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There've been a lot of stories about air safety. Should we be afraid to fly?


In the last couple of months, we've heard a lot of stories about air safety - a federal investigation into a door plug panel flying off an aircraft midair, a congressional probe into aircraft manufacturing and quality control, a growing number of close calls on the runway and extreme turbulence that injured dozens of people. Air travelers might be feeling a little bit on edge, so what's a frequent flyer to do? Benet Wilson is a veteran aviation journalist. She's joining us now, Benet, I think I've never been worried about anything happening to the plane. I've always been worried about being next to someone that wants to talk when I want to sleep or maybe someone having a baby that's crying. Should air travelers be worried these days?

BENET WILSON: Well, I think that I understand the natural nervousness. I'm actually an aviation journalist with a fear of flying. But...

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter) No, really? Wow.

WILSON: Really. But I have to get from point A to point B, and I think that's the case with most people. And, I mean, air travel still is the safest way to travel these days.

MARTÍNEZ: So when we hear these stories all over the place - I mean, are you surprised that people, all of a sudden, maybe might have doubts or maybe are more afraid than they ever were in the past?

WILSON: No, I'm not surprised at all, because it's in the media and there's stories, and then people start sharing their own stories. But again, I think, you know, it is a little disturbing when you hear these things, but if you think about how many flights people fly a day across the globe, it seems to me just to be a blip.

MARTÍNEZ: Benet, considering that you said you're deathly afraid of flying, I'm assuming that you have some kind of game plan when you get to the airport to try and kind of calm yourself down. What do you do?

WILSON: I get to the airport a couple of hours early because I like to walk around and just kind of breathe. And, you know, I'm also looking for stories...

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter) Yeah.

WILSON: So I just want to see if there's anything new at the airport. When it's time to board, you know, I always get an aisle seat toward the front of the plane, the first five rows because that's me. I get myself situated. I do some breathing. And just - I have my headphones with the noise canceling, so no chatty Cathys or screaming babies will I hear. And just take a breath and do the sign of the cross when I'm taking off, and off we go.

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter) So you've got a game plan. That's good. It's good to have...


MARTÍNEZ: ...A game plan. What about when you're on the plane and when you're hearing those safety instructions that no one ever pays attention to - do you pay attention to those things?

WILSON: Absolutely. I mean, I could probably do it myself in my sleep, but I do because you just never know, and I'd rather be prepared.

MARTÍNEZ: What about turbulence, when that happens? I mean, obviously, it's something that can't be predicted. So how do we ride that out and just stay calm?

WILSON: Well, turbulence is one of the big things that makes me so afraid of flying. So I had the chance - when I worked at a nonprofit, I had the chance to learn how to fly. And I did that because it was really interesting to see you know, how everything works and what happens. And with the turbulence, my flight instructor would always say, it's just like potholes. And I'm like, well, it's a big pothole (laughter), 30,000 feet above the earth, but...

MARTÍNEZ: One more thing, Benet - I mean, is it worth it if someone next to you is having trouble or at least you can see they're stressed out. Is it worth it trying to calm them down, considering that you're armed with all this information and know-how and game plan?

WILSON: I will tell you, it'd have to be something very bad. I try to keep to myself when I'm flying. It's one of those rare times where I actually have time to myself. So unless it's, like, really something really stressful, I just mind my own business.

MARTÍNEZ: That's veteran aviation reporter Benet Wilson. Thank you very much.

WILSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.