NAT Shahed Abdul Rahman with his family-1597073452806
Shahed Abdul Rehman with his family. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The August 7 crash of Air India Express Flight IX1344 from Dubai to Kozhikode, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, has stirred the familiar old talk about ‘fear of flying’ in many. While Air India Express, the low-cost arm of Indian national carrier Air India, resumed flights to Karipur Airport in Kozhikode on Sunday and operated two flights to the same airport, sources at the airline’s reservation counter have reported some cancellations and rescheduling of flights with many even opting for a change of destination!

Changing dates and destination airports

Take the case of P. Shahnavaz, a Dubai resident who hails from Mallapuram, in Kerala. Last Sunday, he was scheduled to fly to Kozhikode, but rescheduled his ticket to next week and also opted for a change of destination — from Kozhikode to Kochi, though the Karipur Airport in Kozhikode was nearest to his hometown. He told Gulf News: “The runway at Karipur is a table-top and with the current monsoon season, does not look safe for landing. In fact, airlines with bigger aircraft have stopped flights to Karipur. Only smaller aircraft can land there. In the current scenario, I would much rather fly to Kochi,” said Shahnavaz

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Postponing flying to next year

Shahed Abdul Rehman, hailing from Kozhikode and a human resources manager with a health-care group in the UAE, had booked his ticket for October to fly home with his wife and child. “I was anyway in two minds because of the existing COVID-19 situation and I had learnt from my cousins that everyone returning from this region has to spend 23 days in quarantine. I was planning to change our tickets. Now with this accident, I am postponing this indefinitely. We might not fly this year at all, maybe next year. Also, our destination airport will be Kannur, which is two hours from my home in Kozhikode. The closest airport is Karipur, but I will not be flying to that airport,” he said categorically.

Rehman added that the current accident had triggered fear and uncertainty in the minds of the people. “We knew the airport at Karipur was tricky for landing during monsoons. After the current accident, if at all we fly, we will chose Kannur airport, which, although located on a hill, is still safer because it has been newly-built,” he reasoned.

Cancellation of tickets, rescheduling of flights

A spokesperson from Air India said: “We resumed flying to that sector [Kozhikode] and although we have witnessed some cancellations and reschedulings, it is difficult to know whether fear is the reason.”

There are some others who have pushed the fear factor aside to bravely be on the flights that were planned. Fathima Sahla Sawad, 20, a psychology student from Kannur district who was stuck in the UAE on a visit visa since January, chose to take the 11.30am SpiceJet flight from Ras Al Khaimah to Kozhikode on Monday. Just before flying out, she told Gulf News from the airport: “I came here in January, to help my husband and parents with the catering business they run. However, since the lockdown, business had suffered and I was not able to return within the three-month period. So I had to extend my stay, but now that I can go back, I prefer to resume my studies and take charge of my three younger siblings in Kozhikode. I am not afraid of flying as I leave the outcome to the almighty. There is no point living in fear,” said Sawad, who had reached home at the time of writing this report.

The bravehearts

Fasal Pratheeksha, working for a government organisation in Dubai, has also decided not to give in to irrational fears about flying. “My family — wife and two children — have to return to Dubai after their vacation in Calicut [Kozhikode] and I am going next week to be with them. I will return with them as per our schedule. We will be using the Karipur Airport,” said Pratheeksha, who feels there is no point in being scared. Earlier, there was some repair work going on [at the airport]. Now I hear the runway has been extended to 2.7km. I don’t think an accident can change my mind as my family and my wife’s family all live in Calicut.”

NAT Fasal Pratheeksha with his family-1597073449695
Fasal Pratheeksha with his family members. Image Credit: Supplied

Why fear flying?

Fear of flying is quite a common among travellers. In an interview with Gulf News in 2014, Steve Allright, a Dubai-based British Airways pilot who had authored a book ‘Flying with Confidence’, to allay fear of flying in people, had quoted a British Airways survey conducted on UAE residents. He said: “This survey indicated that nearly 40 per cent of the residents suffered from safety-related concerns and 31 per cent suffered from a fear of the unknown.

According to a study conducted by Professor Arnold Bennet from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who looked at all airborne fatalities, covering flights from 1975 to 1994, there was one in a seven million chance for a person in the United States to be killed in a plane crash. Statistics indicate that people die at a higher rate from other reasons annually: One in two die of cardiovascular diseases (CVDS); one in 600 die of smoking before 35; one in 450,000 die of tornados; and one in 5.5 million can die of bee stings, to name only a few. According to the World Health Organisation, 1.35 million people die in road accidents annually.

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Air travel is statistically one of the safest modes of transport. However, when an air crash occurs, people are consumed by fear of mortality and often many people temporarily give up flying, Dr Mohammad Yousaf. Specialist psychiatrist at Aster Clinic in Mutheena explained: “People are consumed by two kinds of fears when it comes to flying — one is the irrational kind such as panic attacks, palpitation, claustrophobia that stem from a preoccupation with losing control once airborne as one has no choice but to follow the rules and wait till the plane touches down again. This fear is something deeply embedded in a person and can be triggered every time he or she has to fly. The other fear is of airborne accidents that get heightened with the news of an air crash. People don’t realise that modern aircraft with its advanced system of landing, auto pilot and with two pilots manning the aircraft is the safest mode of transport. It is far safer than taking a car, bus or train ride, which have far more instances of accidents and fatalities.”

How to coping with fears

Dr Yousaf said people who have fear of flying usually take some kind of a beverage or medicine on the flight to calm down their frayed nerves and that has helped many. “However, if people cannot brush away the fear, they need to go in for counselling and might even need medication. “

10 tips to overcome fear of flying
Make detailed plans in advance if you need to travel.
Choose the safest airline with lowest accident rates.
Travel light.
Choose seats closet to the back of the aircraft as these are statistically known to be safer.
Unless there’s an emergency, avoid travelling in rough weather.
Choose a flight that lands during natural light hours.
Wear comfortable clothing and footwear, have a light diet and try to either listen to some relaxing music or try to sleep through the flight so that you are well-rested when you arrive at the destination.
Avoid oily food, high sugar or alcohol intake during the flight, all of which can dehydrate you and make you feel dizzy and unwell.
On long-haul flights, make it a point to stretch, be well hydrated and practise deep breathing and stretching in the empty sections near the washroom at the end or beginning of the aircraft. This will not only make you feel less anxious, but also keep the blood circulation going, helping you avoid cramps and reducing chances of deep vein thrombosis.
On the day of travel, avoid unnecessary stress during screening and immigration by following the rules.
Reach the airport well in time, so that boarding is a seamless experience.