Flight Attendant Confessions: Crew Members Reveal Their Biggest In-Flight Fears

If you have a fear of flying, you’re not alone. Roughly 9.5% of people surveyed by Chapman University said they were “afraid” or “very afraid” of flying, while about 6.5% of the population suffers from aviophobia, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Many more get nervous when they’re on an airplane. 

It’s not surprising that travelers, especially those who fly infrequently, get edgy when turbulence hits. But most passengers probably assume that every member of the flight crew in as cool as a cucumber while in the air.

Not so, according to a survey of 119 flight attendants by Stratos Jets. Though they’re trained to handle the unexpected, it turns out that even flight attendants worry about mid-air disasters.

What scares flight attendants

Flight Attendant

Flight attendant | Alexander Hassenstein/ Getty Images

The top nightmare scenario for flight attendants is a fire on the plane. Nearly 96% of those surveyed said this was their No. 1 concern. Other top concerns included:

  • Turbulence: 43.1%
  • A passenger giving birth in flight: 58.6%
  • A passenger dying: 71.6%
  • Plane crash: 79.3%
  • Bombing: 84.5%
  • Hijacking: 85.3%
  • Loss of cabin pressure: 85.3%
  • Engine failure 87.1%

Fortunately for both flight attendants and passengers, all of the above events, though not unheard of, are relatively rare. For example, there are about 25 engine failure incidents every year, according to Stratos Jets. But even if a plane’s engine cuts out, pilots are usually able to continue flying and land safely, notes Popular Mechanics.

Passengers do sometimes pass away in-flight. While 77.3% of flight attendants Stratos surveyed said they’d dealt with an in-flight medical emergency, only 13.4% had experienced a passenger death. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that of 11,900 in-flight medical emergencies, 36 resulted in the death of a passenger, or 0.3%.

Airlines are generally vague about what happens if someone dies mid-flight, though it seems that the policy is generally to move the body as far away from other passengers as possible and to cover it with a blanket, according to Quartz.

In-air births seem to be even rarer than deaths, in part because most airlines have restrictions on women flying if they are very close to their due date. Just 2.5% of the flight attendants surveyed said a passenger had given birth in flight. Hijackings are also rare, as enhanced security measures have made it harder than it once was for criminals to get control of a plane.

The good news is that most flight attendants do feel prepared for in-flight emergencies. About 91% said they were ready to handle medical emergencies, 83% were prepared for a possible hijacking, and 74% were prepared to deal with a passenger death. Flight attendants felt slightly less prepared to deal with drug trafficking, human trafficking, or sexual assault or harassment.

Also reassuring for both nervous passengers and crew: Commercial air travel is one of the safest ways to travel. Even if your plane crashes, which probably won’t happen, chances are you’ll make it through the incident. A National Transportation Safety Board analysis found that 80% of plane accidents victims survived. Your chances of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 11 million, according to the New York Times. Your odds of dying in a car accident are 1 in 5,000.

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