Flying is safer than you think: previously hijacked passenger reassures students

Summer travel is here. Flight to Shanghai: 5 hours. Flight to London: 13 hours. Flight to New York City: 20 hours. Level of excitement: HIGH. Level of anxiety: HIGHER.

For some students, the tragic events this year involving Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia, and Germanwings have increased a fear of flying.

A recent random survey of 20 SAS students showed that while 25% were not afraid to fly, 25% were and 50% stated they weren’t afraid but still think about the events frequently while flying.

meta-chart

While these few tragic incidents may have increased people’s perception of the risk of flying, in fact, the odds of dying by plane are nearly nonexistent. According to an anxiety report on the fear of flying, “whenever we fly, we have a one-one hundred-thousandth of one percent (.000014%) chance of dying.”

Those who have experienced an airline scare and overcome their fear may be able to offer the best advice for those who have become anxious by the recent airline tragedies.

After undergoing a hijacking on a Singapore Airlines flight in 1991, Mark Adams – this reporter’s father – continues to travel for business several times a month without a single worry.

The Singapore Airlines flight, SQ 117, comprised of 118 passengers and 11 crew members, was hijacked in mid-air by four Pakistanis armed with explosives and knives. The flight from Kuala Lumpur landed safely at Singapore Changi Airport at 10:15 p.m. Adams recalled being on the plane for “nine hours,” and that “lots of different things happened throughout the night.” The hijackers were demanding the release of Pakistani prisoners from the Singapore government, as well as fuel so that the plane could depart for Australia.

Newspaper article about the hijack.
Newspaper article about the hijack.

“These four Pakistani guys got up and said, ‘This is a hijacking.’ At first we thought it was a joke because it was Singapore Airlines, but after we landed, we realized that it was serious.

“During the night, they were getting upset because Singaporeans were not giving them fuel. They pushed flight attendants off the plane and people were beat up. Then they said, ‘Okay, well, let’s start killing Americans.’ So they went around asking, ‘Who’s American?’ There was actually one guy who admitted it, [and] they took him to the front of the plane where they sort of hit him, beat him up, then put him back in his seat.”

After a long nine hours, the Singapore commandos raided the plane, killing all four hijackers. Overall, Adams said, “I was scared during the whole time, but it was almost like what was happening wasn’t real. But I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be, maybe because they didn’t have guns and had knives. I think the fact that everyone was rescued safely and that no [passengers were] killed made it much easier to get over.”

While Adams said he does not fear flying, memories of that day are still easily triggered.

Picture of the SQ117 plane. Creative Commons license.
Picture of the SQ117 plane. Creative Commons license.

“I was never scared of flying [after that], but when I would go to the airport in the mornings, I would have flashbacks of it. Because in the morning time, right when the sun was coming up at dawn, the commandos stormed the plane. So whenever I’m driving near Changi Airport in the morning for a flight and I see the sun just coming up, it reminds me of that incident. But I’ve never been scared or worried about it.”

Even though flying is the safest mode of transportation, Adams suggests that people are uneasy about traveling due to the recent tragedies with Malaysian Airlines.

“I think that when people fly, they feel like they don’t have control, and when they drive they get the sense that they have more control. But actually driving in a car is much more dangerous than being in an airplane. If you look at all the thousands of flights that happen every day, even if there was one airplane crash a day, it would still be pretty safe and be pretty rare to be involved in one. And actually there’s not even a crash every day, not even a crash every week, there’s probably not even a crash every month. It happens very rarely, so people should just realize that air travel is very safe.”

But knowing the facts can help to relieve anxiety. To find the facts, this reporter called Operations at Singapore’s Malaysian Airlines office. Smadi Mahood, a customer service agent, said, “the incidences have not affected Malaysian airlines that much. Most of our load [on the plane]  is ¾ full.”

This could be because the safety of Malaysian Airlines’ planes has increased after the incidents this year. Mahood explained how their “safety records have been good until the accidents.” Since then, “not a single major accident has happened to the airline.” The reason for this is that Malaysian Airlines has made changes regarding the enhancement of safety of the aircraft. In addition, they made another interesting change. “[Each airline have a] normally traveled route. We immediately changed the route of the MH370 plane after the incident.”

It is evident that the accidents associated with flying have recently become a concern for many people, but flying is safer than you think. The next time you’re on the plane, just relax and enjoy the ride.

If you are anxious about flying, here are a few steps you can follow to help keep calm.

SQ117 hijack documentary below.

Author: Jamila Adams

Jamila Adams is a Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Eye and part of the Morning Show crew. This is her second year as a reporter for The Eye and the Morning Show’s production staff. She is a senior this year and has been at SAS since she was in Pre-Kindergarten. Some of her hobbies include taking bubble baths, spooning her dog and eating truffle fries. She can be contacted at adams17587@sas.edu.sg

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