How The Internet Helped Me Conquer My Fear Of Flying

Until the Internet was allowed on commercial flights, the solution to assuage my fear of flying was to find the nearest airport pub and throw a few back before boarding the plane. That’s all changed.

Just under 200 people died in commercial airline accidents in 2013. For a little perspective, that same year, it’s estimated that lightning killed anywhere between 6,000 and 24,000 people. Additionally, 4,600 individuals died from choking and 1,589 died in knife-related homicides. Only one in 3 million flights in 2013 involved a fatality. But, in 2013 and for years previous, I was terribly frightened of flying. Until the Internet was allowed on commercial flights, the solution to assuage my fears was to find the nearest airport pub and throw a few back before boarding the plane. But, that’s all changed. The Internet has helped me conquer my anxiety over flying.


Everything about flying scared me. Initially, it was the weird sounds the airplane made as it took off, cruised, and landed. Thump!! Whir!! Clunk!! Instead of going over the safety features of the aircraft, I’ve always thought airlines should spend some time describing the noises you hear throughout the flight, like when the landing gear retracts and extends. Those sounds are terrifying the first time you hear them.

Once I got used to the sounds, however, my fear became less about the noise from the jet — and my dread that we were dropping out of the sky — and more about the loss of control. Every flight, I give up my ability to control what happens. Unlike a car that I can drive myself, in an airplane I have no control. I have to trust the pilot, a person I’ve never seen, to get me and the other passengers safely to our destination. Combine that fear with the eerie clamor of the airplane’s thousands of moving parts and it’s a recipe for bone-chilling horror.

Just under 200 people died in commercial airline accidents in 2013. For a little perspective, that same year, it’s estimated that lightning killed anywhere between 6,000 and 24,000 people. ... Only one in 3 million flights in 2013 involved a fatality.

At least to me back then, and to the guy seated next to me at the moment. I’m currently writing this on a flight to Florida and he’s a mess. Every bang, clang, change in altitude, and turbulent jostle sends him into a panic. I empathize with him because I know the feeling. It’s the transitions, when the plane goes from bumpy to smooth, or smooth to bumpy. The deviation from normal. That’s what used to scare me.

But, that’s not the worst of it. I’m also frightened at having to endure a flight with a weird seatmate. I always seem to sit next to odd people on the flights I take. Of course I could be friendly and engage them in conversation, but we all know where that ends. Who hasn’t sat next to a guy who soiled himself while the pilot aborted a risky landing on a foggy evening in Washington DC? I regularly put headphones in my ears without plugging them into anything just so I don’t have to talk to anyone. Air travel is a nightmare.

If the Internet went down for a day, 196 billion emails wouldn’t get sent; 12 billion Facebook and YouTube videos wouldn’t get watched; 3 billion Google searches wouldn’t occur; 500 million tweets would never be seen; and I’d probably still be afraid of flying.

Alas, my past flying fears extended beyond noises and an occasionally crazy passenger. Paradoxically, I was also afraid to be alone on flights. I neither wanted to talk to anyone, nor did I want to feel alone. It’s quite silly and irrational, but for some reason when I boarded a plane, I felt like I was forever leaving the world behind.  There was no way to communicate with my friends and family. I was in a cocoon, isolated. For some of us, that’s a fantastic thing, but for me, it was terrifying. Indeed, in the event the flight did end up in a grisly fireball of molten metal on the side of a mountain, I reckoned I’d never speak my loved ones again. I felt so cut-off, by myself. Alone.

Then some brilliant person decided to allow the Internet on commercial airline flights. If the Internet went down for a day, 196 billion emails wouldn’t get sent; 12 billion Facebook and YouTube videos wouldn’t get watched; 3 billion Google searches wouldn’t occur; 500 million tweets would never be seen; and I’d probably still be afraid of flying.

Allowing the Internet on flights gives me the ability to stay in touch with people. I don’t feel isolated. I can readily load up Google Chat and converse with anyone I want. I can send and receive emails, and I feel like I’m in touch with what’s going on in the world. I can connect. It doesn’t feel like I‘m stepping off a cliff when I board an airplane. And now that many carriers let us watch movies and play games on our devices during taxi, takeoff, and landing, I can distract myself during the times the weird noises start.

I’m a believer in the value of technology. It fascinates me, and I have made understanding it a central part of my career. Technology has truly made my life more productive and engaging. My mobile device knows who I am, where I visit, what I do, and who my friends are.  It helps me navigate my life, keeping me in touch with friends and family, and broadening my view of the world by connecting me with cultures and people around the globe. 

And it helps me overcome my fears.

--

Jason is Chief, Innovation for Thomson Reuters Special Services where he facilitates, oversees, and executes long-term solutions to emerging technology challenges. He works closely with governments, the private-sector, and non-governmental organizations to identify opportunities that will shape the future. The views expressed are his alone and do not necessarily represent the views of Thomson Reuters or Thomson Reuters Special Services.

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