Fear of Flying: How Flying Works and Why It’s Safe

A few facts that will hypothetically make you feel much, much better

Some people take great comfort in statistics and knowledge.  If you’re one of these people, this post’s for you.  Personally my right brain (where imagination and emotion live) runs circles around my left brain (home of logic and intellectual knowledge) and always has.

Conquering fear of flyingAlthough the real core of the fear of flying program I tested is the isolation and control of the elements of anxiety and panic through conditioning, I’m a little comforted by the facts too.  I tend to use them as a mantra in times of airborne anxiety, reminding myself over and over that the following things are true:

1.  Flying is safer than driving

Even in 1945 when navigation was primitive and airplane engines had 20 unreliable cylinders, the chance of fatality when driving or flying from New York to LA was equal.  In the 21st century, flying in modern jets is more than a hundred times safer than driving.  Statistically, it’s even safer than being asleep at home in your bed.

2.  Air is like jello at 500 mph

My right brain knows that airplanes are heavy and it doesn’t quite believe that something as insubstantial as air can hold one up.  But air gets thicker the faster you go.  At 50mph, it’s like water.  At 100mph, it’s like molassass.  At 150mph, it’s like jello.   Jello can hold things up with no problem.

3.  Modern airplanes are two airplanes in one

Modern airplanes are built with redundancies.  Early airplanes had one engine, but modern airplanes have two or more.  Airline safety depends on back up systems, and airliners have them.

Conquering fear of flying4.  Airplanes are gliders

But what if all the engines fail?  Then the airplane drops from the sky, right?  Wrong.  Engines don’t hold an airliner in the air, they just push it forward on takeoff and at cruise.  Airplanes are actually gliders.  At 30,000 feet, they can glide 90 miles in any direction (and there are probably 10-30 airports where they could land within that radius).

5.  Lightning?  No problem

If a plane is hit by lightning, the air around it insulates it from the ground.  The lights may blink or go out temporarily, but the plane will not be harmed.  Thunderstorms are no fun to fly in due to strong updrafts and downdrafts.  They can also cause windshear, which closes airports.  Pilots avoid thunderstorms with Doppler radar though, so it’s not worth worrying about.  You’re worrying, aren’t you?

6.  Airliners are dynamically stable

Have you ever fretted about a plane flipping over?  Well, don’t.  It’s impossible due to the negative dihedral design (that is, the upward tilt) of the wings.  They give planes dynamic stability.  In other words, planes have the tendency to go straight and to require force to do anything else.

This is the fifth and final post in a five-part series about conquering fear of flying.  If you’re a nervous flier, read them all.  Topics include:

1.  Symptoms and causes
2.  Choosing the right treatment
3.  The SOAR video course
4.  Understanding turbulence
5.  How flying works and why it’s safe

Fear of Flying TreatmentToo busy to read all that?  Flying very soon?  The online video-based fear of flying program I tried (and highly recommend) has recently published a book called SOAR: The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying.  It’s available on Amazon for much less than the cost of the full program.

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Comments

  1. says

    Luckily I don’t suffer from fear of flying but I still found this interesting. I’m a bit surprised by the stats on flying v driving or being in bed? Isn’t that just because we drive more often and we’re in bed even more often? Or is it genuinely like for like?

  2. says

    @Caitlin The distance statistics are mile for mile. I believe the “safer than at home in bed” statistics are minute for minute and include things like fire, carbon monoxide poisoning, and various natural disasters. The point is that jet accidents are incredibly rare.

  3. says

    Great post! Even as someone who LOVES to travel and flys a little more often than the average mom, I have a slight fear of flying myself. It usually sets in the night before my flight, I can sometimes have a hard time sleeping, nightmares and just generally bad thoughts until I hit the road. It seems once I am in route to the airport all fears subside and I get into a happier “vacation” mode that removes all fears. It’s a crappy feeling to worry about flying but for me it’s something I can’t seem to get over, but it certainly doesn’t stop me from seeing the world!
    Those small airline seats are more likely to do that!

  4. says

    Hi – just came across you and your blogs on twitter – they make for great reading. Very much like the fear of flying ones. As someone who lives on an island and therefore is often flying I still find myself worrying – especially on dodgy windy landings! Worries largely placated now – greatly appreciated!

  5. Amy Canby says

    Good stuff Jamie! I’m sure it will be helpful on my first flight alone (without the kids) next Sunday. May not medicate but will keep the countdown tool in mind!

  6. Josefina Argüello says

    I hate flying. No, it’s not the frustrating obstacle course of shoe removal, sweeps and patdowns, oppressive crowds, interminable queues, perspiratory delays and airplane food (or lack of it) that makes every trip a challenge. (Though all of the above are worthy reasons to dread air travel.) No, for me, it’s the loss of control that accompanies my first footsteps into the claustrophobic cylinder that my fervid imagination assumes will be my coffin. For the next however-many hours, my life is out of my hands — and I can no longer find refuge in my delusion that my health and safety are 100 percent under my control.

  7. josefina Argüello says

    I hate flying. No, it’s not the frustrating obstacle course of shoe removal, sweeps and patdowns, oppressive crowds, interminable queues, perspiratory delays and airplane food (or lack of it) that makes every trip a challenge. (Though all of the above are worthy reasons to dread air travel.) No, for me, it’s the loss of control that accompanies my first footsteps into the claustrophobic cylinder that my fervid imagination assumes will be my coffin. For the next however-many hours, my life is out of my hands — and I can no longer find refuge in my delusion that my health and safety are 100 percent under my control.

    Josefina – queretaro mexico

  8. Patty says

    I’m terrified of flying I’m white knuckling the seats the entire time I either think

  9. says

    Thank you for an excellent and ‘to the point’ article. I have worked for 4 years on developing a system to overcome my very own fear of flying that lasted for 10 years (all this time I could not fly to visit my family).
    I finally did it, and now I do fly, and turbulence actually help me sleep better during the flight.
    I knew there were millions who have this paralyzing fear, so I wrote a book on all the steps I took, the research I made, the tricks I used.
    The book is called ‘Brave Flyer: End Your Fear of Flying’. I honestly think it would help the readers of this article.

    Thank you and keep your articles coming please!

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