SQ321 & Phobias

On May 21st, 2024, SQ321, flying from London to Singapore, encountered severe turbulence with little prior warning, leading to an emergency landing in Bangkok and tragically resulting in a death and dozens of injured flyers and crew. This incident has etched lasting impressions on passengers’ and viewers’ minds, instilling a fear of flying and causing many to rethink their travel plans, developing newfound anxieties. Such experiences often shape our deepest fears and anxieties, known as phobias. 

What makes encounters like the one on SQ321 stick in our minds, shaping our perceptions of flying? Phobias, are irrational fears that stem from varying sources – past traumatic experiences, learned behaviours, and/or genetic predispositions. This incident is an evident example of the impact of one turbulent flight on our psyche, becoming the catalyst for developing phobias such as the fear of flying, also known as aviophobia. 

For the passengers, the experience of being tossed in the air or witnessing injuries can leave a lasting impact. It can leave passengers feeling fearful and helpless, potentially leading to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in vulnerable individuals. Moreover, for those already dealing with PTSD, turbulence can act as a trigger, evoking memories of past traumatic events, such as veterans experiencing PTSD from deployment.

But why do such experiences have so much power over us? Our brains are wired to prioritise negative experiences, particularly perceived threats. While passengers may have been on numerous safe flights, such incidents have a disproportionate impact on their future experiences. This mechanism, once a survival response, now manifests as fears and phobias in the modern world. 

It is crucial to recognise that turbulence, whilst scary and uncomfortable, is a normal and manageable aspect of air travel. Aircrafts are designed to withstand severe turbulence, and pilots undergo intensive training to handle numerous unexpected situations. 

Navigating through phobias and PTSD can feel daunting and difficult, but it is important to remember that you are not alone. There is an abundance of support available to guide you and/or your loved ones through the challenges and aid you in finding your peace, comfort and self. Whether it is seeking therapy, connecting with support groups, or talking to someone you trust, there are numerous paths to your journey to finding yourself and feeling safe.