If you or any family member or close friend suffers from this phobia, you will understand how debilitating it is for them. Beyond a slight nervousness, true ‘fear of flying’ victims experience cold sweats as they board the plane (if the can even board the plane); they grip your arm like a tourniquet at the slightest aerial tremble; they search the crew’s eyes every time one passes to search for signs of concern; and breathe out with sheer relief at touchdown.
But even those who witness it regularly tend to list it with other common phobia: spiders, outdoors, caves etc. And, as with these other phobia, fear of flying has been traditionally categorised as an “irrational” fear. After all, “the odds of you being killed in a road accident on the way to the airport are much higher than in a plane crash, and you don’t worry about that drive. Do you? You silly billy”.
Then a few days ago the co-pilot of a German aircraft decided to lock his pilot out of the cockpit and send the plane with 150 souls on board crashing into the French Alps. This happened only eight months after Ukraine rebels shot a commercial plane, MH17 out of the sky killing all 283 on board which incident was only four months after the pilots of Malaysian Airlines MH370 changed the course of their flight and the 239 souls on board were never found.
I don’t have any facts to support this assumption, but I very much doubt that in the past year more than 670 motorists have died while driving to the airport.
Will these incidents reduce the numbers of people who fly? It is, after all a lot of people have been tragically and frighteningly killed in a relatively short time; and a lot more people are affected for life by these deaths. Even so these will probably not significantly reduce the number of people choosing to fly. Will they increase the number who suffer from ‘fear of flying?” Again, probably not significantly, although the ‘slightly nervous category may increase, temporarily unless there is another major incident soon.
And the reason for that is the same reason we jump into our cars each day despite the undeniable statistics of road accidents. Most humans who do not have a fear have, instead, a ‘delusion’. ‘It won’t happen to me.’ I have no idea where we get that confidence from, but it seems to be some inbuilt mechanism to ensure the world doesn’t just stop working because of an assortment of doubts and fears.
And in an analytical sense, there were millions of people in aeroplanes over the last year and so 672 dead was a very small percentage. To demonstrate graphically the percentage of incidents, have a look at this attached video.
If one or two of these beautifully coordinated little lights falls off the spectrum each year, is it really significant in the greater picture?
What this latest incident of mass murder in the French Alps will do is add another chapter to the security procedures manual. This will appease the nerves with an assurance that new procedures will prevent this incident happening again. The increased costs of these new procedures will simply be passed onto the passengers and we will all carry on flying convinced that this could never happen to us.
But one thing I think we who do not fear flying should concede is that the words “irrational” and “phobia” should really be removed from the description of those who break into a cold sweat at the prospect of flying.