When flying is a scary thing…

TE Raja Simhan | Updated on January 24, 2018


…And high-profile crashes are not doing much to help

It’s a sight that many frequent fliers are accustomed to: a passenger on the next seat saying a quick prayer as the flight takes off and lands. Fear of flying — aerophobia or aviophobia — is for some reason very common globally despite statistics showing that air travel is just as safe as any other mode of transport.

The high-profile air accidents last year — and even the latest one involving a Lufthansa-owned plane on Tuesday in southern France— haven’t done much to help those who are apprehensive of stepping into an aircraft. On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines’ Flight 370 with 239 passengers on board disappeared while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Later in the year, an AirAsia flight from Surabaya to Singapore crashed mid-sea on December 28, killing all 155 passengers on board.

The International Air Transport Association, which represents nearly 250 airlines, said in 2014, there were 12 fatal accidents involving all aircraft types with 641 fatalities.

Calmer Indians?

So, how do Indians react to such catastrophic air incidents? Surprisingly, Indian air traffic does not drop significantly unlike in other parts of the world. For instance, people in South East Asia are highly superstitious and refused to travel in an airline that has had a recent disaster for a few days, resulting in air fares dropping to rock bottom, said B Govindarajan, Chief Operating Officer, Tirwin Management Services, an aviation consultant company.

And many frequent fliers agree with Govindarajan. Rekha Menon, an IT professional, was in mid-air when the Malaysian airline disappeared. When on landing she got the news of the flight disappearance, there was fear but it was short lived.

She was back on air two days later taking a flight to Mumbai. The fear just disappeared. She reacted the same way when the AirAsia crash happened. “Such accidents do not matter to me, as such fear is baseless,” said Menon, Vice-President, Marketing & Communications, Ness Technologies, a US-based software company. “Given a choice, I would avoid air travel and depend on technologies like video conferencing. But I prefer personal interactions when managing teams in multiple locations,” she said. Similarly, Shanmugapriya Thyagarajan, Joint Managing Director, Skylift Cargo, said though initially there were apprehensions to travel on Malaysia Airlines, time has been a healer. “I fear flying no matter what. Nevertheless, I do end up doing it a lot for my forwarding and travel business as well as for pleasure.”

Blocking out news

Frequent flier Sid Pai, Partner and President, Asia Pacific Region, Information Services Group, a technology insight, market intelligence and advisory services company, has a way out to avoid fear after such air accidents — to block out all such news from his mind. “I move on by putting the incidents out of my mind and by trying to minimise my exposure to news coverage and analyses of the events,” he said.

Leading psychiatrist S Vijaykumar said people abroad don’t let go of their grief and keep revisiting it, creating more fear. “Indians have the tendency to cry out to release their grief and forget after a few days to overcome the fear psychosis.”

But fear can strike even those who are normally comfortable flying. Deepak Ramaswamy, Managing Director, International Clearing & Shipping Agency, said he is usually comfortable on flights, including during rough or turbulent weather.

“The fear factor does cross my mind sometimes when I board a flight but then you justify to yourself it cannot happen to you for various reasons,” he said. Govindarajan of Tirwin pointed out that air travel is the safest mode of travel. “The back-to-back air accidents in 2014 have not altered my faith in air transportation,” he said.

Published on March 24, 2015

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