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(Sorta) Relaxing at 35,000 Feet

Do you suffer from other words the fear of flying? It's quite common, despite the stats showing that flying is much safer than car or train travel.
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Do you suffer from other words the fear of flying? It's quite common, despite the stats showing that flying is much safer than car or train travel. We rationally know that planes are relatively safe, but there's something about rocketing through the sky at 35,000 feet, in an enclosed small space, with no control over any aspect of the trip, that can cause sweaty palms - and outright panic!

To help us white-knuckled passengers, we talked with Captain Stacey Chance, a seasoned pilot with American Airlines for over 25 years. He's created a free on-line Fear of Flying Help Course, with the idea that if you understand what to expect on the flight, you'll be a more relaxed passenger. We asked Captain Chance about some common fears to get his take - and reassurance.

There's nothing worse than strong turbulence during flight. Is it possible for the plane to break apart?

"Turbulence is not dangerous since planes are specifically built to withstand it," says Captain Chance. "As long as the pilot is travelling at the correct speed, the wings won't be able to generate enough lift to break the airplane. It's annoying and can be upsetting, but it's really not dangerous. It's similar to driving in a car over a bumpy road."

What about those air pockets, where the plane can literally drop, in what feels like a few thousand feet, in seconds. Should we be afraid the pilot could lose control of the plane?

A definitive "no," says Captain Chance. "It certainly can be scary, but it's not as dramatic as it feels: the plane actually doesn't drop more than a few hundred feet. It's like riding a wave of air - it goes down but then up again."

Then there's engine failure - all of them! If all the engines were to fail, can a big airliner glide safely to the ground, or would it drop like a rock?

"It is extremely rare to have multiple systems failure where all the engines just quit," says Captain Chance. However, if that scenario were to happen "passenger planes glide really well - they are aerodynamically efficient without the engines and can safely glide eighty or ninety miles. In fact, passengers might not even be aware there was engine failure since the plane would be stable and the lights would stay on."

How dangerous is a lightning strike? Can it bring down a plane?

"Very unlikely," say Captain Chance. "Airplanes are built to handle lightening strikes. They have devices called static discharge wicks on the wings and tail which dissipate electrical charges off of the plane." According to Lightning Technologies Inc., a Massachusetts company that designs lightning protection for civilian and military aircraft, it's estimated that lightning strikes each plane in the U.S. commercial fleet about once a year without any serious consequences.

Another common fear is that some crazy person is going to try to open the airplane door - in flight. Is that possible?

"Not possible," says Captain Chance. "Since the plane is pressurized, the door acts like a plug into a smaller hole, making it impossible to pull the door inward against the pressure.

We "Babes" noticed that some pilots look to be about the age of our twenty-something children. This is not exactly reassuring. How old are most pilots?

"You have to be twenty-three years old to get an Airline Transport Pilots License," says Captain Chance. However, it takes years of experience to get a job with a major airline. By the time you've risen through the ranks to Captain, the average pilot at American Airlines is well into his/her fifties and full of experience."

Finally, Captain Chance suggests that fearful fliers say a quick "hi" to the pilots when boarding the plane. They'll see they're normal folks who, just like them, want to get home safely to their families.

But if all else fails, try the 2BoomerBabes' approach to fearful flying: have a series you've been dying to binge watch loaded on your tablet, order a stiff drink, keep a bag of something delicious and highly caloric in your purse, disconnect from the world, and try to enjoy yourself. After all, you could be home doing laundry or regrouting the bathtub!

For more information about Captain Chance's free on-line Fear of Flying Help course, visit