In-flight Fright: Why you don't need to be scared while up in the air

2018-02-22 19:00 - Saara Mowlana
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Cape Town - Fright or flight? In a world driven by a culture of fear, it's no wonder so many people are afraid to fly.

But, experts assure you there's no reason to be scared while floating in a boat of the air. 

CHECK OUT: Flying with confidence: Easy steps to clear the fear

Here's why you shouldn't be afraid to fly...

Do not fear, you're not alone here...

One in four people have a fear of flying and are prepared to sacrifice R18 000 in charges just to avoid flying. Yes, they are willing to lose R18 000 out of pure fear.

According to British Airways this is a common scenario for as much as 25% of travellers, who at some point in life experience a sense of fear while flying.

As much as you may feel alone in your plight, these stats show that you will have at least one friend with a fear of flying. 

"People who are anxious about flying often don’t realise that there are plenty of others who feel the same way and there are proven ways to deal with their fears," says Captain Steve Allright. 

READ: Long-haul travel: 9 must-have items for smooth travels

The sky can be just as unsteady as the ground...

Allright, a British Airways pilot and co-writer of the book Flying With Confidence, says that turbulence is as normal and as harmless as driving over a cobble stone road. 

The main reason pilots do their best to avoid turbulence is because it’s annoying. They want to be able to sip their coffee without spilling the same as you do. Think of turbulence the same way you would think of bumps in the road on a long drive. - Patrick Allen

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In fact...

Air travel is the safest form of mass transportation

According to David Ropeik, a risk communication instructor at Harvard University, the chances of you dying in a car crash are about one in 5 000. While the risks of dying in a plane crash are about one in 11 000 000.

In fact, stats show that you’re more likely to be struck by lightning, with a one in 13 000 chance.

While there are fatal accidents and tragedies that do occur, they're far and few between. When they do occur, they are given an overwhelming amount of attention from media outlets that they seem much more frequent and dangerous than a car accident. 

Most aviation incidents are not fatal - planes are engineered to lose altitude, slide off the runway, and hit extreme turbulence without any injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board in America released a statement in 2001 that estimates a 95% chance of survival based on their studies of past commercial aircraft accidents.

The chances of experiencing a terrorist attack are highly unlikely as well. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight crunched the numbers from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and found there’s roughly one terrorist incident per 16 553 385 departures. You’re more likely to be eaten by a shark

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Airplanes undergo rigorous testing

We always see the tests cars are put through from various car brand advertisements, but unless you really go looking for it, you're less likely to see the tests planes undergo. Perhaps you'd feel safer had you known just how many and the types of tests planes go through before being approved to cart people.

The video by Business Insider's YouTube channel below shows some of these extreme tests:

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The oxygen masks do work even if they don't look like it

The age old myth about airplane oxygen masks being a hoax and prop because it's 'not hooked up to oxygen tanks' is just that - a myth. 

Oxygen masks are deployed when there's a loss of cabin pressure. Without the mask, you could lose "useful" consciousness in as little as 15 seconds due to lack of oxygen. This is why you're instructed to put on your own first before you worry about anyone else. The oxygen these masks provide don't come from a central supply - the way they provide passengers with oxygen is a matter of chemistry.

When you pull the mask over your face, a mechanism loaded with a spring sets off a chemical reaction that generates oxygen within the mask’s apparatus itself. This is why you're instructed to tug on the mask like they suggest during the emergency procedure demonstration on every flight.

The bags on the mask act as an oxygen reservoir, and won't inflate like a balloon, but will still keep any oxygen from escaping into the thinning air around you. It may not seem like you're getting a lot of oxygen, but you'll have plenty to spare while the pilot descends to a safer, more breathable altitude. 

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Commercial planes can fly safely with one engine and can land with none

Engines, believe it or not, is not what keeps the plane in the air. It's part of the reason, but not the whole reason. The engines provide the plane with thrust which allows planes to propel and move forward, but even so, a plane can fly fine with just one of them as well.

If they both somehow fail, the plane can safely glide it's way to a landing. In fact, you might have glided in a plane before without even knowing it.

"While it may surprise you, it’s not the least bit uncommon for jets to descend at what a pilot calls 'flight idle', with the engines run back to a zero-thrust condition," says pilot and author Patrick Smith in his book Cockpit Confidential. "They're still operating and powering crucial systems, but providing no push. You've been gliding many times without knowing it. It happens on just about every flight."

Smith explains that idle thrust is doing harder work than engines cut out altogether, but not by much. He likens it to coasting down a hill in a car with the clutch down.

However, while flight idle is one thing, you needn't worry too much about both engines failing. The chances of both engines going out on a commercial plane are less than one in a billion flight hours. Those engines are very reliable - and even when it does happen, there's still plenty of hope.

ALSO READ: 'How I got to be part of the Royal Family when flying with British Airways'

So, there's no need to fear nor complain. Hop on a commercial plane and head on out of here - adventure awaits just beyond those departure gates!

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