If you are frightened of flying you may find some useful information here to help you prepare for a flight.
This blog topic is purely advisory and will be continually updated, edited and added to.
This blog topic is purely advisory and will be continually updated, edited and added to.
For many people, flying is the most natural form of long distance travel. How else could we casually skip over vast distances for business or pleasure.
There is no other form of transport that will take you from London to Rome in just a few hours.
Many people find aviation fascinating, love the experience of fight look forwards to flying. For others it is so commonplace it is a convenience at best.
But for many people flying is neither fun or thrilling or convenient.
Some people are terrified of flying.
If you are one of the many people who feel sick at the prospect of flying then read on. This article is just for you.
I know how serious this issue is for anyone who is fearful of flying. I am not a hypnotherapist, psychologist or a behaviour expert. But I assure you that I hope you may find some if the things I say here helpful.
It seems like a question with an obvious answer. But the answer is far from obvious. For those who don’t really fear flying but are aware of the risk the answer seems too obvious. We have all seen the images on the news. And the 1970s disaster movies never helped. I don’t need to go into detail here. But most people think that the fear of flying is associated with these media representations. The fear of flying is much more complicated.
Passengers can be categorised, to a certain extent, insofar as how they approach flying on a commercial aircraft. I will list a few of them.
Rational risk assessors. People who don’t fear flying because they have a rational understanding of risk and realise that they are more likely to die on the way to the airport. Statistically, the number of people who die in aviation accidents are relatively low and they are of the attitude that “it won’t happen to me.”
This list is by no means exhaustive and people could fall into more than one category or somewhere between two. Everyone is, after all, different.
If you are reading this then you, or someone you know, may consider one of the last few descriptions is applicable.
The interesting thing is that all these characteristics are a response to the same thing- flying.
And the reasons for the fear are as varied as the passenger response. It is not simply the fear of falling to earth or death . If that was case then someone towards the top of the list, a rationaliser, wouldn’t drive because they know that flying isn’t as safe as flying. And yet a person at the bottom of the list may be quite happy to drive to work on a motorway every morning despite the much larger risk.
Air accidents are infrequent. But the loss of life can be high when one occurs and the media images are certainly emotive. This may certainly a contributes to someone’s fear of flying.
I have spent many years instructing people to fly. And I have flown with countless people who have taken a flying lesson in order to overcome their fear of flying. And as a result I have concluded that images of disasters in the media are not the main cause of people’s fear of flying.
I am going to tell you a story which helped me understand something about the fear of flight.
It was an ordinary Saturday afternoon when I flew with a gentleman who was physically shaking before the flight in a two seat Cessna 150. His reason for booking a trial flight was to face his fear.
Every lesson commences with a brief lesson about the flight. Trial lessons are no different. The initial brief includes some explanation about how the aeroplane works and a safety brief. I explained what I was doing at every step as we covered the procedures before the flight.
On this particular occasion I had spent some extra time putting the passenger at ease and all was going well. We’d taken off over the industrial estate at one end of the runway. And at 300 feet above the warehouses my engine failed. I won’t go into too much detail but I managed to finish all the drills, set up the aircraft for an emergency landing and send out my mayday on the radio. I had aimed my aeroplane at the only available get out of trouble patch of ground and was one hundred percent sure we were going to land safely without power.
But I still felt I had time to attempt to restart the engine before I closed off the fuel and the master electric switch. So I pumped the throttle and the mixture.
Amazingly the engine coughed into life, giving me just enough power to turn back to the runway and land with a slight tail wind.
After we landed I was expecting my already nervous passenger to be a wreck. He was actually beaming a broad smile and singing songs of praise about my skills as a pilot. Needless to say, I had a strong sweet tea before my next flight.
That gentleman, Richard, returned for three more lessons. I eventually asked him what it was that apparently cured his fear of flight.
1. Because I explained everything to him he felt that I had removed the mystery of flying.
2. Sitting behind the controls made him feel he was more in control of the situation.
3. He now knew that aeroplanes continued to fly even when something went wrong.
4. He witnessed, first hand, how pilots dealt calmly with a situation, resorting to a combination of training and fast, continual assessment of the situation and the processes used to overcome it.
So, now I’ve been asked to write something to help people who are nervous about flying.
