Afraid to Fly? A Pilot Debunks the Scariest Aspects of Flying

Many people are afraid to fly. Much of this is fear of the unknown, as even those who fly on a regular basis struggle not to let their imaginations run wild. With all those “clunks”, “bangs”, and strange engine noises, it’s easy to see how people have become fearful of being in the sky.

Well, with a focus on the professional aspects of flight, here are five of the scariest parts of flying, as explained by a career pilot.

Afraid to Fly? A Pilot Debunks the Scariest Aspects of Flying

1. Noises

We all experience the bangs and clunks that accompany modern air travel, but often we are left wondering what is going on to the aluminum tube that surrounds us, even if the sounds are out of sight.

Well, most of the time what you are hearing is landing gear retraction and extension, electrical servos and motors for the flaps and trim, or even, upon landing, merely the rushing of the wind as it hits the spoilers, slowing the aircraft as it glides down the runway upon landing.

If you fly often, make a note of the types of noises you hear and their timing, relative to which stage of flight you are in. You’ll likely be able to deduce patterns which could help you overcome serious anxieties the next time you hear a clunk just after takeoff.

2. Turbulence

It’s not that the captain and first officers don’t care about the ride or the passengers’ well being, but some amount turbulence is about as common to any flight as potholes in a road are for automobiles.

Typically, an aircrew has a pretty decent idea of where the moderate to severe turbulence lies on a specific route. They will often try to fly at altitudes that help avoid such perils.

However, it is simply impossible to avoid bumps and “chop” as it’s often called, all of the time. Many considerate flight crews will warn passengers of impending bumps as a way to help alleviate some of the anxiety associated with them.

Rest assured, no matter how choppy the ride, the captain and crew have likely been in worse, and know how to handle such situations.

Just as important, the aircraft is designed to withstand enormous stress. One example is the Boeing 777’s ability to withstand over one million pounds of wing loading. That’s the equivalent of resting 250 average sized cars on each wing!

Think about that the next time you’re worried about structural integrity.

3. Bending and Flexing

There is a certain amount of flexing and bending that is normal and is engineered into each aircraft.

Speaking of turbulence, many people experience bumps and chop and are keen to notice the wings flexing as the plane encounters bumps.

This is completely normal and is actually a beneficial attribute of the aircraft’s design. Without some flex, the wings would be too rigid and could experience structural failure from fatigue.

Another common anxiety arises when passengers notice the overhead baggage compartments swaying and jostling from side to side, either during takeoff or landing or in bumpy conditions.

These are also meant to flex, giving the aircraft more structural safety and allowing for slight expansions and contractions within the structure itself.

4. Engine Noise

A lot of people are made nervous by changes in the pitch or sound of the engines during flight.

There are a couple of basic rules that govern how much power the flight crew needs during certain parts of their flight.

  • During takeoff, many aircraft engines are fully spooled up, or being utilized at or near their top performance.
  • After takeoff and during the initial climb, the throttles are often brought back and the engine noise decreases or changes to a lower pitch. This is because takeoff power is no longer needed to sustain the climb out, and the crew is merely saving fuel by slowing the engines.
  • During cruise flight, many times the throttles will be moved in response to a climb or descent to a different altitude. You may notice slight sound variations when these changes are made in flight.
  • Also, during descent, the throttles are typically pulled back quite a ways, and the engine noise will decrease further, sometimes sounding like the engines are shutting down.

Rest assured here, too, the flight crew is changing their engine utilization to reflect the flight path of the aircraft. No surprises here.

One last change in engine noise during flight often comes on final approach as the flight crew throttles up to make more power available should they need to abort the landing.

Passengers will often hear the engines race during the final segment of an approach to landing. Again, totally normal.

5. Emergencies – What You Should Know About Your Flight Crew

In-flight emergencies are exceedingly rare and only occur in a few flights each year.

This is not to say that the news isn’t filled with stories of air crashes and horrific details of how people were killed or injured onboard their aircraft. Flying airplanes is serious business.

However, most US and European based air carriers require that their flight crews take simulator training two times a year or more, which covers many of the emergency situations that cannot be simulated on real aircraft for safety reasons.

This means that your captain and first officer are constantly receiving training and education on how to deal with nearly any emergency situation that could arise.

Many people also do not know that after a major accident or crash, air carriers study the details and root causes of such disasters so that similar conditions can be duplicated in flight crew simulator training scenarios.

This allows your flight crew to benefit from the knowledge gained from even the most recent air accidents and gives them the skills and confidence to be able to avoid duplicating these disasters.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you have taken some comfort in the previous list and will have a better understanding of what is going on outside of the airplane the next time you fly.

Nearly every noise, bump, or situation, which causes passenger anxiety is actually a mundane and routine part of each flight. Many pilots are more than happy to answer questions regarding the specifics of your flight, which should help to ease any potential anxiety associated with flying.

Statistically, flying is safer than driving, yet most people have no qualms about getting into their family car to go for a drive.

The next time you’re worried about getting into the air, remember there is a constant high level of training and awareness that each pilot has to master before he can be given the privilege of guiding you through the air.

A Pilot Debunks the Scariest Aspects of Flying

What do airline pilots fear the most?

Most pilots are afraid of making an error that they can’t control, as they fear that they might be replicated by others. Most pilots would experience fear when they get into a situation that they did not have training for. For most of them, this would be the moment they got into an unsafe situation.

Is flying in an airplane scary?

People of all ages and backgrounds have experienced the horror of flying by plane. Salaries for captains of this company vary depending on the work year. After a year as a captain, they can expect to make $252,000.

Are pilots afraid of turbulence?

Not everyone is worried about turbulence. For most of them, it’s about safety and comfort. Fear of flying is a condition that can manifest from childhood. It can be triggered by a variety of factors.

Is fear of flying a mental illness?

Fear of flying is a mental disorder that affects around 40% of Americans. It is considered a clinical phobia. Before commercial jets were introduced, some cases of turbulence causing structural damage occurred.

Is a pilot job stressful?

An airline pilot’s job is extremely stressful. It involves handling thousands of passengers and carrying out various responsibilities. Aside from passing the exams, people can also study and pass the basic skills and knowledge necessary to become a successful commercial pilot.

Where do you look when landing a plane?

During your round out, take a look at the centerline stripes down the runway and make sure that you have an accurate sight picture. Many pilots will allow themselves to work at low wages so they can gain experience and flight hours in order to be hired by a major airline.

Do pilots get scared?

While most pilots are trained to handle stressful situations, some of them have experienced instances where they were afraid to fly. While flying, take advantage of the in-flight entertainment options. Reading a book or listening to music can help drown out the ambient noise.