Not everybody is cut out to fly, and for that matter, not everybody is cut out to be the best passenger. I recently was sitting in the gate house waiting for my airplane to come in when a lady walked up to me and asked me if I was working her flight. When I confirmed that I was, she asked me if I could spend a few minutes talking to her husband, who was a “nervous flier,” in her words. I immediately said yes, and she went to get him.
The gentleman in question came over, and we introduced ourselves. He had at one time had no problems flying, but in recent years he had developed a sense of claustrophobia. When I asked him why, he said it was related to having kids, and that being on an airplane made him feel a bit trapped and sometimes not able to respond to his young kids the way he might have at home (for instance, taking them outside to let them run off some energy, or being able to escape outside himself when the kids were behaving, but being rambunctious). He also felt that he had lost some sense of control by placing his life in the hands of others.
As a parent for more than 16 years, I could relate to that, and I told him half-jokingly (but only half) that I’m not the biggest fan of sitting in the cabin when the cockpit is just a few feet away. His wife explained that he had taken a class on dealing with the phobia, and one of the recommended strategies when flying was to try and talk to at least one of the pilots before the flight. Perfectly logical, in my book.
I took a few minutes to talk about our flight, the route, the time, the weather, et cetera. I didn’t anticipate our unusually long taxi to the runway, but since I had pointed him out to the lead flight attendant and told the captain about him, I was confident that he would be looked after. He and his family got off before I could say goodbye, but I was told that he appeared to enjoy the ride as much as possible.
Nervous fliers are a fact of life, and they look to pilots not only to comfort them, but also to give them some confidence that we are more than competent. It’s important to remember that a passenger in an airplane has given up complete control of his or her well-being to us, and we need to respect that. It’s true in general aviation as well, if not more so, because a passenger on a GA airlane can grab the controls and start “fighting back” if he or she perceives that something is amiss.
Not only is it the right thing to do in terms of business, but it’s also the compassionate, humane thing to do. We all have fears, some of which are in our face every day, some that aren’t. But none of us wants to feel out of control. Information, understanding, and communication often can bridge much of that gap.—Chip Wright