Needless to say, I am not an expert in psychology. I am a pilot, I have experience teaching nervous passengers to fly, and my understanding of human behavior as an observational writer possibly gives me some credence.
Firstly I am going to remove some of the mystery of your flight by giving you an overview of what generally goes on behind the scenes.
Unfortunately there’s no solution to problem of not being in control of the aircraft. Well there is, but it’ll take years and about a hundred thousand pounds of training. I can, however, offer some advice on how you can feel more in control of your situation while you are on board which I hope will help.
I may not be able to help you completely overcome your anxiety. But I certainly hope to help you deal your anxiety enough to get you through a flight. With the right knowledge it may be possible to become a Weary or Cautious Passenger rather than a terrified passenger.
Flying is very basic physics. Anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. Some of the concepts might be difficult to grasp at first and the engineering involved is immense. But the principle of flight is fundamentally simple. The air passing the wings provides lift to overcome gravity and keep us up. It’s the shape of the wing that creates the lift as the air passes it. I won’t go into detail as this bit of physics, though quite simple, is more complicated to explain. But you have probably felt it for yourself by putting your hand out of the window of the car. When you adjust the angle of your hand you can make it “fly” up or down.
The thrust from the engines provides the forward movement required to make the air pass the wings and overcome the drag (like air resistance). It’s also useful for getting somewhere. When the thrust points towards the ground some of it is used to make the aeroplane go up. When the thrust is greater than the drag (more power) the aeroplane accelerates. Less power, the drag (air resistance) wins and the aeroplane slows down. Less air speed past the wings means less lift and gravity wins, allowing us to descend.
The tail is effectively another set of wings at the back that allow the pilot to balance the forces and optimally stabilise the aircraft for any particular part of the flight. All the moving parts allow the pilot to manipulate the airflow in order to change the position of the aircraft relative to the airflow (and the ground).
Next time you wonder how an aeroplane manages to stay up just remember how strong that air is on your hand when you stick it out of the window. Aeroplane wings are massive. It’s not magic, just a bit of fast moving air.
Pilots are just ordinary people. We have to possess above average intelligence, good with numbers, memorising information and reasonably coordinated. But we are not super human. We are, however, incredibly well trained. We undergo a simulator exam every six months that covers the emergencies that could occur during a flight. This ensures that we stay current and instead of getting rusty as we get older, we get better at handling emergencies.
You might have noticed that there are two pilots in the cockpit. The one on the left is the captain and the one on the right is a first officer. It comes as a surprise to some people to know the captain and first officer swap flying duties each flight. One flies one the way out, the other on the way back. There are two pilots for safety and because it is less tiring if the flying duties are shared. The pilot not flying, or pilot monitoring, still has a heck of a lot to do like checking the navigation systems, the fuel, radio communications, checking the weather and carefully monitoring the actions of the pilot flying. During busy periods the pilot not flying reduces workload by making selections on behalf of the pilot flying who will call for those selections. The pilot not flying is also responsible for monitoring critical parameters like airspeed and height on the approach. However, should something happen to one pilot the other should be able to perform all the duties and safely land the aeroplane at an appropriate airport. The autopilot is similar to having a third pilot and is there to reduce the workload of the pilot flying. In my opinion I find being the pilot flying is less demanding! There are still some functions always carried out by the relevant pilot. Steering on the ground (Boeing aircraft) can only be done from the captain’s side for instance.
Before each flight the captain and the first officer meet to plan the flight. They check the weather forecasts for the flight, including the weather at alternate (emergency) airports. Generally the route, times, altitudes, winds, fuel required, weights and distribution of weights are all calculated by a flight planning department. But both pilots carefully scrutinise all of this information carefully and calculate the thrust and flaps settings, take off and landing speeds. They also check that the conditions and runway length is suitable. Special needs passengers are noted and the cabin crew is briefed.
Before every flight the pilot not flying (usually the first officer if it’s raining) goes outside to do the walk around. This is an external inspection of the aircraft. All parts including; wheels, brakes, hydraulics, oxygen and fire extinguishant indicators, lights, moving surfaces, valves, inlets and outlets, sensors and engines are visually checked. If anything doesn’t seem right the engineer is called and the flight will not depart until it has been put right.