Was This an Emergency?

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The Toronto Star printed the following, eye-catching headline in their Saturday edition last week “Near mid-air collision of planes over Sudbury sparks probe.” Although it contained only 10thinkstockphotos-475314872 words, that headline was enough to spark the imagination, conjuring images of evasive maneuvers, steeply-banked turns and people screaming as drinks and carry-on baggage flew around the cabin. A reader choosing to ignore the rest of the article might turn the page, concluding: “Yep, air travel is dangerous. Here’s more evidence that your life is at risk any time you fly.” However, the body of the article didn’t support that alarmist, attention-grabber of a headline.

While the article did acknowledge that the two planes indeed had “a close call” it stated that that meant they came within one kilometre of each other and that “it’s too soon to say whether there was a true risk of collision.” It went on to quote the federal agency that investigates air accidents in stating that the closeness of the two aircraft triggered appropriate warning systems that enabled both to get out of each other’s way. The spokesperson for one of the airlines involved reassured that “our pilots responded according to standard procedures given the circumstances” and The Star itself later softened its headline in their online edition to “Investigators probe close call between two commuter aircraft”.

The human brain has two, almond-shaped structures called amygdala, whose sole purpose is to take information from the outside world and decide, instantaneously and based on past experience, if a situation is safe or dangerous. Although those amygdala process a lot of information, they don’t actually do any of what we would call ‘thinking’; they simply react and activate the body for danger, regardless of whether a threat is imminent or just possible in a given circumstance. Real thinking, like the kind where we examine facts in greater detail and decide, in this case, “Yeah, there was some risk there, but it was pretty mild and the system worked as it should to keep everyone safe” takes a bit longer and only comes after that burst of arousal triggered by the amygdala’s standard operating procedure of: ‘Panic first, ask questions later’.

Learning how to fly without anxiety and fear involves learning how to tolerate your own bodily arousal and keep the parts of your brain that think online. Too many nervous flyers jump at their initial burst of fear and conclude that flying is scary and dangerous when it really isn’t. Then, they are more likely to enter benign situations as if they were at high risk, reinforcing their own conclusions and keeping themselves closed-off from learning anything to the contrary. The cure for this involves two, important steps: Learning to change your viewpoint so you can ‘see’ situations as they really are (that is, without the added colour of fear and exaggeration), and repeated exposure to flying so you can collect direct, personal evidence that you can do it.

At Afraid to Fly, we teach frightened people how to fly in comfort all the time. Check out our 2017 Non-Flyer and Nervous Flyer groups servicing the Toronto area. Don’t avoid just because you’re scared. Learn to fly without fear and go travel.