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Lesson 4 of 5

Your Strategy for Success

For starters we will look at safety statistics and the relative safety of other activities. Next you will see why the news media sensationalizes accidents and how they are often inaccurate in their reporting. Then we will look at measures to increase security, and finally I will cover techniques for coping with stress and fear.

"Dear Captain Stacey Chance, I have a flight in three days and I was terrified to the point where I was not sleeping well at night. After reading the online course material, I feel a lot more educated on just how safe flying actually is. It has definitely put me more at far as dealing with turbulence, takeoff and landing. Thank you very much!!!!"

Safety Statistics

Concern for personal safety is at the core of our basic emotions. Numbers are about logic and reason. An important lesson I learned while working as a Flight Instructor years ago was that people don't learn well under stress. The first step in teaching a new flight student was to get him or her to feel comfortable in the plane. You must focus the logical side of your brain on the facts below. Take comfort in these statistics. I do this flying "thing" for a living. I fly all of the time. I'm a chicken, so I wouldn't be doing this if I thought it was dangerous.

Many people take comfort in going to the local airport to watch planes takeoff and land. After a while you begin to see that flight is indeed routine. Others like to study the ARRIVAL and DEPARTURE monitors in the airport terminal to see just how many flights operate safely. Did you know that worldwide nearly 3 million passengers fly every day? And according to the Air Transportation Association of America, on an average day about 1.8 million passengers are up in the sky over the U.S. on 24,600 flights.

Here is a quote from the FAA website:

"Air travel is the safest mode of mass transportation. According to Dr. Arnold Barnett of MIT, based on the accident rate over the last few years, you would have to fly on average once a day every day for 22,000 years before you would perish in a U.S. commercial aviation accident.

VERY Low Accident Rates

In 1993, 1998, 2002-2007 there were no fatal accidents in large commercial airliners in the United States. Worldwide, safety has improved dramatically over the last 10 years for commercial air transport and 2007 was the best year ever according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

And it's Getting Safer!

Thirty years ago, fatal accidents on commercial jetliners occurred approximately once in every 140 million miles flown. Today, it's 1.4 billion miles flown for every fatal accident: a ten-fold safety improvement.

Why? New technology has improved safety. For example, many planes now have systems (Terrain Awareness and Warning System) that warn pilots if they’re about to fly too close to the ground. Major airports have been equipped with systems that warn air traffic controllers of a potential collision on runways. Experts agree that better training and awareness of safety issues have played a big part in making skies safer.

The number of accidents has declined dramatically while the number of departures has risen. And if you happen to be in one of the very rare accidents, the NTSB has issued these statistics which suggest you have a very good chance for survival!

96% survive all accidents
56% survive serious accidents

(Survivability of Accidents Involving Part 121 U.S. Air Carrier Operations, 1983-2000)

Steps a passenger can take to increase safety -
Plan escape routes
Attend to safety briefings
Read safety cards
Follow crew instructions

(Boeing & NTSB)

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chairman Ellen Conners, noting that some 42,000 people die every year on the roads, said, "I wish all modes of transportation could replicate aviation's safety record."

Flying vs. Driving

How can flying through the sky be that much safer than driving down the road? Let's compare the dangers of driving on a two lane road compared to cruising at 35,000 feet.

Let's say you're driving on a country road with oncoming traffic. What is your margin for error, three feet? What if you or the oncoming driver experiences a problem, maybe an in-car distraction from kids, cell phone, eating, etc? Maybe an animal enters the roadway or you have a tire blowout? Maybe an oncoming driver is drunk or drowsy? There is very little between you and disaster.

Now let's say you are in a commercial airliner cruising at 35,000 feet. How close are you to hitting something? You are about 6 miles from hitting the ground and at least 1,000 feet vertically from any other planes. What about mechanical problems? They are very rare, and the plane has numerous backup systems.

Layers of Protection

Throughout aviation there are carefully designed "layers of protection". That means that many things must go wrong in exactly the correct sequence to cause an accident. For example, let us take a look at what would have to happen to penetrate the "layers of protection" to have a mid-air collision.

First one pilot must allow his plane to stray into the wrong airspace. The onboard computers would have to miss this altitude or course deviation and not set off warnings. The other pilot in the cockpit would also have to miss this error. The onboard collision avoidance computer would have to neglect to warn the pilots of a possible collision. The Air Traffic Controller would have to miss the mistake as well as his computer and his supervisor. Only then if the two planes happen to occupy exactly the same airspace at exactly the same time, and none of the 2 pilots in either cockpit see the other plane could a collision become a possibility.

Now you can see why, when driving a car, you don't have nearly the same "layers of protection" as in a plane.

So the TRUE aviation danger is your drive to the airport. According to these stats, you are much more at risk on that drive than on your flight. So please keep your eyes on the road. While driving your car you are on your own. You don't enjoy all of the safety back ups, ATC radar monitoring, and supervision of highly skilled professionals that we do in the cockpit. PLEASE be careful!

