Would you get on a pilotless flight?
The holy grail, of course, is an industry in which flying becomes “accident-free” – which might not be as farfetched as it sounds. Giovanni Bisignani, the then-head of the International Air Transport Association, said in 2010 that by 2050 he sees a world where air travel will have, “Very close to zero accidents.”
The answer seems to be in ever-more rigorous pilot training and advanced computer systems that can anticipate a problem long before it arises. But you can never remove the man in the peaked cap entirely – even if ‘human error’ is almost always to blame. As Tizzard says, “I don’t know of any passenger who would get on a pilotless flight – do you?” It’s a good point. When we’re already getting heart palpitations if one of the cabin crew looks at one of their colleagues ‘a bit funny’, we’d be unlikely to breathe any easier if a robotic voice came over the PA to tell us that today’s pilot is named ZX-1000 and that he hopes we all have a good flight.
“People really do look at the cabin crew for clues,” says Tizzard. “What they don’t realise is that if the chicken dinners run out, for example, it’s a major trauma for the cabin crew.” Other in-flight eyebrow-raisers that many people buy into are the bing-bonging call bells – which nervous types think are sending ‘secret messages’ to the crew – and turbulence. More specifically, rampant fear of a mythical ‘air pocket’ that will make you drop hundreds of feet in half a second.
“We’re flying along at 500mph,” Tizzard smiles. “It’s not possible! You can change your altitude over a few miles, but most turbulence is a matter of a couple of feet.”
All of which goes to prove what a bunch of stressed-out, scaredy cats so many of us are at 20,000 feet.
“Your journey really starts before the flight, when you book the tickets,” says Professor Bor. “The main thing is not to avoid it, because fears don’t go away unless you do something about it.”
He recommends learning deep-breathing techniques to help deal with the multiple anxieties that sufferers will inevitably face during their journey. “By doing that, you will reduce your heart rate, and once that happens the physical feelings, like trembling hands and a dry mouth, will start to reduce. Another thing you can do is take any muscle group and clench it really tight for five seconds.” He recommends your fists: by doing this you’re taking control of tension, which is an involuntary response. In effect, you’re turning it into a voluntary response and by doing so you help the brain to switch off its system of sending out stress messages to the body.
Professor Bor further recommends that you eat well, carbs especially, take non-sugary drinks and make sure you have plenty to occupy your mind. “Distract yourself and put yourself in your own little cocoon,” he says.
“And stop watching movies about flying!” adds Tizzard. “Whether it’s Snakes On A Plane or Passenger 57, they’re all ridiculous, with pilots wrestling with the controls and sweat pouring off them. It’s nonsense.”
If you do have to watch one, Tizzard says you should plump for the 1980 Leslie Nielsen classic, Airplane!. “That’s obviously the most accurate movie about flying ever made,” he says, with a grin. He’s joking, of course – but at least you’ll get a laugh out of it.
Could the 1980 film Airplane! be the cure
for flying phobia?