Posted at 12:05 PM ET, 04/04/2011

Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Air France, and Congo: A bad day for flying?


Passengers are evacuated from a United Airlines plane after making an emergency landing shortly after takeoff at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, Monday, April 4, in Kenner, LA. (Eric Long - AP)
There are no lucky or unlucky days for flying. There are just days.

It’s a popular refrain by pilots. But some days that would seem less true than others. Especially for those people plagued by a fear of flying.

It’s only 11 a.m. Monday morning, and there have already been three diverted or emergency landings and a plane crash today. Not to increase our readers’ aviatophobia, but here’s what you may have missed this morning:

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, an aircraft operated by the UN mission crashed on landing at Kinshasa airport, killing 16, AFP reported.

A United Air Lines flight carrying 100 passengers from New Orleans to San Francisco returned to the New Orleans airport within minutes of taking off after the plane started rocking back and forth. It had lost all electronics.

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-300 plane carrying 142 people from Oakland, CA to San Diego diverted to Los Angeles because of a burning electrical smell in the passenger cabin. The pilot called it “a mechanical problem.”

In Athens, a Thomson Airways passenger plane heading from England to Egypt with 213 people aboard made an emergency landing after the airline received a bomb threat.

It all happened on a day in which undersea robots located bodies, motors and a “large part” of an Air France jet that plunged into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009.

Each crash or abnormal landing Monday was accompanied by moments of sheer panic for the passengers.

The three or four survivors of the plane crash in the Congo watched 16 others die as their plane broke up into several pieces after hitting the runway in torrential rain.

When the New Orleans plane landed, flight attendants shouted to passengers “Leave everything. Get out!” Passengers actually slid down the front and black slides familiar only from cheesy on-flight safety cards.

For passengers of the Southwest flight, a “mechanical problem” may not have seemeed a big deal, except that a Southwest airplane diverted landing made an emergency landing just two days earlier with a hole torn in its ceiling! Nor can it be comforting that cracks have since been discovered on three more Southwest Airline planes.

As for the British passenger flight, it had to be escorted by Greek fighter jets. Not a way you want to come down.

Flying has long been named the safest form of travel. But a Boeing poll in 2010 found that 33 percent of Americans still fear flying. The main reasons offered are fear of dying and fear of heights. But there are lots more: claustrophobia, a feeling of not being in control, fear of hijacking, fear of turbulence, motion sickeness, fear of crashing and the list goes on.

Fear of flying is such a persistent problem that many Americans refuse to fly. Salon started an Ask the Pilot column to educate people about the realities of air travel, one of the best ways to fight aviatobia. Virgin Atlantic launched an iPhone application to help passengers deal with it. Some people suffering from aviatophobia go to flight school to try to get rid of their fears, while others undergo hypnotherapy, or take drugs to knock them out during the flight.

Commentary like this from a pilot probably doesn’t help:

Frankly, even we pilots will acknowledge that our species isn't naturally adapted to hurtle through the stratosphere at insane speeds.... Couple all that with the basic aerodynamic complexities required for engine-powered, heavier-than-air flight, and it's understandable why some might consider the act of sealing yourself inside a large metallic tube with wings and engines along with several hundred other humans the rough equivalent of Russian roulette.

YOUR TAKE: For those of us who have to fly, how do you deal with those fears?

What are your #inflighttips? Tell us using the hashtag #inflighttips or leave it in the comments below, and we will post your responses back here.

By  |  12:05 PM ET, 04/04/2011

 
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