Some other interesting facts I dug up while researching risks:

Average Deaths Per Year:

1,000 on a bicycle
1,452 by accidental gunfire
3,000 by complications to medical procedures
3,600 by inhaling or ingesting objects
5,000 by drowning
8,000 as pedestrians
46,000 in auto accidents

SOURCES: Estimates courtesy of Bureau of Safety Statistics, National Transportation Safety Board

Another somber statistic that we are all vulnerable to is that 600,000 people die each year from cancer. That is the equivalent of SIX Boeing 747 airplanes crashing EVERYDAY!

What have I learned from this?

The world is a dangerous place. So please be careful getting out of bed, showering, petting the dog, and driving to the airport. If you can safely make it to your seat on the plane, sit down and relax knowing that no activity you do is as carefully monitored, scrutinized, inspected, maintained, checked, and rechecked as commercial flying.

Why Do Planes Crash?

The difficulty in answering this question is that crashes are normally caused by a combination of unforeseen circumstances. But each time there is a crash, we learn from it and make significant improvements following large-scale investigations. At the end of this course on the Bonus Web Page you will have an opportunity to read about the causes of recent air disasters and what changes have led to our improved safety.

News Media

Why do aircraft accidents get so much media coverage?

It is because the news only reports unique events such as "Man bites dog". Auto accidents happen frequently so they are not newsworthy. Airline accidents are so rare that the news jumps all over a story like that. When the news media stops covering airline accidents that means they have become commonplace.

Unfortunately, the media sensationalizes stories about air disasters. This has conditioned people to be afraid of flying. It is difficult to ignore the headlines that follow an incident, and often their reports are inaccurate. The media is in a rush to be the first to report, so they often rush to inaccurate conclusions.

I am probably naive, but I assume the media is fairly accurate in most of their reporting. Then I read a subject in which I have some expertise and am amazed at the errors. Have you read articles in the paper dealing with your industry or profession? The news media tries, but generally does a poor job of getting all of the facts straight. They can't be experts about everything, and aviation is a complex subject. An excellent publication for getting no nonsense information about aviation is Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine.

Terrorism and Hijackings

The nation's airline pilots and flight attendants are very involved in the new security procedures. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has developed standardized security screening procedures for all airports. The TSA has established layers of security to ensure our safety.

The TSA Security System Includes:

Thousands of federal air marshals flying on tens of thousands of flights each month.

More robust passenger pre-screening systems and 100% screening of checked baggage.

Better airport perimeter security and reinforced cockpit doors.

Dedicated screeners trained and deployed to all commercial airports.

All unoccupied/unidentified vehicles will be removed from in front of terminal areas

Thorough aircraft searches will be performed prior to boarding any passengers.

Armed pilots and crew members trained in self defense.

Authorities are going to great lengths to keep our flights safe. Passenger lists are now closely scrutinized and if there are any doubts or if there have been intelligence suggesting a particular flight is at risk, it is cancelled.

Everyone on the airplane knows they are being watched carefully for any unusual behavior. And they are being watched by not only the flight crew and anonymous Federal Air Marshals, but by other passengers as well.

Tips for Overcoming Your Fear

I will begin with some general ideas about reducing stress in your life including some proven methods for controlling fear.


Stress affects all of us. Almost everything in our life such as change, conflict, boredom, loss, failure, or even success creates stress. It is important to recognize stress and take care of yourself so that stress doesn't lead to anxiety.

There are many ways to help reduce stress and anxiety. Most methods simply involve paying attention to yourself and being aware of your desires and needs. You should learn to pamper yourself. Here are a few ways to help you reduce the effects of stress in your life.

Take care of yourself

Exercise Get some exercise. You don't have to run a marathon, but a little exercise will help use up the excess energy released into your body by stress. It also helps clear your mind and improves your self image. If you like, just take a walk.

Try to eat better. Get plenty of sleep. Take a nap when able. (Can you name an animal that sleeps less than we humans do?) Cut down on stimulants like caffeine, and ease up on sugar.

Feel good about yourself

Try to make a habit doing things that make you feel better about yourself: Help people. Be nice to others. Be honest. Have a clear conscience. It really does feel better to give rather than receive. (I feel better already by providing you with this free course!)

Feed your soul

Dance Take time out to play, relax, or start a hobby. Don't feel guilty about this time you take for yourself. You deserve a little fun, don't you? Think of it as a necessity, just like food, water, and air.

Wings of Discovery
Read a good entertaining book, such as my fear of flying book Wings of Discovery. It's an adventure story packed with information on flying that you'll enjoy and relate to. (eBook & Audio book version now available for download!)

"I have a degree in clinical psychology and my specialty was anxiety - based disorders. I took your course and also read "Wings of Discovery" and was helped ENORMOUSLY by both. Your opening chapter in "Wings" absolutely captured every emotion people feel in that situation. You didn't sugar coat it and that gave you credibility. It also showed you understood the severity of the problem."

Have a Good Laugh

Rent a silly movie or get together with some friends. Laughter really is the best medicine.

Manage your day

Become organized. Do one thing at a time, make a list, set priorities, compartmentalize.


