The Fear of Flying: What is a Rejected Take-Off

Many people’s fear of flying stems from a previous bad experience whilst flying. I had an email conversation with a reader yesterday. This person had not been on a plane for 12 years due to what she described as an emergency on her last flight.

Naturally, I wanted to hear the details to enable me to better understand her fear. She described the incident as follows; 

Everything seemed fine. I’d always been an anxious flyer, but never been scared. As we taxied out to the runway I was feeling pretty relaxed about the flight – and was looking forward to getting home.

As we accelerated down the runway I felt no fear. But, suddenly, the aircraft braked hard. It felt as though we were going to come off the end of the runway. People started screaming until we came to a stop.

In this situation, the captain should make an announcement explaining the reason behind the sudden stop. Knowing this, I asked what information was given. The reply was;

The captain came over the PA and said that he was sorry for the sudden stop, but due to a slight technical malfunction we had to abort the take-off. We taxied off the runway and stopped for a while -before heading off to the start of the runway again.

The take-off was fine, but I spent the whole flight petrified that something was wrong with the plane. Ever since that day I have not been able to get on an aircraft again – often at the expense of holidays with my family (who don’t understand my fear).

Now, on reflection, I CAN see why that incident could seem scary to someone who is not in the aviation industry.

So, lets discuss the facts here.

Firstly, what’s happened here is called a rejected take-off and is a completely normal procedure. It can happen for various reasons.

An order from Air Traffic Control is the most common, followed by an obstruction on the runway and technical reasons.

Now, I understand that technical reasons may sound scary. But, it’s really not. As the aircraft accelerates, engine power will be closely monitored. If at any time the pilots are unhappy with something, they will choose to abort the take-off and get it checked.

Any warning light, or alarm, will result in a rejected take-off – but it’s nothing to worry about.

Let’s compare it to driving your car. If you start to drive off and a warning light comes on, you would normally stop the car and get it checked out. It doesn’t mean your car is going to explode though!

The same applies with flying. A technical issue does not mean the aircraft has a serious problem.

So, now you know that a rejected take-off is normal, and nothing to worry about. You also understand that warning lights or alarms are seen differently by the highly trained pilots.

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