I was flying to Jakarta on New Year´s eve. About midway on the flight there was quite heavy turbulence quite close to the area of AirAsia crash. Nothing I would usually be worried about. When other passengers started praying and doing cross signs, I have to admit that I started to feel a little bit queasy as well.
Being afraid of turbulence after major accident is human, but it is not rational.
Although this year has been horrendous for airline industry (especially for Malaysian airlines), it is quite far from the most morbid years of aviation. Especially in relation to the skyrocketed in recent years, the flying still remains the safest way to travel. The most dangerous part of commercial flying is the drive to the airport.
After 9-11 over 1.4 million people changed their travel plans to avoid flying opting for driving. This caused over 1000 additional car accident fatalities. The most vivid fears are irrational, but easily explained:
1. We fear things we feared in Stone Age.
Although we should probably be more worried of our mobile phones in our front pockets, we tend to fear snakes, insects and spiders, which are quite minor threat nowadays. Being afraid of heights and flying made sense before the time of airplanes, not that much anymore.
2. We fear things we can´t control.
Everyone thinks that they are above average driver and the rest of the drivers are morons. We constantly overestimate our grip of the situation and underestimate the other people.
3. We fear things that are immediate.
Smoking kills you. It just does not kill you right away. Small odds add up and we fail to see them. One cupcake occasionally does not harm you. One cupcake a day might add few extra pounds. One cupcake after every meal might result in obesity and diabetes.
4. We fear things that are fresh in our memory.
After flight accident we are more prone to react to the turbulence. Because newspapers seldom write about people dying to diabetes, we overestimate that homicide is more lethal than it.
So there should be nothing to fear about…
Even though I know all of the above things on that particular flight, I was still a little bit worried. This is an important lesson about human behavior. We might know all the rational facts but still end up acting irrationally. Then we try to post-rationalize those irrational decisions.
Especially when asked afterwards in focus groups.