Fear of Flying

Merrill - airplane drawing

A business acquaintance of mine and his second wife were flying back from Europe, and the first thing I thought of was, if the plane crashed and they didn’t survive, who would get the inheritance?

Don’t ask me why I think of these things, they just pop into my head – as if any of it was my concern, or why I would have such a morbid thought in the first place.

I’m not afraid to fly – generally. It depends on the situation.

I remember flying from San Diego to San Francisco once in the late 70s. An earthquake happened to hit San Francisco while we were in the air, about 30 minutes from our time of arrival. The all-knowing, fatherly pilot got on the intercom and informed us of the earthquake. He also told us that the SF airport was built on landfill and that the runway could be unstable, cracked, or lifted up, so we would have to fly around for a while, until they checked the runway to make sure it was safe to land on.


Was this the best thing you could think of to tell your passengers? Instill as much fear as possible in those who don’t have a fear of flying, and compound it in those who do, basically pushing them over the edge of the panic cliff with your info …?

I understand he was caught in a Catch-22 – he had to give us some reason for making a sharp left and heading out over the ocean, while the emergency crew at the airport checked the runway, and filled any divots.

What else could he have said?

“Uh … ladies and gentlemen this is your captain speaking … uh yeah … in all the years I’ve been flying, I’ve never had this happen before … wait until you hear what’s happened, it’s a doozie! You remember the 1906 earthquake that pretty much destroyed San Francisco? Well … luckily this time, it’s not that bad … but initial reports are sketchy at best. No need to panic … yet … however … as you probably are well aware, a plane carries only so much fuel and … well … you know … we can only stay up in the air for so long. I would probably divert to another airport, but all the other pilots were thinking the same thing and they called ‘Dibs,’ so we’re stuck flying out over the blue Pacific. I don’t want you to worry any more than you have to, but I’ve never crash-landed a plane before … had a couple wrecks in my car but those were settled out of court … and of course crash-landing isn’t something they teach you in flight school … these planes are prohibitively expensive after all … so this is all virgin territory to me … and … I would imagine … to you too … so let’s just keep our fingers crossed …  And thanks again for flying Death Wish Airlines today … this has been your captain speaking.”

As good fortune would have it, I did have a safe and uneventful landing on my flight that day, with no mishaps – which, when you think about it, are the only kind to have.

When it comes to flying, the more unmemorable the better, I always say.

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