…Put Your Mask on First and then…
How many times have you heard that briefing in preparation for past flights?
I gave a couple of local TV interviews here in the Phoenix area recently. I’m disappointed by the choice of words used in media reports about the recent Southwest Flt 812 incident: “Terrifying,” “loud bang,” “hole ripped in ceiling,” “thought I was going to die,” etc.
I told one reporter: “The pilots’ job was to respond appropriately to get the airplane down to an altitude where no one needed supplemental oxygen any more. The passengers’ job was to react each according to their emotional need for expression.”
I would expect someone riding in the cabin of a plane to be taken completely by surprise if a section of aircraft skin suddenly gave way, creating a sudden decompression. I can imagine the ensuing chaos with 100-mph plus winds and swirling debris exiting the hole in the short time it takes to equalize pressure with the outside air. No amount of emergency preflight briefings can prepare one for that experience–even if you paid attention! But that’s not my concern here.
My disappointment comes in the aftermath of an incident like this when the typical airline response is to provide vouchers for free travel some time in the future. That’s a nice gesture but the more appropriate thing to do would be to conduct even the briefest meeting with the passengers and crew facilitated by someone who knows about both trauma and aviation. Everyone gets to process his or her reactions in order to process the traumatic nature of the event. Passengers could hear the pilots’ and flight attendants’ personal reactions to the event and hear firsthand how their training allowed them to handle the emergency and bring it to a safe and successful close.
How Fear of Flying Gets Started
That’s the problem following an incident like this: people leave without dealing with their emotions in a timely manner, which is the human way of bringing closure to an event. For certain, some of the passengers are dealing with posttraumatic event thoughts about “what could have happened” that will last for years, if not forever. It does little good to have a voucher for free travel if your fear keeps you from using it. And a single traumatic event is all it takes to change brain chemistry. A better way would have been to get prompt, firsthand information about what happened, what the crew did to alleviate the threat of harm, and celebrate their sense of shared experience.
No matter the source of your fear of flying, www.fearlessflight.com is a place to release you from that fear as you can see in the video of a Phoenix anchorwoman’s fear of flying story recently published to YouTube.