An Asiana Airlines flight from Seoul, South Korea to San Francisco, Calif. crash-landed at the San Francisco International Airport on July 6. Two teenagers were killed in the crash, while 181 passengers were injured.
Aerial photos and cell-phone footage show the aircraft descending onto the landing strip and immediately combusting. The Boeing 777-plane was charred, with only the tail of the plane remaining intact.
Authorities are still investigating the cause of the crash, but reports have surfaced that one of the co-pilots, Lee Kang-kook, had only logged 43 hours on the Boeing 777. He’s an experienced pilot who’s flown other jets, according to airline officials. However, the July 6 flight was the ninth time he’d been in the cockpit on this particular aircraft and the first time he’d flown to the San Francisco International Airport.
No matter the cause or the inexperience of the pilot, a plane crashing is most passengers’ greatest fear. Plane crashes don’t happen often. The International Air Transport Association (Iata) found that there is one accident for every 5 million flights on western-built aircrafts. In total there were six crashes in 2012, with 414 deaths.
Planes are even safer now.
“Crashes are definitely more survivable today than they were a few decades ago,” said Kevin Hiatt, president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation, a nonprofit group aimed at improving air safety. “We’ve learned from the past incidents about what can be improved.”
Improvements to the plane’s cabin, including stronger seats and fire-resistant seat cushions and carpeting, make it easier for passengers to escape planes. Exit doors are also easier to open and most flight attendants are trained in crash simulators, so they are able to keep passengers calm if the plane is in turbulence or is danger of crashing.
None of this comforts the thousands suffering with flight anxiety, including me.
I’ve been traveling forever. But a frightening touch of flight anxiety has appeared in recent months. I’m terrified of buckling the seatbelt and trusting a pilot and her crew to get me from point A to B. One turbulent flight did it.
I reside in Carbondale, Ill., a quick 45-minute air ride from St. Louis. Boarding a small, eight-passenger plane never intimidated me. One night, rogue jet streams tossed the plane through a cloudy, tempestuous flight.
I began to hyperventilate as I imagined colliding with the forest moss below. A kind student, who I had never met, gripped my hand and whispered reassuring words as we hit cloud after tumultuous cloud. One short, eventful flight – and I have developed a ceaseless phobia.
The calm swagger – hidden behind chic glasses and the latest bestseller – has been upended and substituted with rampant anxiety. Every bump causes my palms to sweat. My heart thumps. I am requesting sickness bags and Sprite from flight attendants as I ask God for traveling mercies.
The Asiana Flight has compounded the fear that overtakes me every time I board a plane. But I’ve refused to let flight anxiety dominate my life. Instead, I’ve received a prescription for Xanax from the doctor, which SOAR – an organization that assists passengers with overcoming flight anxiety – warns against.
The World Health Organization found flight passengers who use sedatives increase their risk of developing deep vein thrombosis, an illness that can causes the development of a blood clot in veins. Though the risk is minimal, the WHO recommends more holistic approaches to overcoming flight anxieties.
Here are several recommended tips that have worked for me.
Check the turbulence forecast.
Turbulence is normal, but it is unsettling to encounter air currents and clouds 30,000 feet in the air. The iTunes app-store offers Turbcast, a $1.99 application that offer fliers a roadmap to their destination. It is similar to what pilots use to examine weather patterns and will keep you in the loop, so there will be no surprises when the plane shakes and rattles.
Sit on the wing of the plane.
The back of the plane has the worst turbulence. Passengers can feel each bump and shake. To avoid using the vomit-bag, pick a seat on the wing of the plane. That area is most stable for fliers.
Pretend you’re in a car or bus.
Ever fallen asleep in the car or on the bus? The bumps you encounter on the road are no different than those in the air, so imagine you’re on a road-trip. This method eases some of the heights-anxieties as well.
Distract yourself with a book or a movie.
Most airlines offer the amenities of home. There are $7 movies, wifi access, and even DirectTV on some flights. Indulging in these luxuries can serve as a distraction and keep you calm, even when the plane hits rough patches.
Captain Steve Allright, a member of British Airways’ Flying with Confidence program, recommends breathing exercises for those suffering with flight anxiety. “If someone is very anxious, it is actually very difficult to change their breathing pattern,” he says. “Try holding your breath and then deep breathing, or better still, force yourself to breathe out for as long as you can and then take a long, deep breath.” This technique prevents hyperventilation.