Fear of Flying and What To Do

      Statistics show that a person would have to travel on an airline flight every day for thirty-five thousand years to be assured of being in an accident. You are more likely to be killed by a donkey that die in a plane crash.
Even then, odds are that you would survive. Today's jetliners whisk through satelite-defined jet routes forty thousand feet above the ground at speeds nearing that of sound. Flown by hundreds of thousands of dedicated pilots, and assisted by countless other traffic controllers, mechanics, and engineers on the ground, these mechanical marvels carry millions of people safely across the world every day. Occasionally, however, something goes wrong.

Two-thirds of the people involved in air crashes survive. Approximately one-third of the third who do die could have survived if they had known what to do and almost all of these died from smoke or fire. If it seems certain the plane is going to crash, here's what to do while the plane is going down.

Knowing The Odds Can Be Comforting
Air travel is frightening for many passengers, particularly if frequent travel is required. However, flying is extremely safe, regardless of news reports, and knowing the actual odds of danger can be comforting. Here are other flight statistics I have found:

A passenger has only one chance in 7 million in dying on a scheduled domestic flight. Someone who flies daily would, on average, go 19,000 years before dying in a crash. For international flights on US-owned airlines, the chance of death is one in 1.5 million flights, or the likelihood of 4,000 flights before danger.


  • Put your seat belt on and fasten it as tightly as possible.
  • Check where all the emergency exits are, put them in order of priority and plan your route to each one. Interviews with survivors of air crashes confirm that the common element among the overwhelming majority was that they had a specific plan of action and followed through with it on their own. If you have time, study the emergency safety card; studies have shown that you are three times more likely to be injured during a crash if you haven't read the emergency safety card.
  • Take sharp pencils, pens out of your clothes and remove dentures, high-heeled shoes and eyeglasses.
  • Empty your bladder to reduce the chance of internal injury.
  • If you don't have a personal smoke hood, moisten a handkerchief, headrest cover or shirttail, so if there's smoke after impact, you can hold it over your mouth. If no other liquids are handy, use your urine.
  • If you've got time, pack for outside the plane, such as a sweater or Coat to keep you warm and any medicines you will need.
  • Cover your head, preferably with a pillow. Then either cross your arms over your calves and grab your ankles or put your palms-forward, crossed wrists between your head and the seat in front of you. In the latter position, it's best to slide your feet forward until they touch the seat leg or under-seat baggage in front, so your legs are less likely to snap forward on impact.

If you're still alive after the plane comes to a stop, that's when you should do the one thing which will most likely save your life, and that is, very simply, get out of there as fast as you can.

In crash after crash in which the passengers survive impact, they just sit there, stunned, waiting to be told what to do. Often, the flight attendants, themselves stunned, fail to give directions right away. When the flight attendants finally do start talking, many of the passengers will still sit there as though in a trance. By the time the passengers finally get moving, the plane has filled with smoke, with flames and/or with panic-stricken fellow passengers trampling each other to get out.

So, as soon as the plane comes to a stop, undo your seat belt, leap out of your seat and move quickly to the exit. Don't take anything with you; you'll need your hands free to keep your balance in the aisle as you step over bodies and luggage or find yourself being pushed from behind by panic-stricken passengers. If the aisle is blocked, walk over the backs of the seats. Don't waste your time crawling on the floor to avoid any smoke; you'll only end up being trampled by and/or buried under all the other passengers who are suffocating. But if there is smoke, do keep your head down. You'll know you've arrived at the doors when the floor lights are red rather than white.

Do not push the passengers in front of you. You won't get through any faster and will only increase the chance of your being punched in the face, trapped by squirming bodies in the aisle or, most seriously, stuck behind a blocked door (see below).

When you finally arrive at an exit door, if it's not open, take a quick look out the window to see if there's fire there. If there is, run to the other side of the plane and open the door there.

Choose a large aircraft
By checking the statistics, you will see that larger aircraft provide a better chance of passenger survival. All aircraft with more than 30 passenger seats are designed and certified under the most stringent of regulations.
Fly on non-stop routes
70% of aircraft incidences in recent years occur on take-off or landing. Try and minimize the number of times you have to do this!!
Listen to the pre-flight safety demonstration
Find out where the location of your nearest emergency exits are. Find out how they open - outwards, upwards or downwards ?
Keep your seat belt fastened whilst you are seated
This is important if you hit a bit of unexpected turbulence. Make sure you know how the seat belt releases (it's not like a car seat belt, and needs to be lifted at least 90 degrees to open)

Current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations require passengers to be seated with their seat belts properly fastened:

  • when the aircraft leaves the gate and until it climbs after takeoff:
  • during landing until the aircraft reaches the gate and comes to a complete stop; and
  • whenever the seat belt sign is illuminated during flight.

