I used to love to fly, then I was petrified to fly and now I tolerate flying.
I have experienced several flights that ended up in various degrees of dramatic emergency landings, either from losing an engine over the Atlantic Ocean, to a cargo door falling off as we made an emergency landing on our way to our destination. Each of these incidents left me feeling completely vulnerable, something I hate to be. Instead of thinking about what went wrong I should have thought about how well each situation was handled by the pilots and the flight staff.
Flying is something I do quite often but I struggle to find peace with it. Logically there is zero reason to be afraid. Through the years I have worked through my fear and learned I am not really afraid of the flying it is afraid of not being in control of the decisions and being uneducated about the whole process that makes me nervous. I have found ways to change from petrified to tolerant by educating myself, and learning to let go-choosing to find positive aspects rather than focusing on my fear.
I reached out to a pilot who has been flying planes commercially for years to see if he could help ease the fears and concerns lots of us share when it comes to flying. Here is my interview with him:
Do you have any suggestions for how to calm ones nerves when flying?
N. Rhodes: The biggest fear I believe for passengers is their lack of control and input into the decision making process. Aviation is, by far, the safest form of transportation. It starts with your crew of pilots who are highly trained professionals. It takes years of training and thousands of hours of flight time before one can even be considered as potential candidate as an airline pilot. After being hired, a pilot typically spends his first two months in training; learning the specifics of his designated airplane and company specific policies. After that, pilots attend continuing training events that occurs every 9-12 months for the rest of a pilot’s career. At all these training events we are trained and retrained on emergency and safety procedures. So please do not be afraid of the nameless, and more often faceless crew that is taking you to your next destination. In fact we always welcome any of our passengers to come visit with us during the boarding process and say hello. If you have questions during the flight, ring the flight attendant call button and they will also be happy to answer any questions.
Turbulence is so unsettling to people afraid to fly, is there really anything to be afraid of?
N. Rhodes: There is nothing to be afraid of with turbulence as far as the structural integrity of the airplane is concerned. Turbulence is mostly caused by the changing of the airflow about the airplane. For example, flying through a jet stream where wind speed and direction shift dramatically in a short distance or by thunderstorms. We have many different tools available to us that depict where turbulence may be. Some of these are now available to us in real time with the addition of WI-Fi on our aircraft. So from the time we sit down 2 hours before departure until landing, we have throughly analyzed where the turbulence may be and how we can avoid or minimize it. Fortunately, if encountered in flight, it is usually a very localized event and we can change altitude or course and escape it. Sometimes this isn’t possible due to restrictions within the airspace such as another aircraft nearby or our own aircraft limitations on altitude. When turbulence is experienced, the best thing to do is take your seat and make sure your seatbelt is fastened, but you need not worry about the durability of the airplane. Airplanes are built to withstand more turbulence than anyone would be willing to subject it to. With that being said pilots understand that no one enjoys turbulence, except the occasional daredevil or 5 year old.
During takeoff a lot of the noises and sudden slow downs of the engines are scary. Can you explain what we are hearing as the airplane goes from runway to optimum altitude?
N. Rhodes: There are many causes to the various noises you may hear in the course of a flight, and each airplane and flight are unique. Once airborne, one of the first noises you will hear are motors raising the landing gear. Soon after the landing gear is raised the flaps on the trailing edge of the wings need to be retracted. The passenger will hear a high pitched whine as the flaps are adjusted. The flaps are used to increase lift at slower airspeeds. As for the engine noises, the pilots sets the thrust (near maximum) on takeoff to achieve liftoff speed and climb to altitude. We would love to set the thrust at takeoff and leave it set until we get to cruise altitude, however with the congested airspace that is impossible. Sometimes we will level off multiple times before reaching our final cruising altitude. In order to stop climbing the thrust has to be reduced, and the passenger may hear the reduced sound of the engine.
What do you love most about being a pilot?
N.Rhodes: I love so many aspects of my job. First I get to work with a great team of people from my fellow pilots to the flight attendants to the ground personnel and station operations. It takes an amazing amount of teamwork to get the job done and I enjoy the feeling of doing my part in the process. I also enjoy all the passengers I get to meet on my journeys. From the first time flyers, to the seasoned flyers, to the vacationing flyers and everyone in between. Lets not forget I get to see new places and destinations all over the world. A chance to try new foods and see different cultures. History has been a passion of mine since high school and it has been my pleasure to walk and see where historical events have happened.
N. Rhodes—First Officer—B777
I read somewhere to imagine that an airplane is a bus, and turbulence is like potholes in the road. They don’t damage buses it just makes the ride bumpy. This actually helped me a lot. Maybe it will help you.
I found this fantastic blog, Pilot Stories, about flying and interviews with pilots. I love the adventures they have, they explanations about procedure, and the reminder that they love what they do and do not take their positions lightly.
For years each time I would fly I would get so sick to my stomach in the hours before the flight that I would barely be able to fly. Once on board my nerves would be such a mess I couldn’t read, or even carry on a conversation. The only thing I seemed able to do was to watch movies. This has evolved for me as my fear has subsided.
No matter what I have a backpack full of distractions to get me through. My trip planning always involves making sure I have these distractions to attempt to enjoy the flight.
Here is what I always have on my plane rides:
2. Movies/Netflix downloaded on my ipad
3. My Macbook Pro, for long flights I might try to write or organize documents.
4. Small Moleskin notebook and pen for writing (oddly my brain spits out ideas like crazy on planes).
6. Book on my phone (now that we travel for most of the year I don’t have the luxury of packing a lot of books so I use the library app to download books as back up if I run out of actual books).
7. Water bottle.
8. Young Living Peace & Calming essential oil.
9. Aveda Rosemary & Mint Lotion and Various brands of lip stuff.
10. Planner with all of our travel information.
11. For long flights and trips I now have a down blanket which folds into a tiny pillow if I don’t want to use it to keep warm.
Yes, my backpack is always heavy but there is a lot of peace in there for me. Whenever things are hard in life I focus on the end result and not on the situation. It is the same with flying. That is usually quite helpful in getting me from here to there.