This week has been a rather scary one for me; 3 plane crashes. It never used to bother me beyond a little worry at take off and maybe landing. In fact when landing I was usually more worried about my ears not popping and the pain that would shoot through them when the pilot chose to do a long slow descent. I used to be the one happily pointing to things out of the window to the boys. Even 9/11 didn’t spook me too much because it was act of terrorism that no one could have predicted.
What changed that was our flight home last April. We were unfortunate enough to fly back to the UK on one of the windiest days, not just of that year but for a long time. We fly to Birmingham, an airport notorious for it’s crosswinds. There I was happily pointing out the houses to the boys, and the waves on the water below. There are not normally waves on the small lakes around the airport. It was as we got lower and the plane started to wobble far more than usual that things started to get scary. Worst of all we weren’t sat together, and as we shook Fatso was not near me. Smelly saw how frightened I was becoming and being the brave kid he is, sometimes, did everything he could to calm me down: “do what you told me mummy, focus on something outside the window and talk about it”. We came to land, but as we got closer to the runway the wings were flapping from side to side, the pilot just couldn’t steady the plane. Abort one. Back up we go for more violent shaking and Fatso becomes scared, takes off his seatbelt and heads towards me. Shouts from the cabin crew to sit down, but how can you order a frightened 4 year old who just wants his mum? Fortunately the man on the row opposite ours had a spare seat and grabbed him, strapping him in. Unfortunately the very kind man was then thrown up on as the shaking continued and the plane still didn’t steady. Abort two.
After what seemed an age the pilot finally announces that he’s diverting to Manchester, as such we can’t fly above the horrible weather and have to endure more violent shaking from the turbulence and wind.
We finally land safely. I’m shocked to find that no-one is thanking the pilot for getting us down safely. They’re all complaining that it was his fault we couldn’t land. I just want to get off the plane but for some reason they’re trying to make us fly back to Birmingham. The complaining and criticism continues, but those who want to get off and make their way home from Manchester are, the rest wait to fly back to Birmingham.
So 3 flights going down, with all souls onboard lost, in 8 days is a shock to me. Not something I want to hear. The first, doesn’t shake me too much, after all like 9/11 it was some kind of mad random act of violence. The loss of life is distressing but as I’ve just been reading a book called Risk Savvy, where it discusses the impact of 9/11 on people’s perceived risk of flying (it’s really worth a read), I know that I have to be sensible and look at the risks of other forms of transport, which are far greater than flying.
The Taiwanese flight does shake me, particularly when I hear that the pilot had tried to abort the landing. M had told me that aborting a landing is extremely risky as the engines can stall as it shifts to maximum power to gain height again. It reinforces how skilled that Turkish Airlines pilot was, and how I feel that the passengers were unjust in their criticism of him that day.
The third flight, I could barely believe, and weather appears to be the culprit again. It may be a month away but knowing I have to get back on, not just one but two planes to get home, it could make me a gibbering irrational wreck. But then I read this:
It might all be about probabilities and risk but I’m hoping that thoughts of my children having a greater chance of becoming Prime Minister, will keep me sane on the next plane journey. The other thing that keeps me sane is a colleague who grew up in East Germany, much of it behind the iron curtain, and who survived a fatal air crash in Russia, and who told me I just needed to ‘get over it and get on the plane’. It was what her mother, sensibly, got her to do–but with the bribe of being able to choose to go anywhere she liked.
While, unfortunately, it has left me less bold and more wary, I did and will still get on the plane. Just as I still get on the train, even though the wobble sometimes as it speeds over the tracks sometimes makes my heart stop. I still get in the car in Turkey, even though the risk of death on the roads here is far higher. They might get in a car praying but they don’t put their seat belts on, strap car seats in, or even slow down.
What I still won’t dare do is ride a bike on the road here.