Accept what you have no control over. Accept what you cannot change. Don't try to be perfect. Try to change "What if?" into "So what!"

Don't feel guilty about putting yourself first! If you don't take care of yourself, you are no good to anyone else. No one likes hanging around stressed out people.

Motion Sickness

Some passengers may experience motion sickness. Symptoms generally consist of dizziness, fatigue, and nausea. Anxiety can lower your threshold for experiencing symptoms, however some individuals seem to be naturally prone to motion sickness.

To help prevent motion sickness seek areas of lesser movement, such as sitting near the wings. Facing forward, opening your air vent, and looking outside can also help. Several medications are available that may prevent or limit the symptoms and are best taken one hour before departure. Dramamine or Bonine can be effective. A prescription medication, Transderm-Scop, comes in a patch which can be worn behind the ear. Side-effects usually consist of sedation and dry mouth. Ginger root may also be effective, but with fewer side effects. Always check with your doctor.

Now let's take another look at fear and how you can deal with it...

Remember that fear is a normal reaction to a perceived threat. Once you understand the true danger of the threat, the fear naturally goes away. Fear itself is not harmful, just uncomfortable. A panic attack will not make you have a heart attack, or faint, or lose control. The following solutions can help you deal with fear when it strikes. It takes practice, but these methods are very effective. Before your next flight give these methods some thought and apply them in your everyday activities, especially the deep breathing exercise. (I use this when I visit the dentist!)

Keep Your Overactive Imagination in Check

Quite often people who have a fear of flying also have a strong or overactive imagination. For example, they might hear an unfamiliar noise during the flight and begin imagining what might be wrong with the plane. Or, they may believe in signs or premonitions that their plane will crash. For example, they might have a dream or hear a song on the radio about a plane crash. Odds are you are not psychic! Remind yourself of this fact and focus on reality.

If I thought there was the slightest chance that my passenger's dreams or premonitions could affect the safety of my flight it would be my duty to interview each and every passenger and ask if they have had any bad dreams or visions about the flight. Now that would slow down the boarding process! Your dreams have no affect on the real world. No no

Utilize Positive Thinking

Keep your thoughts in the present. Keep your thoughts positive. When you catch yourself thinking negatively, stop, and concentrate on the positive. Many people dwell on what might happen instead of what is happening.

Projector It can be easy to play a "disaster movie" in your mind with you in the starring role! When you catch yourself starting the production of one of these imaginary "disaster movies" turn off the projector. Occupy your mind with something more constructive. Read, do a puzzle, or strike up a conversation.

Tense Your Muscles

Be aware of your body. When you feel muscles that are tense or tight, you can relax them. Instead of fighting the tightness, show your muscles who's the boss! You tense your muscles! You take control! Go ahead and tighten your stomach muscles or your leg muscles. Then pause and let go. You will be surprised at how your muscles feel warm and relaxed, and once again you feel in control.

Slow, Deep Breathing

When you feel afraid your breathing quickens and your heart races. To calm yourself, first push your stomach outward. Take a slow deep breath through your nose. Try to fill your lungs from the bottom up. Pause, and then exhale slowly. Do this a couple of times and you'll feel much better.

Better breathing instantly leads to a better mood. Controlled breathing is one of the best methods to deal with claustrophobic feelings. Practice your controlled breathing whenever you can. Try it whenever you feel tense. Slow, deep breathing is the easiest and most effective method for calming yourself.

I know I am repeating myself, but this is VERY IMPORTANT - Learn and practice to use controlled breathing!

Palm Tree


Take a "virtual" vacation. Imagine a wonderful, peaceful setting- maybe some place you have vacationed. Think about what you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste when you are there. Describe your vacation to yourself. This might go something like, "I remember sitting on that beautiful beach on the North Shore sipping a delicious Mai Tai, watching the waves, listening to the gulls flying overhead, the smell of suntan lotion, a warm breeze on my skin." Close your eyes and visualize this. Try to re-live the feeling of each sensation.

Write Down Your Fears

Whenever you feel fearful, think about what might be the root cause of your fear and write it down. The act of expressing the cause of your fear in words on a piece of paper has a calming affect. It gives you a task which gets your mind off the fear. And once written down, it allows you to let go of the fear. You will feel in control.

Another thing that helps is talking about your fears with others. Mention this online course to family and friends. You might be surprised at how many people share this fear and need some help too.

"I cannot express the relief I felt after I took the course on-line and then was seated in the plane not to have the familiar anxiety and apprehension. I will most certainly share your website with anyone who even mentions the fear of flying. I felt like I was a 'frequent flyer' as I sat there and waited for the flight and then also in flight. I wondered if your website had the power of hynotisim or the power of suggestion... heheh. btw I decided to call the turbulence 'pot holes' in the sky and I actually let a glass of water sit there on the tray during the turbulence and it barely jiggled. YES!!!!!"

After finishing the course you can also visit my Fear of Flying Help Course Message Board and Chat Room. There you will find many nice people who share your concerns: it's kind of like group therapy!

End of Lesson 4

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