Fear of Flying Is Irrational, Yes, But It’s Still Valid 

By William J. Furney

Whether humankind was designed or developed from a petri dish-like swamp, it’s a safe bet that either the creator or evolving genes didn’t envision that some day we’d all be flying around the world’s skies and at inhospitable altitudes higher than our tallest mountain, Everest. So it’s not surprising that even in the era of mass commercial aviation when taking a plane is as easy as hopping on a bus or train, and often cheaper, many people remain petrified of flying. Despite the amazing views that at one time were only available to winged creatures, 35,000 feet is still an unnatural place for people to be.

News that an airliner belonging to Europe’s largest airline, by passenger numbers, suddenly lost life-supporting pressure on a flight from Ireland to Croatia and plunged 26,000 feet, terrifying everyone onboard, won’t do anything to assuage flyers’ fears. Ryanair has a stellar safety record, however — even if it has an atrocious customer service one — and has not had a fatal incident or accident in its more than 30-year history.

Just days earlier an Air China pilot who, incredibly, was vaping in the cockpit panicked in his attempt to hide what he was doing and hit the wrong button — turning off the air conditioning and causing the plane to plummet.

It’s undeniable that every time we step aboard a plane we take a great leap of faith: that we will get up there and back down again and in one piece, and hopefully without any drama along the way. Even those of us, like me, who have no choice but to fly, for work and family reasons, and who have taken hundreds or thousands of flights and may well be called “seasoned fliers” are not immune from the anxiety of air travel. (But let’s not forget that we’re constantly being told that flying is the “safest way to travel”.)

Sky Is the Limit

Normally unflappable Sky News presenter Kay Burley, who regularly jets around the world on reporting assignments, has spoken of her crippling fear of flying; she embarked on a mission to try and cure herself of her irrational worries while aloft — so bad that she said she “sob[bed] uncontrollably” the moment she stepped aboard an aircraft.

“Some frightened flyers torture themselves with imagined scenarios of airborne explosions and attacks,” she said. “On a subconscious level perhaps I do fear disaster, but I refuse to entertain such lurid fantasies. My overriding fear is the loss of control. After all, I call the shots on every aspect of my career. I am also very much in control of my personal life.”

You may be placing your hands in the life of a pilot when stepping aboard an aircraft (Germanwings), and the irrefutable fact is that despite names like Airbus, airplanes are anything like those clunky contraptions that ply the roads: you can’t just easily get out if you feel like it. You’re strapped into what essentially amounts to a rocket, and you have to hope for the best.

Mind over Airborne Matter

Flying longhaul may be dull and excruciatingly boring — I have done it many times, from Europe to Asia, and up to 16 hours and multiple flights on the one journey — but at least if you travel with a premium airline like Singapore Airlines, British Airways, Turkish Airlines, Emirates and others, you’re getting a full-on service that even in economy class keeps you entertained and the hours just fly by.

The same cannot be said for the tragic-service “low-cost” airlines that jet around Europe and America and expect you to enjoy nothing other than the overpriced junk they sell from their carts. Low-cost is a con, because with all the add-ons, it’s hardly ever that, and most of these operators are highly profitable — how about passing those many hundreds of millions in profits onto passengers in actual low fares?

But as we’re stuck with the likes of Ryanair and EasyJet in Europe, and JetBlue, Southwest and Spirit in the US, the best we can to do take our minds off the fact that we’re flying high is to bring along our own entertainment: downloadable Netflix movies for your tablet, music and a pen and pad to scribble or sketch. I do all this and more on my airborne adventures, including bringing along brainteaser-puzzle books that are totally time-absorbing. Then you can try to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight, even on dreaded short haul-bandit airlines. 

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