Fear Of Flying

Why are so many people terrified at the thought of flying?  They get cotton mouth, dry lips, headaches, nervous anxiety and irrational fears about the very thought of climbing on board an airplane, strapping themselves into their seats with their seat belts in tidy rows, along with their fellow passengers, and getting the here we go signal from the stewardess and the pilot’s announcement that they are taking off…

Statistically, flying is much safer than driving a car, and we all know that, but there is a certain psychological mechanism at work here that defies logic; it is a primitive, visceral fear that grips many people, but it is very real…I admit it, I am one of them!

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The fear increases when you get that unmistakable feeling of tremendous power being unleashed, and your heart starts beating faster as the adrenaline races through your body and you can hear and feel the vibration, the thunderous, explosive roar of the jet engines as the plane taxis down the runway, gaining speed, going faster and faster until you are actually pressed back into your seat, right before that magic moment when liftoff occurs and you are suddenly airborne! It is like magic as you stare out the window as the plane circles the airport and climbs to it’s preassigned altitude, and you realize that you are now thousands of feet above the ground and still climbing….

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You can see all the old familiar sights and landmarks of your city, the network of roads, the congested traffic on the freeways, the railroad tracks and the hills and valleys of the safe, familiar ground, and you truly do have a “birds eye view” of the ground below receding into the distance as you climb higher and higher…If you take off from San Francisco, like I often do, you can see the ocean too, in all it’s majestic glory as you climb steadily upward to your preassigned flight pattern…..

Once you reach the prearranged altitude and flight path your plane has been assigned to, the plane levels off and you can stop white knuckling the seat dividers and take a deep breath, because you know you will be at the safest part of your journey now, even though you realize you are cruising at thousands of miles an hour to your destination….FAA regulations mandate that every plane must keep a mile distance apart in every direction, above, below and besides you, and it is very rare to ever even see another plane in mid air….

Once you are in mid flight, a psychological sense of normalcy and calm descends over you…The stewardess are there to answer any questions you may have and if you are lucky to serve snacks or drinks, depending on your flight or airline…They allow you to unbuckle your seat belts, and show an in flight movie if you want, or to turn on your cell phones, laptops or tablets to amuse and distract yourself…The plane ride is usually smoother than a car ride, unless you encounter turbulent weather, and a sense of peace and tranquility descends over you….You are all the way in now, you feel committed and know that destiny will prevail, one way or another…

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Once I was flying over the Rocky Mountains, peering down at all the rugged, jagged mountain tops and realizing with a shudder that there would be absolutely NO place for the pilot to even attempt a landing even if that were possible, when we ran into some turbulent weather, some violent updrafts and downdrafts that caused the plane to be buffeted around violently!…

This WAS scary, I admit it freely…I was drinking some coffee when suddenly the plane dipped so suddenly, so precipitously, the coffee stayed in the air while the cup was in my hand descending, just dropping a hundred feet in a mini second! Gravity quickly resumed it’s inexorable grip and most of the coffee fell back into the cup, but that incident truly frightened me!……

Landing is scary too, I admit, because you know the pilot has to be perfectly aligned with the angle of descent and the air speed, that the array of lights and meters and gauges on the flight dashboard are all giving the proper readouts to him and his copilot to ensure a smooth landing at precisely the proper angle of descent at a speed well over a 100 mph…..This is also white knuckle time for me…Also many people chew gum to avoid earaches from the sudden descent in altitude on landing patterns…

The wheels must descend at exactly the right time too, and not get stuck inside the wheel wells or just partly come down…Everything must work perfectly, and in truth, it almost always does, but takeoffs and landings are really the most dangerous, fear inducing moments of any airline flight….I have learned a trick, I keep an eye on the stewardess’ who fly all the time, and if they are relaxed, especially on landings I am relaxed…If they look scared, nervous or jumpy, THAT is the time to worry!

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According to my Google sources: “This statistic is the probability that someone who randomly selected one of the airline’s flights over the 19-year study period would be killed in route. That means that any time you board a flight on a major carrier in this country, your chance of being in a fatal accident is one in seven million. It doesn’t matter whether you fly once every three years or every day of the year.”

In contrast, “In 1990, five hundred million airline passengers were transported an average distance of eight hundred miles, through more than seven million takeoffs and landings, in all kinds of weather conditions, with a loss of only thirty-nine lives. During that same year the National Transportation Safety Board’s report shows that over forty-six thousand people were killed in auto accidents. A sold-out 727 jet would have to crash every day of the week, with no survivors, to equal the highway deaths per year in this country.”

These statistics have not changed much over the years, and for most people today the annoying but necessary pre boarding pat downs, x ray machines and safety checks are more onerous than the flights themselves…I am far from a seasoned air traveler, and have never flown on an international flight…. In fact I have never flown farther than from San Francisco to Chicago, approximately a 3 ½ hour flight, but I can say with 100% assurance there is no better feeling than after your safe landing that you are THERE!

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Copilot in Cockpit

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You have condensed, in my case, 1843 miles, over the states of California, Nevada, Utah and rocky Colorado, to the flat, square checkerboard farm states of the great Midwest, over Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa in what I know from personally driving this same basic route would take at least 4—6 days, and it this ultimate convenience of time saved that really makes air travel worth while!

Over the years, I have mostly conquered my initial fear of flying, eventually realizing that it was a sort of inverted arrogance to assume that I would be the one to beat all the safety statistics and be a passenger on the one plane that crashes…We all have our own destinies, but I no longer worry about the overall safety of flying..I think it also stems from the very human basic feeling that you are NOT in control, like when you are driving a car; the pilot is in control….

But even so, if you do get nervous when flying, it’s OK, believe me, you are not alone!

Just leave it like it is right now

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