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Fear Of Flying

Most people have a fear of heights. This is a reasonable survival trait! However, when coupled with extreme media coverage of disasters, this can lead to very debilitating fear of flying. Furthermore, for many people, not having any control of the plane makes the fear worse.

This is not unlike how one usually worries more as a passenger in a car than as a driver of a car. This is not necessarily a rational fear, if looked at in the context of all possible hazards. There are far fewer fatalities per airline passenger-mile than there are per automobile driver-mile. This is probably due in part to the fact that someone else is doing the driving, and that someone else has been extremely well trained, is not tired, is not drunk, and has a backup in case he or she spills coffee in his or her lap.

Knowing a little bit about aerodynamics can sometimes reduce your anxiety. Despite what we all learned from watching Saturday morning cartoons, you do not hang in the air until you look down, you can not run into and become part of a painting, and, in particular, you do not go straight down the moment you run out of speed. Cartoon Laws Of Motion do not apply in The Real World.

Even if airplanes flew like bricks, the plane would cover quite a few horizontal miles were it to fall. But planes are not bricks, they are sideways sails. Lift is generated by the forward motion of the plane, so the plane does not even fall as fast as a brick.

In the time that it takes for the airplane to get to the ground, the pilots have quite a bit of time to search around for a convenient highway to land on.

Captain Tom Bunn, who is both an airline captain and a licensed therapist, tells me that a 747 at cruising altitude that lost all power to all engines would have about 132 miles to find a suitable road on which to make an emergency landing. Captain Bunn is president of SOAR, which counsels people with fear of flying.

(A friend of mine swears that the way to conquer fear of flying is to take soaring or hang-gliding lessons so you can feel the force of the lift. Windsurfing might also help.)

Furthermore, commercial jets always have at least two (and usually three) engines. The chances of two failing simultaneously are very very slim. So relax.

Personally, I lost all fear of flying after living close to an airport for a few years. The airplanes kept going up and they kept landing. They kept going up, and they kept landing. Over and over and over again, hundreds of times per day. And never once did a plane crash at that airport. This made me understand at a very visceral level just how safe air travel is.

If all this logic doesn't help you, join the ranks of thousands and do what they do: get drunk before you get on the plane! (Note: I got some pretty irate email from an airline steward complaining about how awful drunkards were to deal with on the plane. If you aren't a happy drunk, booze might not be the best relaxant.)

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