Fear Of Flying

The late, great Mohammad Ali was on a plane when the stewardess told him to fasten his seat belt.

Ali: “Superman don’t need no belt.” 

Stewardess: “Superman don’t need no plane either.”  

Having said that, there are certain things that are best left unsaid.

Aviation minutiae, for example. While air travel is undoubtedly the safest mode of current mass transport, an airline has apologised after tweeting information about where you are most likely to die on a plane if it crashes. 

KLM India has now removed the tweet, which received backlash online with many asking if it was appropriate. 

However, the airline tweeted saying: “We would like to sincerely apologise for a recent update. The post was based on a publicly available aviation fact, and isn’t a @KLM opinion.”

And, to be sure, the facts are depressing. According to studies, the highest survival rate is towards the rear of the plane with 69 per cent living to tell their tale.

Does that mean business and first class passengers get the short end of the stick? 

It simply isn’t clear. There is disagreement about whether the middle or front is most dangerous. 

According to Time magazine, the fatality rate for the seats in the middle of the plane is the highest. 

But according to Popular Mechanics, you have a 49 per cent chance of surviving if you are up front, while people in the centre – over the wings – have a 56 per cent chance. 

Be that as it may, air travel is now so commonplace that it’s taken for granted. But, to me at least, it used to be a big deal. 

I think I was 28 when I took my first flight – to Kota Kinabalu. In contrast, my daughter took her first flight as a baby.

Everything about air travel is different from ordinary experience. Airlines, for example, are never “late”: they are merely “delayed.” 

They never tell you stuff when selling you the ticket. That comes later when you’re already buckled in. Like, if the cabin pressure falls for some reason we are told that oxygen will be supplied.

At 35,000 feet, it better be. 

If you notice, the recordings always involve women with soothing voices. You are instructed to place the oxygen mask over “your nose and mouth” and “breathe normally.”

For pity’s sake, where else might we fit the mask?

And “breathe normally?” 


I would venture to suggest that when 300 or so oxygen masks simultaneously fall out from above, there will be few people breathing “normally.”

Then we are told that “if” in the “unlikely” event, the plane is “forced” to land on water, we have to follow other instructions. I assume the triple “doubt” expressed in the sentence indicates that the possibility of said event occurring is so remote as to be laughable. 

But, no, it does not appear so as the safety drill goes on to demonstrate how, precisely, one ties on a canary-yellow safety vest on one’s person.  

A “landing on sea” would seem a contradiction in terms or, at the very least, a grimly ironic oxymoron. 

But we are told our chances of rescue are vastly improved by three additions to the vest that the airline has thoughtfully supplied.  


A light, the easier to spot you as you helplessly bob about in the vast greyness of the Indian Ocean. 


A whistle, the easier to be heard above the roar and thunder of the waves crashing about your head. 


A nozzle, the better to blow into lest your vest begins deflating. 

Don’t you feel safer already?