Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Letter From Butiama: Afraid? No, Just Apprehensive

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011.
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I classify myself as a person who does not fear but feels apprehensive about flying in airplanes, a person who believes that land-based modes of transport, especially walking, are safer. Unfortunately for me and many other aircraft passengers, when traveling long distances, air travel is the only sensible option.

I have my anxious moments during a flight, mostly during take-offs. After that, my heartbeats resume their normal pace at between 70 and 72 beats per minute. At cruising speed I relax, but during landings I become anxious once more, but less if I can see the runway - which explains why I am more comfortable flying in small planes.

Those who study and treat mental disorders say the fear of flying is an ailment. It is a phobia, an irrational fear that cannot be justified based on the available facts, and yet I see nothing irrational in having a preference to be on the “life” side of a “life or death” situation.

The unfounded fear of some object or situation, including the fear of flying, affect some five out of every 1,000 persons. Therapists say that sufferers need only be logical and will realize there is really nothing to fear. Consider this: How many road accidents and their fatalities do we read of in Tanzania each year? Maybe thousands. How many air crashes and their fatalities do we read of in Tanzania each year? A few every year, perhaps none in some years.

There is no doubt that there are more people dying from Malaria in Tanzania than from air crashes, but I doubt I will ever come across someone whose pulse will jump and perhaps will be forced to empty down his throat a few bottles of lager to calm down his nerves at the prospect of facing a mosquito. We are told if we were rational, we would realize that, from a statistical standpoint, a comfortable seat on a Mwanza – Dar flight is a far less dangerous situation than an encounter with a mosquito.

Unfortunately, the human being is the most irrational of animals, capable of thinking up the most improbable of situations like “What if the ‘fuel attendant’ at Mwanza airport mistakenly refueled my plane with diesel instead of jet fuel? Will the plane take off, and if it does, will it remain in the air? For how long?”

There are a number of measures that can be taken to reduce the anxiety of air travelers like me. First, clear airports of debris from accidents. If you fly in and out of Mwanza airport you may have noticed there are pieces of plane wreckage from past crashes. I have always wondered why any passenger would want to be reminded of a plane crash each time he boards a plane at Mwanza. When desperately trying to forget something, the last thing you want is to have it permanently displayed in front of your eyes.

Second, if there are any passengers like me out there, they would prefer to have a minute-by-minute account by the flight captain of every move she makes so that they can assess what is normal during a flight and when they should justifiably begin to panic. Minute-by-minute is perhaps too much, but let’s say just enough reassuring information along the way to prevent illogical minds like ours to be invaded by irrational thoughts.

Third – this might sound unreasonable although I can say from experience that it can be important to some passengers – is that airlines should consider sponsoring swimming lessons for would-be passengers to help some passengers gain confidence during flights.

I was a passenger in an internal Mozambique Airlines flight in 1988 from Maputo to Beira that developed a “technical fault” soon after take off. The pilot decided to fly back to Maputo and we spent about an hour circling over Maputo and dumping fuel while flying overland in a southerly direction and over the Indian Ocean in a northerly direction.

Most passengers were anxiously awaiting the landing at Maputo but a passenger seated next to me was particularly anxious each time we flew over the Ocean. After the steward gave instructions on using the life jacket, her nerves could not contain her worry anymore and she asked me, “Can you teach me how to swim?” I think I told her I needed some water for the swimming lessons, and it is only after we landed safely did her request seem outrageous to me.

If you have read one of my previous articles in this column* you would wonder how someone who wants to fly a plane should be apprehensive about sitting in one as a passenger. Do I find it contradictory that most car drivers I know would rather be behind the steering wheel than ride as a passenger? No, I don’t.

*Letter from Butiama in the Sunday News (Tanzania)

1 comment:

verlia said...

Funny! I cannot believe you told the passenger that you needed water to teach her how to swim while circling the ocean!! Precious! lol!