Someone recently sent a link to a YouTube video that was supposedly put together by an airline pilot
called “How to Land a Plane in an Emergency.” It was a pretty slick video, showing what a person would probably see if they were wearing virtual reality goggles in a professional Boeing 737 flight simulator. Over about 10 minutes, the narrator (presumably the pilot) talked viewers through exactly which buttons and knobs a passenger might use if they were somehow called upon to land the jet. The video, which has since been removed, was nestled within an online article on a travel and leisure website under the cheeky heading of “Don’t try this at home, kids.” Articles and videos like this can be frustrating because they needlessly contribute to people’s fears when there is really little productive need to do so. But as they say, if sensationalism always sells, then the scarier the better.
The online article begins with a paragraph full of frightening suggestions that passengers were at risk and only escaped certain death by sheer luck, in that case, by being fortunate enough to have a co-pilot who had the special training of knowing how to fly alone. The article began with “Last year, an American Airlines pilot died in the middle of the flight. Passengers on the plane were never at risk thanks to the prowess of the co-pilot who was trained to fly solo, but when the story leaked, nervous flyers found themselves wondering – what do you do if your pilot dies?” and ended with the warning “Watch the video now, because if you ever do find yourself in a situation where you have to land a passenger plane, ….”
Articles like this are intended to drive traffic to particular websites and capture a reader’s attention for only a few seconds. As such, concerns about whether they are accurate or have good intentions are just not relevant. An unfortunate consequence is that they bolster the fears of people who are already afraid or prone to worry about their safety when flying by suggesting that airline passengers are at tremendous risk and are likely to reach their destinations safely only by sheer luck and circumstance.
Flying commercially is safe, far safer than driving your own car on the highways, yet most people do that without any thought. Passenger jets have backup system after backup system in place to ensure that there are very few surprises. To get and keep their license to fly, all commercial pilots have to prove that they can fly their aircraft solo and do so even under the worst possible conditions. Moreover, airlines and airports follow extremely conservative safety protocols, which means they treat situations that are not “emergencies” as emergencies, just to be on the safe side. (And, just so you know, it’s really only in the movies that passengers are ever called upon to fly the plane.)
The best thing a nervous person can do if they see any kind of article or content that’s intended to push their fear button is to take a critical look at who is writing the piece and what their angle is. If the intention is to cause fear just to grab your attention, then your responsibility to yourself is to be a more discriminating consumer and think about how you want to feel: In control of yourself and safe, or powerless and afraid. Even if we can’t stop the body from that initial and automatic rush of fear, we can always work to change what and how we feel in the very next moment.