Happy Landings
written by Dr. Klaus G. Muller

During his first flight, an elderly gentleman asked a stewardess in the galley, in the rear of the aeroplane: “Conductor, where can I find the toilet?” - "Go to the front on the other end of this aisle." The gentleman was grateful, vanished and came back after a few minutes. "Did you find the toilet?" the stewardess asked. "Yes," was the sullen answer, "but two men are sitting in it watching television". Unknowingly he had stumbled into the cockpit, where pilot and co-pilot were working in front of their screens.

I have often wondered, whoever invents the good jokes of this world and who finds the funny versions of the airline logos: Always Late In Torino And Luggage In Amsterdam for Alitalia, Better On A Camel for BOAC; Take Another Plane for TAP; Kiss me, Love me, Marry me for the KLM with its charming stewardesses; Such A Bloody Experience, Never Again for Sabena; Transports Erotiques Arabes for TEA; Pak Inch' Allah Lines for PIA; Air Chance for – guess for whom? Travel A Nightmare for TAN; Travel With Anxiety for TWA; Chinese Airlines Always Crash for CAAC; Tomen Ataudes Con Anticipación (they buy coffins in advance) for the Central American TACA.

      But joking aside! If security is your priority, you should elect an airline from the industrialized countries that have statistically less accidents than the carriers of developing countries. This not necessarily because their aeroplanes are better or newer, but because the human mistakes (which are responsible for three quarters of the accidents) are rarer because of better familiarity with technical matters, better training and/or a higher responsibility of the flying personnel.

      You should not be bewitched by publicity with pretty stewardesses and exotic drinks, but choose an airline renowned for it's technical standard. Accidents happen mostly at takeoff and landing. Therefore, the safest connection is usually the one with least stopovers. Better to take non-stop flights than direct flights (with stopovers).

      Avoid travelling to dangerous countries on the anniversary date of a dramatic revolutionary occasion, when emotions run high and terrorist acts might be attempted in commemoration of killed heroes, "martyrs", suppressed revolts and similar events.

      Very cautious passengers take seats in the rear of the aeroplane, far away from the collision areas and the fuel tanks in the wings (but not in the uncomfortable last row where the backrests cannot be reclined). For the choice of your seats see also the internet under seatguru.com, loveyourseat.com or seatexpert.com.

      Recently there has been much talking a nd writing about the danger of cosmic radiation when flying, particularly on the polar routes. If you are afraid, you might consider that the possible dangers are at least partially compensated for by the shorter flight times resulting from routing. The exposure from radiation amounts to up to 15 microsievert per hour. Experts have calculated, that three flights between Europe and the US in 10.000 m altitude increase the normal radiation at the surface of the earth of annually 0,7 millisievert only by about 0,2 millisievert. That is considered quite safe even for children and pregnant women. Nevertheless pregnant stewardesses of Alitalia do not have to work and get the wage-compensation from daddy government. Some doctors recommend not flying during at least the first months of a pregnancy. Others say that chlorophyll-rich food compensates the radiation. Therefore, we must again eat spinach. And of course the fine Japanese seaweed. But that won't make us whinny yet!

      Fear of flying or aviophobia attacks happen to roughly between a fourth and a half of all passengers, to say nothing of the many people, who have never climbed in an aeroplane because of their fear of flying. Most concerned people are embarrassed to speak about it. But aviophobia is only a natural body reaction to a seemingly dangerous situation, that is often assumed from ignorance about the technology of flying and the impossibility of personal intervention. Claustrophobia may often be part of the fear. The body reacts with an output of adrenaline, a hormone that causes fight and flight behaviour. Fighting and escaping are not practicable in an aeroplane; therefore the impulses are transformed into oppression, frustration, fear. Dry mouth, perspiration fits, breathing difficulties, possible heart problems are the consequences. Airlines like Lufthansa, Swiss and specialised institutes like the Christoph-Dornier-Centrum für Clinische Psychologie in Münster/Germany organise seminars in relaxation techniques and about the workings of a passenger aeroplane. Success-quota: up to 90%.

      If you belong to the minor cases concerned, I recommend an early check-in at the airport, since rush increases the fear, the choice of a seat in the wing area, where the movements of the aeroplane are minor, early boarding (it gives you the feeling of space instead of the later crowd), reading of exciting literature or distraction by interesting conversation with your seat neighbour, information about the technology of the aeroplane, deep respiration, relaxation through autogenous training, tightening and relaxation of the muscles by eg pressing of the armrests and let go. The instructive visit to a cockpit is also often helpful. Here you can see how the pilots are masters of the whole situation. Never forget, that aeroplanes are the safest means of transportation. You can fly a statistical average of two billion miles, before something happens to you. Ugly sounds like the driving in and out of the landing flaps and the undercarriage are completely normal. You can compare the shaking and bumping when flying through different air-layers with driving your car over cobblestones. An occasionally feared "breaking-off of the wings" is not possible, since they are built in one element and intentionally highly flexible. Tests have shown that it is possible to bend the wings of a jumbo so high that they almost meet over the fuselage without any breakage. Even if all engines break down, which is most unlikely, the aeroplane won't fall from the sky but can still glide up to a few hundred miles to the next airport. If you do not suffer from aviophobia yourself, you might comfort fearful neighbours with the above enlightened arguments. Also a little hand-holding can help. Stories are told about beautiful women throwing themselves in panic into the arms of neighbours. Wonders never cease!

      In all events plane crashes make headlines and their number is unfortunately increasing. If you have worries, fly as seldom as possible and consider overland as well as over-water routes. A voyage can be marvellous and a trip with the Trans-Siberia express from Moscow to China (or better back, since costing much less) is an unforgettable experience.

Klaus G. Muller