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Jewish World Review Sept. 8, 2000/ 7 Elul, 5760

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports

Grounded in her
fears about flying --
AS FALL commences, I can't help noticing that I'll be boarding no fewer than 10 airplanes in the next week. With images of the fiery Concorde still freshly etched in my memory -- and United Airlines' head dude hogging every commercial break to remind me of his industry's troubles -- you can imagine my excitement.

Like one out of eight Americans, I'd rather not fly. But fly we must, and trust we must try.

My preflight lab work involves several psychic exercises, beginning with a quick visit to the Fear of Flying Clinic Web site -- -- where one can reassure oneself with staggering statistics that ought to keep any sane person out of automobiles forever.

I also practice breathing in small spaces, refill my Valium prescription and re-evaluate my recent decision to abandon my old pal, chardonnay. The FOFC site is sponsored by a clinic in San Mateo, Calif., that treats people for a range of phobias, of which fear of flying is the most reasonable. Frankly, I'm not sure fear of flying should qualify as a phobia, defined as an irrational fear. Being terrified of stepping into a locked box, crammed (not ironically) into a near-fetal position among hyperventilating strangers to be lifted 30,000 feet into "bumpy" air is not irrational.

Irrational is being calm under such circumstances.

Other phobias addressed by the FOFC include "Dental Fear," also rational; "Public Performance Phobia;" and so on. You can order books, tapes, videos, self-help kits -- most of which sell for about $19.95 -- or you can post messages for other phobiacs, which have the effect of making you and others relax knowing that we are not alone.

Fear of being alone, meanwhile, can be assuaged simply by visiting the Web site and noting the hit-counter. When I logged on, I saw 144,559 others had been there before me.

The flying statistics are, indeed, reassuring, unless you're planning to drive to the airport, in which case your chances of dying are extremely good.

So, exactly how many Valiums do I need between now and Hanukkah?

According to the experts, your chance of being in an airplane accident involving multiple fatalities are one in 3 million. The site offers no precise word on your chances of being in involved in an airplane accident involving, say, just one fatality, that being your own.

What does one in 3 million mean? It means you'd have to fly once a day for 8,200 years to accumulate 3 million flights. Let's put that in even finer perspective: In 1998, presumably the last year for which statistics were available (or, alternatively, the best year yet), 1.3 billion people on 18 million flights made it to their destination with only 10 fatal accidents.

That's accidents, not dead people, of course. The FOFC cleverly avoided mentioning that there were probably close to 300 people on each of those 10 fatal flights. Even so, 3,000 out of 1.3 billion ain't half-bad, especially when compared with the number of people who died in the same time period by blithely driving across town.

In the United States, according to the FOFC, 21,000 Americans die in highway deaths in a typical six-month period. Which is more than have died in all commercial jet fatalities worldwide since commercial aviation began four decades ago.

As you can see, flying is perfectly safe. Besides, as my father used to reassure me: "When your number's up, your number's up." To which one can't help responding: "But what if the pilot's number is up?"

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.


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