Don't drink too much
The atmosphere pressure in an airliner cabin will cause you to be more affected by alcohol than at sea level. Although it may relieve anxiety, in the long run it could make it worse. That said, a number of our correspondents swear by drinking themselves stupid to avoid in flight jitters, but we at aworldaway.com cannot recommend such behavior, and we would certainly not advise it for those traveling alone.
Where shall I sit?
If you're seated by the wing it probably means you're not elderly, handicapped, pregnant, obese or a child. This is because there are normally self-help exits in the form of over wing hatches that need to be operated by the passengers sitting next to them. They can be quite heavy and need to be thrown out to get to the evacuation path on the wing.

Try and avoid sitting directly underneath any TV monitors as heavy turbulence could bring these crashing down. On you.

What's the Captain saying???
It can be quite unnerving to hear the Captain's voice during the flight especially when he appears to be talking in code to the flight attendants. Don't worry, there's normally a good explanation. For example, when the plane's taxiing to the runway and the Captain announces to the crew "arm doors" or "set doors to automatic" this is just a routine instruction to place the door to a special mode where, if it is then opened, an escape chute will deploy and inflate. Nothing to worry about.

Am I Going Down due to:

...there being a fire???
BCF (halon) fire extinguishers are on board to be used on any cabin fire. If the aircraft suddenly makes an emergency descent, it is because the fire is either out of control or its source is unidentified. If smoke enters the cabin, keep low using any material to cover your mouth. It is smoke inhalation, not burns, that cause most deaths in a fire...

As for engine fires, it is also worth noting that during take-off it is quite common for flames to appear, but this shouldn't be anything to worry about, just a little excess fuel burning off.

...the aircraft ditching???
Ditching, that is landing on water, is most likely to happen on or near an airfield. For most large aircraft, there are slides which can act as makeshift buoyancy devices when detached from the aircraft, whilst long haul aircraft have slides which convert into slides with canopies to provide protection from the elements.

Smaller aircraft's primary evacuation exits are onto the wings where you may be asked to sit in rows with your legs round the person in front (scissor like) to provide stability and warmth. For airlines that don't provide life jackets, the seat cushion may be used as a float.

...the aircraft decompressing???
Depressurization or decompression can be a result of either a system failure or a break in the aircraft's structure. The decompression can be either slow (for example, a faulty door seal) or rapid. In the former case, this will result in a gradual rise in the cabin altitude with a decrease in temperature (remember the outside temperature at cruising altitude is below minus 50 degC). A rapid decompression however will cause the sudden equalisation of gases making the cabin condense and gases in the body to vent. This is turn could lead to perforated eardrums.

The oxygen masks automatically drop, from overhead compartments when the cabin altitude reaches 14,000ft. Normally it is the pulling action towards your face which starts up the oxygen supply. With a rapid decompression, you may have only 20 seconds of being fully conscious with the ability to think clearly, after which, although still conscious, you will be unable to think or coordinate properly or rationally. A feeling of euphoria may also overcome you, a symptom of the brain not receiving enough oxygen. As with the incidence of a fire, the aircraft will make an emergency descent, taking the plane down to an altitude where it will be possible to breathe without the masks. This is normally 10, 000ft or 4,000ft higher than the surrounding terrain.

Turbulence is air movement that normally cannot be seen and often occurs unexpectedly. It can be created by a number of different conditions, including atmospheric pressures, jet streams, mountain waves, cold or warm fronts, or thunderstorms. Turbulence can occur when the sky appears to be clear.

In non-fatal accidents, in-flight turbulence is the leading cause of injuries to airline passengers and flight attendants. Generally, two-thirds of turbulence-related accidents occur at or above 30,000 feet. In 1997, about half of the accidents occurred above 30,000 feet.

Since 1980, 20 passengers and 4 crew have died in fatal turbulence events. Among these events were incidences of aircraft losing wings and deaths from falling in-flight entertainment screens.

The best advise is to keep your seat belt fastened at the appropriate times as outlined earlier.

Also remember that aircraft regularly fly through quite frightening turbulence without incident, so don't panic.



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