It was the flight I'll never forget. Years ago, back in college, I was on a commercial airline jet zipping over one of those huge Midwestern thunderstorms with ferocious energy. The clouds below were fast moving and dark, you could see each time lightening struck. All of a sudden, the plane just, well, “fell”; that is the best way to describe it.
I later learned it actually fell several thousand feet. Luggage flew out of the overhead bins and onto my head, drinks spilled everywhere, and the worst part of it all: Complete and utter panic filled the cabin. People screamed like we were going to die. Well, okay, it did feel like we were going to die. Sobs, hysterics and tears from hyperventilating passengers ensued.
Then, the plane dropped AGAIN. Yup, again. People who weren’t panicked the first time were now freaking out. People who were panicked the first time now changed into full swing Academy Award winning dramatic performances. I remained quiet and just stared at the seat in front of me, until the plane leveled off and the voice of reason came on in my head and said: You aren’t going to die on this plane.
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We ended up having to make an emergency landing because the woman in the seat next to me went into shock and was in a cationic condition. Of course, this person would be assigned the seat next to me. Never fails. I helped as much as I could until the paramedics came on board and had to lift her out of her seat, while her body remained frozen in the position one would be in if seated in a chair. I still remember seeing her being loaded into the ambulance with her legs at a right angle on the stretcher. Poor woman, I later learned she was okay.
The airline let us off the plane and into some small airport for an hour. It had one bar. Let’s say no one felt any pain by the time we re-boarded. This crazy flight taught me NEVER to panic in a scary situation, because dealing with people who did was just awful. If we had to make critical decisions like the passengers on board the flight that landed on the Hudson River in 2009, I’m not sure some could have calmed down enough to get off.
Not panicking is the NUMBER ONE safety tip, according to award winning national airline safety expert Alan E. Diehl, PhD. His top10 tips for “Ways to Protect Yourself While Flying” cover things we all wonder like, “Do those seat cushions really float?” and, “Does where you sit in the plane really matter?”
We'll go through Alan's entire list for you -- so you can print and save it!
10 Ways to Protect Yourself While Flying
1. The most important thing is -- Don’t panic!!! Obviously, in an emergency people get very excited, especially in fire or water landing situations. But you need to focus on the problem of getting out of the plane safely. If you lose your head, you may lose your fanny.
2. Don’t take that extra drink or pill, because you’re “nervous about flying:” You shouldn’t be “high” if something bad does happen. Remember, only one in eight million flights crash now-a-days. Try to get those odds from your surgeon next time.
3. If you fly with an infant, use your child’s car seat: Some airlines are not friendly about this, so check when you’re making reservations. Yes, it may cost more, but remember flying is many times safer than traveling by car.
4. If things get “dicey,” just lean forward: By getting your head down, into a kind of semi-brace position, you’re better protected. For instance, if the plane starts to “gyrate” while landing, don’t scream. Instead, just bend over and rub your ankles. That way you won’t look stupid when nothing happens – which, of course, is usually the case.
5. Know if your seat cushion floats: Some don't. Yeah, read that little note on the seat back in front of you. Otherwise, you may just be holding a wet sponge, and Captain “Sully” can’t always swim back into the cabin to fetch your life vest.
6. Wear sensible shoes: Sandals, high heels, and bulky cowboy boots can interfere with the evacuation, and remember you may have to run through wreckage or rough terrain after getting outside. Also of note, stiletto heels can puncture the escape slide sending you tumbling, and anger those folks behind you as they watch the slide deflate.
7. Wear natural materials: Leathers, wools and cottons will protect you much better than synthetic fibers in a fire. Those man-made fibers can melt and stick to your skin -- ouch! Also keep your jacket on during takeoffs and landings, because more layers are good.
8. Where you sit does matter: The further back you are, the better your chances, because there’s usually more damage to the front of plane -- “duh!” Also, try to sit near, or preferably behind an exit row in the aisle seat, since many passengers panic and instinctively rush forward heading for the boarding door to escape. So this is one time you want to “go with the flow” -- until you come to the nearest exit row, then use it instead of going all the way forward.
9. Stay away from “troubled” airlines: Like those in bankruptcy, merging with another carrier, or with a recent labor dispute. The reason is that worried or angry workers are more likely to make mistakes. Trust me on this one. I’ve seen it during many crash investigations.
10. Fly on larger aircraft: Boeings and Airbuses are better than regional jets, and regional jets are better than turboprops, etc. “Bigger is really better” here.
Alan’s new book, “Air Safety Investigators” will be released in August.
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