Are you unable to mentally wrestle away the fear of air travel?
Then allow us to introduce you to the ultimate ally in this common battle: British Airways Captain Steve Allright.
The (aptly named) pilot leads BA’s Flying with Confidence course for nervous fliers — and here reveals some airplane facts that will help make your next flight anxiety-free, from how far a plane can glide to why turbulence is nothing to fear .
How concerned should passengers be about turbulence?
Captain Allright tells MailOnline Travel: ‘Our main statement from British Airways’ Flying with Confidence course is ‘turbulence is uncomfortable but never dangerous’.
British Airways Captain Steve Allright (above) teaches BA’s Flying with Confidence course for nervous fliers
“All modern commercial aircraft are incredibly robust and can handle any amount of turbulence. Designers knew what was needed from the early years of aviation and many safety factors are higher than any other form of transportation.
In addition, and this is crucial, new aircraft are tested to the limit before they are certified to carry passengers. During our Flying with Confidence course, we show a Boeing 787 in a test rig stretching the wings far beyond what they would ever experience, even in the most severe turbulence. Together with the above statement, our customers find this very reassuring.’
How far can an airplane drop, even in turbulence?
Captain Allright says, ‘Certainly not the thousands of yards you hear people talk about or see in some movies. Usually only around 10 to 20 feet in turbulence, although this can be more in severe turbulence.
“It is important to emphasize that your pilots are trained to deal with turbulence and severe turbulence is extremely rare. I’ve been flying for 32 years and have only experienced severe turbulence once.’
What is the primary purpose of wearing seat belts during turbulence?
Captain Allright says: ‘We don’t want people to get hurt by falling over in turbulence. We always emphasize that customers should always follow the crew’s advice and instructions.’
Are there parts of the aircraft where the effects of turbulence are less severe?
Captain Allright says: ‘Our key statement from British Airways’ Flying with Confidence course is: ‘Turbulence is uncomfortable but never dangerous’. Allright is a captain on the 787 (above)
TOP TIPS FOR KEEPING CALM AT 38,000FT
Learn to control your breathing. If you feel anxious, hold your breath, then take a long, deep breath in followed by a long, deep breath out. Continue to take long, deep breaths.
Combine the deep inhalation with a muscle contraction. Clasping your buttocks is most effective, as it suppresses other nerve signals traveling up and down your spinal cord.
Break a long flight into half-hour chunks. Go with a plan of things to do, maybe things you never get around to. Write a letter, watch a movie, read a book, eat a meal.
Imagine stepping off the plane into the arms of loved ones, or into a wonderfully warm climate, or into a successful business meeting.
Source: Bass www.flyingwithconfidence.com class.
Captain Allright says, ‘Hardly. You may have a little less movement near the center of some aircraft, but it’s negligible – the important thing to remember is that turbulence can be unpleasant but not dangerous.’
What’s that loud beeping sound you hear after the plane backs out of the gate?
Captain Allright says, “This is known as the Airbus “barking dog” sound. We give a full course explanation and talk to customers about any sound during the flight, which gives extra reassurance, but in fact it is the sound of the aircraft’s working hydraulic propulsion system. More importantly, it’s completely normal, like so many noises that anxious fliers can worry about on airplanes. We encourage people on our courses to assume everything is normal unless told otherwise.”
Some people worry that an airplane is just ‘too heavy to take off’… any soothing words for this?
Captain Allright says: ‘Pilots carefully calculate the speed at which it is safe to take off using very advanced technology to ensure that the aircraft weight is correct. This is checked and double-checked, and that applies to every aspect of our safety procedures and checklists.”
Some get startled after takeoff because it sounds like the engines cut out once a certain altitude is reached…
Captain Allright says: ‘We spend quite a lot of time explaining this on the track because it’s quite complicated. In short, the balance system in your inner ear plays tricks on you when we reduce power after takeoff, because we no longer need as much power when drag is reduced after the landing gear is raised. All perfectly normal.’
Is there a danger that the plane will run out of fuel?
Captain Allright says: ‘We always assure people on the Flying with Confidence course that the airline industry always has the very highest safety margins in mind. Aircraft always have enough on board to land with – at least 30 minutes of flight time – even after a go-around and a diversion. This is regulated by law and an enormous amount of planning goes into each flight, for example choosing diversion airports in case the need arises. Everything is meticulously planned in advance.’
What if the engines fail?
Captain Allright says, “The wings make planes fly, not the engines. A commercial airliner flying at 30,000 feet can glide 100 miles even if all engines fail.”
Can a plane land with broken wheels?
Captain Allright says, “Yes. While such a scenario is highly unlikely, safety is always our absolute focus – so pilots practice extensively for a wide variety of possible emergency scenarios.
Commercial jets are incredibly well maintained, says Captain Allright, and are checked by pilots and engineers before every flight
“It is worth remembering that pilots are the best trained and most regulated professionals in the world, and they are rigorously tested on the flight simulators every six months.
The wings make planes fly, not the engines. A commercial airliner flying at 30,000 feet can glide for 100 miles even if all engines fail
British Airways Captain Steve Allright
‘We invest heavily in training – at British Airways we have a world-class training facility, with 14 full-motion flight simulators. Commercial jets are also incredibly well maintained and checked by pilots and engineers before every flight. Routine maintenance is performed at regular, specified intervals by qualified technicians.”
Should passengers be concerned if the cabin lights flicker?
Captain Allright says, “No, not at all, because this is fine. This would probably just be a temporary transfer of current from different electrical sources.”
Any advice for people if they are still feeling nervous?
Captain Allright says: ‘We encourage anyone who is nervous about flying to join us on the British Airways Flying with Confidence course. We have decades of experience helping nervous fliers, during which time we’ve helped over 50,000 people overcome their fear. It’s also important to remember that all of our crews are trained to help nervous travelers so they can assist customers who may be feeling anxious while on board. There is also a reassuring Flying with Confidence video on our in-flight entertainment system on every British Airways long-haul flight.”
To book yourself onto British Airways’ Flying with Confidence course, visit www.flyingwithconfidence.com. The day usually starts around 9am and is divided into morning sessions (technical) and afternoon sessions (psychology), followed by a BA jet flight with ongoing commentary from a pilot from the cockpit. The course is taught at London Heathrow, Gatwick, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Dubai and Johannesburg. The courses at the last two locations are entirely on the ground, with no flight.
Steve Allright regularly runs the Heathrow course and was a British Airways captain on the 757/767, 747 and now flies the 787. He has logged over 18,000 flying hours.