This aeroplane is crashing. There’s no doubt about it. As I look out of the window, I can see snow, trees, both far closer than they ought to be.
We seem to be descending parallel to a chair lift because our pilot is, apparently, attempting a wheels-up emergency landing on a ski slope. Although my knuckles tighten on the armrest and I brace for the impact, I’m surprisingly relaxed about this.
And then I wake up, as confused as hell. The aeroplane’s whirr is still constant and we’re still cruising at 38,000 reassuring feet. A few minutes later, I doze off again and – wouldn’t you know it? – we’re sinking again, inescapably, unavoidably earthbound... until the airliner becomes an absurdly agile train, skipping between wooden stepping stones where the tracks have run out, because that’s dreams for you.
Why does the mind do that? Why does my unconscious self decide it’s going to throw a situation into my head so unlikely that the chances of it happening might as well be nil, yet for rather more likely situations like, say, crashing a car – something so likely that I’ve even done it – it doesn’t.
I live on a road that is so fast and long and dangerous that barely a month goes by without an accident on it. Afterwards, unless it’s taken away quickly under a tarpaulin, a car will sit on the verge for a few days, ‘Police Aware’ sticker in the window, usually on its wheels and usually having ploughed through some mud, perhaps a road sign or, one time, the house I live in. And yet I never fear driving down my road.
And even though I quite like flying, I’ll be more apprehensive about a turbulent landing than I am about, say, driving in snow, despite planes tending not to fall off of runways and ample evidence of cars falling off of snowy roads.
We are all way, way more likely to have a car shunt than an aeroplane shunt, but who has a phobia of Ford Mondeos? In the UK alone, 1700 people die every year on the road. Globally, that number is 1.25m, making the car one of the world’s most prolific killers.
But nobody died in a jet airliner accident last year. Not a single person in something like 40m flights. In 2017, you were statistically as likely to die from being fired from a cannon into the sun, or murdered by one of The Flumps (Pootle has a killer’s eyes), as you were in an airliner. A fear of flying, then – even an apprehension – is as baffling as the fact that nobody has a Teasmade any more.
Or is it? Part of an aversion to flying is, I think, entirely rational: the consequences of a breakdown or knocking into an oncoming object are generally more serious from 30,000ft than 00,000ft.
But the rest of it is absurd: assuming the hassle and journey time were the same either way, I’d choose to drive somewhere myself than be flown there, even given the prevailing statistics, because when I’m in a car, I’m in control. That’s it. That’s the rationale: I’m in charge. And that’s bonkers, isn’t it? In 100 years’ time, when road deaths are, hopefully, as rare as airline deaths, maybe that position will sound as stupid as it almost certainly is. But today, would you, honestly, pick otherwise?