Fear of flying: "The drive to the airport is more dangerous than the flight"

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  • SkyCair

    Mathias Gnida, 48, is a pilot and managing director of SkyCair in Hamburg, a company founded together with a psychologist "to make people afraid of flying". At the end of April he will publish the book "What happens when flying? 100 questions – 100 answers for passengers".

MIRROR ONLINE: Mr. Gnida, you offer seminars against fear of flying. Did you experience more influx from the crashes of the two Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft – Indonesia in October 2018 and Ethiopia in March 2019?

Mathias Gnida: Yes. Demand was high after the first crash of the 737 Max. This lasted only two to three weeks. Now, after the second crash, we've got higher numbers: I estimate we'll get 30 to 40 percent more requests. And so long the crash is not yet back.

MIRROR ONLINE: Are you talking about the crashes in your seminars?

gnida: Yes, but we do not approach them from us.

MIRROR ONLINE: Why not?

gnida: We do not want to frighten the participants any more. However, if you have any questions about the crashes, we will try to respond as best we can.

MIRROR ONLINE: What questions are these?

gnida: This is very basic: "What happened there?" Or, "Why did that happen?" If there are official final reports on such cases, we are happy to clarify what has happened. At the second crash of the 737 Max, however, there is currently only an interim report, but not yet final. In such a case, we hold back with speculation. Related to the current incidents, there are still rumors in the way: "I heard that the pilots had almost no flying hours." – "There were wrong engines planted." – "The registration was cheating, right?"

MIRROR ONLINE: Where do these rumors come from?

gnida: Often such rumors and impressions are disseminated or amplified by media: broadcasts such as "Mayday – Alarm in the cockpit" give rise to very powerful images in the mind. And some media are using so-called incidents – not recent crashes, but crosswinds, for example – as a headline. Then it says, the passengers on board were barely escaping death: a lucky day. This is often humbug and only stirs fears. Among other things, the seminars offer participants new perspectives to fight these media images.

MIRROR ONLINE: How do you do that?

gnida: By appealing not to believe everything that is written, but always to critically question. To do this, we convey psychological knowledge on questions such as: What is anxiety anyway? What is she doing with us? We also work out a personal "fear of fear" cycle with each participant and provide coping models. And of course we provide background knowledge that pilots convey. For example, we go through a flight schedule or discuss the effects of the weather on the aircraft, especially turbulence.

MIRROR ONLINE: Many will want to know something about concrete crashes.

gnida: As the knowledge transfer is particularly difficult – especially when, as in the crashes of the 737 Max, all inmates were killed. We are trying to tackle fears by comparing this, for example, with road traffic, where on average the death toll is much higher. Despite the recent crashes of the two machines: Flying itself has not become more uncertain. The plane is and remains the safest means of transport. If you drive to the airport, the way to the airport is more dangerous than the flight. But there is no infinite security for our lives.

MIRROR ONLINE: How do you answer questions about the crashes of the Boeing 737 Max 8?

gnida: As long as there is no final report, we say nothing about it. However, we go into details that we can present objectively and neutrally. For example, we explain everything to the MCAS control software, which is short for "Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System". For many questions we have to refer to later. It has also happened that we have telephoned again with participants half a year later: When we finally knew the final report, we were able to answer many questions afterwards, in which we had to fit at the time of the seminar.

MIRROR ONLINE: If there is such a final report, what are you going to do?

gnida: Each report includes recommendations from the Accident Commission: What can be done better? What do you have to do better? We will go into such things in the seminars. It's important to say, "This bug has now been fixed, and so this crash is history and will not happen again." That creates trust.

MIRROR ONLINE: What do you advise people who are more afraid of flying due to recent crashes?

gnida: It depends on how strong this fear has become. Do you only have a bad feeling? That's how many people are doing. Then I would first appeal to self-discipline: Do not let that happen. There is no reason to assume that flying through these accidents would have become more uncertain. On the other hand, if the fear has increased so much that it limits you privately or professionally, then I recommend visiting a fear of flying seminar. It is like fear with fear of flying: if you do not do anything about it, it can get bigger. Fear of flying is usually not a serious disease, but can be treated with simple means of behavioral therapy, coupled with a great deal of knowledge, very well.

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