about airplane design is that airplanes are tested under stringent conditions in order to be certified as airworthy by government expert authorities and thereby allowed to carry passengers.
  4. Mid-air collisions: airline flights operate under a flight plan for each flight, whether short or extended. Flight plans help air traffic control know where every aircraft expects to land and at what time. All take-offs and landings are managed by air traffic controllers who tell pilots when it’s OK to take-off and land, to proceed to planned cruise flight or start approach descent. Air traffic controllers use radars to keep track of all flights in their area. Their goal is to keep each take-off and landing well-separated to avoid collision. Pilots also use radar and their very own sharp eyes, weather allowing, to scan for and keep aware of nearby aircraft. All in all, the chances of a mid-air collision are very rare because there are several prevention tools in place, both technological and visual.

Those of us who have a fear of flying should know that there are several resources out there to help understand how commercial airlines operate and why it is safe to fly. Many airlines and aircraft manufacturing companies have created short films on why flying is safe. There are also many books and programs available to help people understand and overcome their fear of flying. These resources can be easily found through a quick Internet search. You may also want to check these:
1) Fear of Flying Help
2) How Stuff Works
About our guest contributor:  Courtney is writer and editor for Airport Management Degrees. In her spare time, she likes to write guest articles for various websites on various topics of interest.

PS: Our guest author, Courtney Henderson, and people running CivAv.com make no representations as to the effectiveness of the fear of flying programs linked above. Would-be and actual airline passengers are invited to shop around and find the program that suits them best.

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