Aeronautical Randomness
Comforting a fearful flyer
July 24, 2013

“Hi guys, I’m…”

He really didn’t need to say his name.

When I turned around from my pilot seat, I instantly recognized him as one of the greatest sports figures of my lifetime.

Having flown countless famous folks over the years, rarely do I find myself starstruck.  That morning, I got a little taste of the feeling.

He was standing about a foot behind me shaking the captain’s hand.

He immediately turned and shook mine.

“Guys, is it going to be bumpy today?” he asked.  “I’m a bit of a nervous flyer.”

After the captain answered his question, our visitor looked at me for my response.  He must have liked my answer better… his follow-up inquiries were directed at me.

The captain didn’t seem to mind.

After detecting multiple concerns about the safety of our upcoming flight, I decided to play the family card.  I’ve used it before with nervous flyers.  It always achieves the desired effect.

“I don’t know if this will make you feel better… But, I have a wife and young kids and they’re counting on me to come home to them after this trip.”

“THAT’S what I’m talking about… Oh, I feel so much better.”  As he blurted out his approval, he reached out and gave me a high five.

Please don’t miss the significance:  One of the greatest sports figures of all time gave me a high five.  Better yet, he initiated it… all because I have a family.

In his eyes, I transformed from pilot to family man.  Or, a real person who recognizes the huge consequences for not operating safely.

That’s not just me… that’s ALL airline pilots.

Sometimes, the public forgets that pilots are real people.

There are no daredevils flying transport category aircraft.  We are just as concerned about our safety as yours.

Once most people discover we are men and women with responsibilities, they feel better about us flying the airplane.  Not everyone has children… however, most have a mother, father, sister, brother, niece, nephew, cousin, dog, cat or ninety nine other reasons to stay alive.

Fearful flyer courses have become popular in recent years.  One suggested technique to help flyers get over their fears is to visit the flight deck before departure.  By meeting the pilots, the passenger can put real faces to the people responsible for their safety.

The former player and coach was obviously a graduate of one of those courses.

About six hours later, I stood in the front galley with him while we waited for the aircraft door to open.  He seemed much more relaxed than during our pre-departure meeting.

I asked how it was possible to be a nervous flyer after a lifetime of constant traveling.  He smiled and said, “It’s just one of those things.  Thanks for helping me with it.”

He shook my hand and walked off the aircraft.

I was more than grateful for the opportunity to help.

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About author

Renewed Pilot

I've endured a roller coaster career in the U.S. Aviation Industry. Currently flying the 737 on my third try with the same legacy carrier, I have also flown for a regional, fractional and start-up carrier. My piloting experience includes the 737, A320, 727, Citation Excel, Citation Bravo, Saab 340 and many light singles and twin engine aircraft. I reside in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee.

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There are 13 comments

  • Pam Sanchez says:

    I am a regular reader of Renewed Pilot. Great posts!

  • Dan Morton says:

    I’m a flight instructor in Texas and really enjoy your posts.

  • Jamie R says:

    As always, great story!

  • Joe says:

    I was taking a nervous passenger for her first flight in a single engine plane.

    Passenger: How old is this plane?
    Me: About 35 years old.
    Passenger: Is it safe?
    Me: How do you think it got to be so old?

    • Haha… I love it.

      I used to point that out to people when I was on the 727 at UAL. If the passenger was in his/her early adulthood, the jet was older than them. What were the chances it was THE day for such a reliable aircraft?

      I wish they still made ’em that way. Today’s aircraft are safe, reliable and way more fuel efficient. But, I suspect we won’t get the same lifespan out of them as the original Boeings.

      Thanks for the comment.

      • Joe says:

        727- First jet I ever rode on was an American 727-100 from Tulsa to Dallas. Connected to a 727-200 to Acapulco. American operated a some 707’s out of my hometown, and when I had to travel for business, I would contort my schedule to get on a ’07.
        Later I did a lot of travelling on business around the southwest and practically lived on Braniff 727’s

  • Jau says:

    I’m from Singapore and I love reading your posts!!!

  • Tom says:


    I’m currently in a cadet program with a European airline to become an airline pilot myself. I regularly read your great blog and really enjoy it!

    Please keep writing about your interesting real-life adventures on the line!

    All the best!

    • Thanks, Tom. Best of luck with your training. Where are you in the program? Closer to the start or finish?

      • Tom says:

        Closer to the start I’m affraid 🙂

        I’m currently still working towards my PPL license (it’s a modular program in combination with a daytime job). I only have around 40 flight hours so far, so still a long way to go in becoming an airline pilot.

        However, despite the ever increasing workload on each new flight, I’m loving every single hour of it!

        Reading your blog is a great motivation to keep focusing myself and to keep looking to the future, so please keep up the good work! 🙂

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