Calming the Sky-Chicken

I have flown well over a million miles in my life, but I am still an incurable white-knuckle flyer. When you combine that with the challenges posed by my two-meter height, air travel for me is a battle: first to get myself into a seat that isn’t excruciatingly painful to sit in, and then to cope with a constant state of incipient terror.

I cure the first by shelling out something like 10% of my take-home income for upgrades. The second condition, the fear, is like any other chronic ailment: it can be managed but never cured.

One way I manage the fear is through knowledge. I have studied aviation, weather, and spoken to countless pilots and flight crew members. I have learned enough about airlines to choose those with the best operational safety, and watch for the subtle signals that things may be on the decline. Before every flight I consult a half-dozen apps and websites that tell me what to expect. And during the flight I switch my inflight entertainment system to the “flight information” screen, and leave it there for the duration.

So you can imagine why I was so delighted, when I boarded an ANA 787-900 for a flight from Singapore to Tokyo, to discover a screen that was essentially a simplified version of the pilot’s heads-up display. Altitude, airspeed, position, direction, winds, and other flight information are portrayed against a forward -looking moving map that offers everything but air traffic and weather.

Genius.

It will not surprise you to hear that this hop was probably one of my most calm and comfortable flights ever.

Some people will never worry in an airplane: my father was one. But I have friends and colleagues that need to be chemically calmed before getting on a plane. I have no immediate remedies to offer. For me, the medicine lies in the effort to make ever more believable the comforting illusion of control.