Posted by: Korry | October 27, 2011

Flying Scared

I like options because choices give you power. Consider this:

We’re overtop of Washington, D.C. headed to New York City. ATC notifies us that we are the last ones getting in because of the line of thunderstorms behind us. My radar shows we’re not home free yet because there appears to be another line of storms near Philadelphia that we must cross, too. A few minutes later, we’re given holding instructions. It’s too tight. We’ll have to wait the storms out.

The line of thunderstorms behind us is creeping towards us faster than the line in front of us is moving away. We are slowly getting boxed in. We have plenty of fuel for now, but if we can’t land in New York for some reason, Philly won’t be an option, so that means we’ll need another backup alternate airport further away. Hartford, Connecticut it is. Gotta re-calculate our fuel reserves. We’re still good, but the weather behind us is too close for comfort. Time to get out of this hold.

ATC gives us vectors to fly out of the hold and around the next line of weather, using our onboard weather radar to pick our way through holes in the storms. We tell the flight attendants to be seated as we hit some pretty rough spots that jolt the plane up and down. I’m sure the guy in 35B, who told me during boarding that he hates to fly, is loving his life right now. I turn the cabin temperature down a bit more. People don’t like to be hot when they’re nervous. We pass through the next line of storms and see clear skies ahead…for now.  

We’re cleared for the approach…and we go back in the clouds. Doesn’t look like anything worse than heavy rain on the radar…and probably more bumps. “Gear down,” the captain says. Cue the bumps. Lots of rain. Prepping for a go around. “500 [feet].” We’re out of the clouds but the rain is really dumping down now. Windshield wipers to high. The captain disconnects the autopilot just as I call the runway lights in sight. 

“One hundred [feet],” the airplane’s automated voice announces. Man, are we bouncing around! Radar shows us almost out of the rain which will be nice if we should need to go around. “Fifty,” the voice continues. The captain is really fighting with the controls but doing a great job staying lined up with the runway’s centerline. He’s got this. “Thirty…twenty..ten.” One last gust of wind for good measure and TOUCHDOWN. Thrust reversers engaged. Autobrakes grabbing. Spoilers deployed. I can hear claps from the cabin through the cockpit door behind me. “Eighty knots,” I say as we slow enough to exit the runway. “Nice job,” I tell the captain.

Another successful flight improving our better than 99.999% safety rating.

People often ask me if I’m scared to fly. I like to have fun with them and say–totally straight-faced–“Every single day!” Then, I give them the real answer which is that my 80-mile drive to work is a LOT scarier than all the flights I do around the world. Some bring my blood pressure up more than others, but hopefully I never get scared.

Flying scared would mean I’ve run out of options, and as long as I know there is an option to get out, then there’s no reason to be scared. If I can fly a different route, if I can abort a landing and go around, if I can ensure adequate fuel to get to my backup alternate airport, etc., then I’ve got options. That means I’ve got power. That means I’m managing risk effectively.

Earlier this week I was reading a blog from Ric Lippincott, who I’m following on twitter and who is following me. (Are you? If not, click here). In his post Whiskey & Guns, Ric says:

“How much risk are you willing to accept?
I tell my flight students, “Life is all about the odds.” What are the odds you’ll be struck by lightning?….what are the odds you’ll marry? Divorce? Get hit by a car? Catch a cold? Most importantly right now…what are the odds you’ll encounter a problem during the take-off phase of this flight? 
I’m in the business of risk management. But so are you – everyday!”

I couldn’t agree more. We are all in the business of risk management. Every day of our lives we constantly make choices based on the risks confronting us. Some risks are greater than others, but every risk gets evaluated. Sometimes we don’t like the risks so we buy insurance to share the risk with someone else or we avoid the risk altogether by not doing it. 

The bottom line is that life is uncertain, and therefore we must become expert risk managers. We must seek out options (such as extra fuel in the tanks, emergency funds at the bank, etc.) so we have power. We must always leave ourselves an out. And if we manage our risk well, we will never, ever be flying scared.

Can you think of a time you were flying scared? Leave a comment and tell me about it.



  1. […] with more information. The captain becomes a better risk manager, which as I said last Thursday here, is one of the most important jobs of a […]

  2. […] at the same time. They have to always think about the “what ifs” so they’re not surprised and flying scared. They have to know their personal limits as well as those of the airplane. And doing all of that in […]

  3. […] protect ourselves from the unexpected. That means always having a backup plan so we never have to fly scared. Not that backup plans are ideal–if they were, they’d be the plan–but hopefully […]

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