This might sound strange to you, but in the past few years my fear of flying has increased enormously. It all started on my trip to Vietnam; we had some modest turbulence during the flight for about 2 hours, and for some reason I was sweating and shaking like a leaf, waiting for the end to come. It probably had also a lot to do with the fact that I was flying alone and I definitely didn’t want to make my hairy sweetheart an orphan. Since this has been going on a lot lately (I guess the older I get, the more alive I want to be), I have decided to get familiar with my chances to survive up in the air once for all. So, I talked to a pilot, gathered some statistics and all my fears are almost gone now. Are you also afraid of flying? Then read this interview carefully (or at least scroll till the end to learn some really interesting facts!) and thank me later 😉
I had a really pleasant interview with a pilot, who started his career in South America (Chile, Columbia and Peru) and worked there for 11 years. In the past few years he has been flying for one of the major airlines and as much as I would love to share with you all the details about his past, hobbies and plans for the future, I bet that you are here for one reason only – and that is to find out how to get rid of the fear of flying. So, I will just skip to the part where it gets interesting for you.
We all want our pilots to get enough sleep and to be as fit as possible for the job. How many hours per month are you flying, how much rest do you guys get?
We are allowed to fly up to 12 hours per day – with longer flights we always fly with 3 or 4 pilots; we switch places so everyone can rest, which is very important. After a short flight we get 24 hours off, and with longer flights we get 2 days off, so we can also do some sightseeing. We are limited up to 900 hours of flying per year and entitled to minimum 8 days off per month.
Ok that sounds fair. And are you able to choose destinations and your crew?
Crew changes all the time and we don’t have much choice here. However, we can choose preferred destinations for 2 months per year. We always plan our flying schedule for 1 month in advance.
What is the worst thing that can happen in the air?
The biggest danger in the air are actually the people and their choices.
So, turbulence is not dangerous? What about storms and lightning?
Turbulence is normal and unless you see people flying in the cabin, you will be fine. The same goes for storms – planes are equipped with really sophisticated systems for minimizing chances of strikes and failures to almost zero. And we also know for practically every mile of our flight, what weather conditions to expect. We have a staff meeting 2 hours before flight, we check the weather and alternative routes. There can practically be no surprises.
The takeoff is the most dangerous part, right?
Yes, during takeoff we need complete silence and concentration, we don’t talk to each other unless there is an emergency. First of all, the plane has to reach a very high speed before takeoff and if we have to stop for any reason the brakes get very hot; you can imagine that they have to stop an aircraft that weights around 500 tons in few meters. And here is the first chance of possible accident, because the airplane is full of fuel which can cause a fire. The critical time is the first 3 minutes after the takeoff, until we reach 10.000 feet (3.000 meters). After that, we are ok and we can almost relax 😊
And the birds? You know, like in that case of the aircraft landing on Hudson river in New York?
Birds are also a potential problem, of course, because you cannot avoid them. But we fly with 4 engines so if they crash and damage the engine, we still have 3 others. We can easily fly with 2 or even one engine only.
Where would you say is safer to fly: above the ocean or land?
Flying is pretty much the same … the biggest problem is emergency landing if something goes wrong. The most problematic is for example Himalaya because if we have a depressurization, we cannot descend fast to a safety altitude where we don’t have to use any more oxygen. And while you can theoretically ditch into ocean, you practically cannot land safely and quickly in mountainous area.
I have always wanted to know this: why do we need to set our phones to flight mode? And if someone doesn’t? I am sure this happens a lot!
Well, for one thing, phones can interfere with communication, and that is why you need to switch them off during takeoff and landing, because then communication is critical. The other thing is that phones also distract you and if something happens during takeoff you have to react quickly.
What happens if a passenger gets very sick or violent, do you land in such cases?
Our cabin crew is highly trained for such situations and our aircrafts feature the finest medical equipment. If a passenger’s condition can be stabilized until landing, we fly to final destination. Similar is with violent people, first the staff tries to control them and if they don’t calm down or if they represent a potential threat, then we decide to divert the flight.
Talking to you almost makes me feel embarrassed for having this modest fear of flying. But accidents DO happen and planes DO crash. Why?
Well, like I said, mostly it is because of human mistakes, bad assessments and choices, psychological problems, not checking everything properly…
So now I can go back to being worried?
Look, the chances of a plane crashing are one in 11 million. And we have high standard of training which means that these chances are close to zero. Besides, why aren’t you afraid to drive with me in the car?
What about when the accidents happen, how do you feel? Do you talk about it between your colleagues?
Of course, we find out about it very quickly and it is always a great shock for all of us. At that point probably, everyone says “that could have been me”. We discuss the situation and we try to understand what happened in order to avoid it. We also have simulations of accidents or difficulties every 6 months, so we don’t get too cozy.
Black boxes are probably the best way to find out why something happened, right? Does this mean that your entire flight is recorded every time? You don’t have any private conversations, or how does that work?
Yes, every flight is fully recorded – from all the technical data to each conversation we have in the cockpit. But honestly, who cares about the conversation we had about our lovers if it’s not related to the accident or incident? Well, maybe only my girlfriend would care …
At last, what would be your advice for someone who really wants to travel but is afraid of flying?
First of all, do some research, read this interview, and get yourself familiar with what goes on in the air. It might help to check out this channel so you can get the better idea of the picture. Also, try to book a sit in the front (like in the bus), because in the back you will always feel more turbulence.
After the interview I made a step further and did a small research on the topic myself. These are the facts that I discovered via different sources:
- 48% of fatal incidents take place when the aircraft is landing (IMO logical explanation would be that the pilots are tired and less concentrated in the end – it is like when you are driving)
- Second comes take-off, accounting for 13% of major flight accidents
- Only 11% of deadly crashes happened while the plane was cruising
- You are statically more likely to die from food poisoning (1 in 3 million), falling from a ladder (1 in 2 million) or falling out of bed (1 in 2 million), while your odds of dying in a car accident are about one in 5,000!
- At last but not the least: even if your aircraft is involved in some type of accident, there’s a good chance you’ll survive. The US National Transportation Safety Board has issued a report (rather old, but I bet that numbers only improve with constant modernization of technology) which says there is a 95% chance of surviving a commercial aircraft accident 😉
In other words, keep calm, pack up your shit and get your ass on that plane already! Or, you can check my Facebook album and can see what you are missing up in the air 😉