Would you get on a pi­lot­less flight?

Friday - - Inside -

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?

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