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Flight Safety - How It Seems and How It Is

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"Fast and The Furious" Star Dies in Fiery Car Crash." "Bronx Train Derailment Kills Four" Those are the headlines. Yet, many people are afraid to fly. Here's what someone posted on the SOAR Fear of Flying Message Board.

"I can't help but stand idly by while others pysch themselves out in order to put themselves in a pressurized tube traveling at 500 MPH." This, posted on a board for people who want to overcome fear of flying.

He continues, "I stopped or avoided flying about 4 years ago. I had a very bad incident back in 1994 but kept flying but it became incredibly stressful every time I did. Now I don't fly and haven't for over 4 years. I don't miss it, I don't desire it, and I am over the whole traveling thing to "see" new places."

"People talk about statistics. They mention statistical values that support how safe flying really is. What they fail to mention is how unlikely it is for people to survive in an aircraft accident and statistically how many things actually fail or go wrong on an aircraft but don't necessarily bring it down."

The number of factors external factors and influences involved in flying are immense. You are putting your life in the hands of so many people that it's hard to rationalize why anyone would get on a plane to begin with. The number of integral components that can fail, the number of systems that can fail, the number of people who touch the aircraft during loading, unloading, refueling, etc...this isn't even going into deep maintenance cycles when parts are removed and then put back."

"I used to love flying...but the more I know about it, the more I know it's rolling dice when getting on board an aircraft. I'm truly surprised more don't fall out of the sky. So fear of flying is, to me, a rational fear - not based on psychological limitations unless you are fearful of heights. It's based on understanding how insane and irrational it is to sit in a cramped tube that's completely out of your control and if something does go wrong, you are done."

I responded to the post as follows:

You sound so thoroughly logical. As did the Dustin Hoffman character in Rainman who would only fly Qantas because "Qantas never crashed." You argue that it is logical to be afraid to fly; you argue that statistics must be ignored.

You ask us to consider "how unlikely it is for people to survive in an aircraft accident." In doing so you are asking us to regard your view of what is likely and unlikely as valid. A person's view, like statistics that suggest what is likely in the future, can be accurate or inaccurate. We don't need to look at predictive statistics. We have "descriptive statistics" that simply compile the results. Descriptive statistics offer us - not opinion - but facts.

It may be disconcerting to face the fact that seven BILLION people survived flight on major US airliners in the past ten years without a single fatality. And while it seems so likely to survive a car crash, 383,835 people who stepped into automobiles alive during that ten-year period did not step out alive after a collision.

If you cannot "stand idly by" as others psych themselves out in order to fly, how can you stand idly by as passengers board the Metro North railroad only to perish when their train derails going around a 30 MPH curve at 82 MPH? How can you stand idly by as children going to school are shot by a gun nut (two things that happened recently in my neighborhood)?

I think the blurb by Stephen Porges, professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, on the back cover of my book SOAR, The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying, fits this discussion. He wrote, "SOAR provides a relevant and understandable explanation of how the nervous system - as it works outside of awareness to protect us - overreacts and puts us into a state of anxiety when flying."

What seemingly SHOULD happen sounds so terribly logical. But terrible logic can result when a person cannot regulate emotion when flying but cannot accept that the difficulty is within.

When the facts fly in the face of ones views, self-examination is called for. I understand that you feel you cannot stand idly by as we delude ourselves about flying. I, of course, have a different take on the matter. I recall, for example, coming into JFK airport and being vectored for a landing on runway 22. I was turning left over Deer Park, and saw the place where my ex-wife had been buried after a fatal car crash. And as her body lay there in the ground, I was flying a 767 at four-thousand feet. Here, still alive after nearly forty years in the air, she - an excellent driver - lies dead due to a tiny mistake she got sucked into on the road.

Though you believe flying is dangerous, the facts don't line up with your belief. So, should I stand idly by as you assert that your view is rational? Should I stand idly by as you claim you don't fly because it is illogical to do so?

If you should ever come to understand that your seemingly rational take on flying is rationalization driven by inability to self-regulate (at least when on a plane), the program I run can help you fix that. To help you move to a resolution between how flying seems and how it is, get a copy of my book, SOAR, The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying.

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