Twitter and email info

Friday, January 30, 2015

Why I Avoid Flying

I remember the days when I would get excited thinking about taking a flight.  The idea that anything could possibly go wrong never entered my mind.  Even as I grew older and started traveling frequently for work, I never minded flying.  When I was still a relatively young man, though, my attitude changed just a bit.  I was living and working in Africa, and it was necessary for me to fly to different countries for projects and seminars.  As I point out in my book, I discovered that Africa is where old planes go to die.  Once a plane has outlived its usefulness in North America and Europe, many times it ends up in Africa.  Let me tell you, Africans know how to keep a plane functional, even if comfort has long since ceased to be a concern.  Aficionados of older planes, including some of the really old prop jobs, can always be found in African airports, taking pictures and marveling at the ancient birds that still manage to reach the clouds.  Whenever I had the opportunity, I chose to fly South African Airways, because in those days, it was a first class airline.  Unfortunately, because of
apartheid, SAA was only allowed to land in Nairobi, and that was for refueling purposes only.  On flights to Europe, SAA was obliged to fly out over the ocean to avoid flying over any African countries and possibly attracting a Mig or a surface-to-air missile.  I remember driving to Gaborone, Botswana, Lusaka, Zambia, and most frequently, Harare, Zimbabwe, to catch flights to other African destinations.  I can't recall ever being overly concerned about the state of the aircraft, although the behavior of some passengers certainly scared the hell out of me.  I remember one occasion when a gentleman attempted to start a fire on the plane, in order to cook his dinner.  I never did find out what victuals he had in mind.  On another occasion, in Entebbe, Uganda, I watched the pilot and co-pilot come on board wearing parachutes.  None of the passengers had parachutes, but for some reason, we all seemed just fine.  Sometimes in Africa, you have to adapt to your surroundings, and do as the locals do.  Most Africans I knew believed in pre-destiny, so if the plane was going to crash, then there was nothing that could be done to prevent it from happening.

Flight Data Recorder ("Black Box")
Do you remember when a plane crash would result in the search for the black box, which would be listened to by the experts?  The investigators would listen to the black box recordings, form a hypothesis for what caused the accident, and then release the information to the public.  On some occasions, we would get to hear excerpts from the black box recording.  My, how things have changed.  I realize that Malaysian Airlines flight 370 has not been located, so therefore the black boxes are still missing.  But the black boxes for Malaysian Airlines 17 and the Air Asia flight 8501 have been retrieved, and I have no idea what was found on either recording. Why have things changed?  Are we no longer allowed to know what the investigators find on the black box recordings?  What could it be that would cause such secrecy?  With Malaysian Airlines 17, we already know the cause of the disaster, so what else could they be hiding?  Why not release a transcript of the black box recording?  And Air Asia 8501 - we were on pins and needles, waiting for the experts to locate the black boxes and then listen to the recording.  The boxes were found, and the recordings were accessed.  And as far as I know, we have no specific detail regarding the conversation on the box.  Forgive me for my mild paranoia, but why are the choosing to kept the contents of the recordings a secret?

I just doesn't add up.  Too many problems with airliners lately, and no accountability when they start to disappear or get shot down.  I don't have a fear of dying, but I freely admit my desire to avoid "death by plane crash".  The more that we are provided quick explanations for plane mishaps, the better I feel about flying.  But too many plane accidents go unresolved lately for me to feel comfortable flying.  That doesn't mean I won't fly.  I will be flying in February, but I won't be comfortable, that's guaranteed.  Every time I try and discuss this issue with friends, they retreat to the comfortable, stand-by clich√© that, "Air travel is much safer than riding in a car".  Heck, that's probably true.  But normally, people get up and walk away from car accidents.  How many people do you know who have walked away from an airliner crash?  Not only does plane travel seem to be a bit less safe as of late, now I have concerns about what the National Transportation Safety Board has been hiding regarding the various black box recordings we haven't been allowed to hear.  And if these issues weren't enough, I fear that sky-terrorism is about to make its presence
PanAm Flt103 in Lockerbie, Scotland
bombed by terrorists in 1988;
Source  UK Gov/Crown 
known...again.  Many of you were too young to remember, but in the 1970s and 1980s, terrorist groups made a habit out of hijacking commercial airliners.  Thankfully, this form of terrorism seemed to go out of style, but something warns me that air travel will be less-safe in 2015 than it has been in years.  So, to be perfectly honest, I'm not really comfortable flying.  I have to make this trip to DC in late February, and I actually considered driving.  But I'm not really gung-ho about driving half-way across the country, a three-day trip, all by myself, especially when the flight is only five hours long.

I have great respect for airline companies and manufacturers, and I also admire commercial pilots.  It's an industry which truly mirrors the growth of our society.  In less-than 120 years, we have moved from the Wright Brothers to the Airbus 380 (which I like to call, "the village with wings").  I don't fault the industry for the recent plane crashes, and I know that companies like Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas and Airbus are constantly looking for ways to increase air travel safety.  But sometimes it's impossible to remove the human factor; in other words, if someone wants something to happen badly enough, then that someone can probably find a way to achieve their goal.  If a terrorist group decides to hijack a plane, I believe human ingenuity will eventually overcome all of the built-it safeguards and security.  I also believe that my reticence about flying can change in a heartbeat, if the news stories about plane crashes become fewer and far between.  At this point, that is where my hope lies.

No comments:

Post a Comment