The most recent lost Malaysian flight reinforces the fears that so many have when it comes to flying. And after having handled many airline disaster and crash cases over my career, I have learned what to fear and what not to fear when flying. Getting over not being in control is perhaps the hardest mental block for me.
First, there are so many flights a day around the world with hundreds of thousands of customers each day that the odds of dying because of a bad flight are ridiculously high. You have a better chance of getting hit by lighting twice before dying in a plane crash. Aviation has been around for more than 100 years and each switch or button in a 737, for instance, represents someone’s demise in the last century and, as a result, the industry figured out how not to have that tragedy again and created that particular button to save lives.
Second, planes and jets are built with many built- in back up or redundant systems. Almost always a flight disaster, unless it is a terrorist attack, involves numerous things going wrong sequentially over time, usually 5-7 events in a row. That is incredibly rare, fortunately.
Third, people wonder what happens if the jet engines simply stop working for some reason. Although this is almost unheard today, if this occurs a jet can actually coast for many miles for 10-20 minutes, thus allowing the pilot time to find for a safe landing. And there are many places it can land during that time. If only one of the two jets stops functioning for some reason, the aircraft can adjust quite readily and continue flying safely.
Fourth, statistically the dangers of flying are highest when taking off and landing. Bad weather, storms, ice, high winds, visibility issues are often contributing factors in a crash. Fortunately, the sophistication of the aircraft systems is so superb that a 737 can land itself without any pilot help, for instance, when there is no visibility. In fact, a pilot is not allowed to try and land a jet in those conditions.
Fifth, over time pilots, captains, co-captains and assistants have learned to speak up and complain or voice concerns despite the presence of authority or a superior. Having this improved communication up front has greatly improved airline safety.
There are many things one can worry about when flying. But usually they are not valid or reasonable concerns. Given the safety and redundant systems and the high tech developments in jets as well as the outstanding training of pilots, it is better if you watch a good movie, or read a great book or listen to your favorite movie and try and enjoy your private time in the air. After all, these days, it’s one of those periods in everyday life that you can have some privacy and just let others take you where you need to go, safely.