Airplanes are like gliders just like birds and can easily glide for very long distances with no engines and reach the airport or a suitable landing area.
As a Captain of an Airline with over 16,000 hours of accumulated flying hours logged to date and 29 years of flying experience I guess I am like many of my colleagues and feel very safe and at home in the air. It is hard for us to conceive that there are some people in the back of our planes that are literally scared out of their minds of flying. We take for granted that flying is the safest form of transportation in today’s society and have seen the statistics that prove it.
This assumption on our behalf that there is no reason at all to be afraid of flying can numb us to the contrary. There are and there will always be those that are scared to death to fly.
Personally, I believe that there are several factors that contribute to this fear and will take my time to explain some of them:
Hollywood and the media must take some of the blame for this and in an effort to sell movies and newspapers they have played on people’s fears to gain profit. Dramatization in the movies and massive headlines in the papers of even the smallest airplane crashes has drawn focus on the safety of flying, whereas in comparison the thousands of people dying in car accidents on the roads around the world every single day does not even have the slightest attention as this has become normalized.
Not understanding the physics of flying and how airplanes actually fly. This contributes to the enormous fear of the unknown “HOW CAN SOMETHING SO HEAVY STAY IN THE AIR” Whereas in simple laws of fluid dynamics it can easily be explained how a wing creates lift from moving forward in the air by the shape and design of the wing. The upper side of a wing is curved and the lower side is flat and this makes the distance that the air molecules have to travel further when traveling over the upper side of the wing versus the lower side of the wing.
The curvature on the upper side creating a longer distance. This means that the air traveling on the upper side has to speed up much more to catch their friend air molecule who decided to travel on the underside of the wing so that they can meet on the other side at the trailing end at the same time. When the air speeds up it creates a lower pressure on top of the wing and this again means the wing is seeking upwards to equal out the higher pressure air that is much higher above the undisturbed surface of the upper side. This creates an upwards lift force and is what keeps the airplane in the air. A good experiment is holding a spoon from the tip of the handle lightly and then placing it into a stream of running water where the spoon with its curved profile is the upper side of the wing and the water is the air. The curved side of the spoon will be pulled into the stream of water due to the exact same effect the wing gets pulled up from air passing over the wing curvature while in the moving air.
Understanding some of these very basic physical laws of aerodynamics can solve the fear of not knowing. Another big misunderstanding is that if all the engines on a plane stop working the airplane will simply drop out of the sky and crash. This nothing close to reality and must also be debunked. Airplanes are all gliders just like birds and can easily glide for very long distances with no engines and reach the airport or a suitable landing area.
Another huge factor is that we cannot see the air molecules that we are flying through and the natural waves that can be up in the air. Comparison to a boat on the ocean the passengers can see the waves that naturally move the boat up and down in the water and in been able to see the waves we are able to anticipate and see the effects it has on the boat and prepare ourselves in advance. A car driving on a bumpy road is also true in the same sense as we can see the bumps ahead and can anticipate that the car will have a bumpy ride knowing this we understand and accept this. In airplanes flying in the air we do not see these natural airwaves and or bumps on the road ahead and can experience turbulence and even though it is as natural as a boat on a wavy ocean or a bus driving on a bumpy road people tend to get very scared and think that something is very wrong and that the plane is going to crash, when in fact, it is a very normal thing as the airplane moves through the natural waves of the air.
As for the pilots sitting up front, there are few careers out there that demand so much rigorous training and exams that have to be passed every six months throughout a Pilot’s career. This on top of thorough medical exams every six months to prove both physical good health and mental health. You can be assured that the Pilots up front have demonstrated their skills and medical health over and over again and earned their privilege be allowed to sit up front in the cockpit and fly you safely to your destination.