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STEP 1: Start by trusting the industry

panic attacks, panic attack

Achieving Comfortable Flight, Booklet B: The Flight Experience

 

Achieving Comfortable Flight, CD 2: The Captain's Guide through Your Flight

 

Your first task is to settle all the major worries you have regarding the airline industry. No self-help skills will assist you in your goal unless you choose to feel safe on commercial flights. The goal in this task is to reassure yourself whenever you feel anxious about taking a flight.

This reassurance is not that you are going to be physically comfortable and relaxed, but that you are safe on the plane. Here is the communication to aim for: "My discomfort is not really about the plane being dangerous, this is about me having difficulty with [not being in control, claustrophobia, panic attacks, being trapped . . . .]" Remember, you start here. Turn the issue back onto yourself, because you have far more control over yourself than you do over the plane. You have many skills and attitudes to apply to the problem of anxiety, and very little to apply to any problem of safety.

The good news is, you really don't need to worry about safety issues with flying. It is truly the safest mode of modern transportation. Furthermore, once you stop blaming the industry for your fears, you will instantly have significantly more psychological power to reduce your symptoms of anxiety.

So, actively seek out information about air travel, including pilot training, aircraft construction and maintenance, the air traffic control system, the monitoring of weather systems, turbulence and all the normal sights, sounds and sensations while on a flight. There is much to learn if you choose to study this topic. Here are some examples:

  • The cost and duration of training pilots with a major carrier are comparable to training a physician.
  • Back-up systems have been provided for virtually every system on the airplane so that if one system fails, another will takes its place. For instance, a 747 has eighteen tires: four on each of the main landing struts and two on the nose wheel. Computers on the planes built this decade have two or three autopilots and generally three computers that are able to handle all necessary functions.
  • Commercial aircraft average twelve hours of maintenance on the ground for every one hour spent in the air. Commonly scheduled maintenance checks while the plane is grounded include twelve person-hours daily; another seventeen person-hours every four or five days; one-hundred twenty-five person-hours every thirty days; a two-thousand person-hour inspection (involving one hundred and ten people) once every twelve to eighteen months; and a major overhaul every four years, taking four to five weeks and requiring twenty-two thousand person hours of labor.
  • Air traffic controllers go through rigorous training and internship that lasts three to four years. For every eight-hour shift, a controller is restricted to a maximum of five or six hours actively directing traffic, with several breaks throughout that time.
  • Each plane flies right down the middle of a private highway in the sky that is ten miles wide. No other plane is allowed in that space.
  • Standard industry policy is to avoid all thunderstorms by at least twenty nautical miles.
  • We measure turbulence, or "chop", in terms of gravity. Point-four g's of force is considered "severe" and is rarely experienced during commercial flight. But federal regulations require planes to be able to fly without problems through at least two g's, and today's manufacturers build planes that are tested to withstand six to seven g's of force. Mother Nature won't be creating any turbulence to match that.

On a flight, you may notice a number of "unusual" sounds and sensations that are actually normal and appropriate operations. For example:

  • Cargo pallets are loaded while you are boarding the plane. You may feel the plane suddenly move in response to the pallets being positioned in the cargo bay.
  • You may see "clouds" emerge from the air conditioning ducts on the lower wall next to your seat or in the ceiling ducts. It is not smoke, it just looks like it. Condensation occurs when the cold air from the A/C system circulates into the hot, humid cabin. The cold air mixing with hot, moist air causes "clouds" of condensation.
  • If you're sitting in the middle of the airplane, you'll probably encounter more sounds prior to takeoff and during the flight. All the flight controls and devices on the airplane are either electrically or hydraulically activated. Most of the hydraulic pump system's actuators are located in the middle of the airplane in its belly, close to the landing gear. Therefore you may hear pumps that cycle on and off. They are designed to do that to maintain a certain pressure. As the pressure slacks off, they pump it up again. You may also hear other pumps being activated to energize the hydraulic system operating the leading edge devices and trailing edge flaps, the main landing gear and nose wheel, the spoilers, and the speed brakes.
  • Occasionally you might feel a light bumping of the tires during takeoff or landing. Don't worry; the plane doesn't have a flat tire! Down the center of the runway are reflectors that are slightly raised. If the pilot is exactly on the center line of the runway, the front nose wheel tires will ride directly on top of the reflectors. (Many pilots choose to move just a few inches to one side to avoid these bumps.)

We have previously developed a self-help program, Achieving Comfortable Flight, that provides you with a detailed understanding of the airline industry (See Resources). Use that program as well as all other resources you can find to give you the facts you need. Once you have this information, you will be able to decide, "Do I trust this airline industry?" The facts should convince you that airline travel is one of our safest forms of transportation.

Let's look at two more issues in this topic of trusting the industry.   First, given all the articles and shows on flying and on accidents, how do you decide what to be concerned about?  And, second, just how safe is it up there in the sky?

How safe is commercial flight?