Two years after I first started flying in 1995, the airline I work for sent out a newsletter with a little blurb about an interesting sounding book called The Gift of Fear, by Gavin De Becker. I bought the book and several years later it’s still one of my favorites. De Becker discusses what it means to be fearful and how that fear is truly a gift. If you trust it. Some people call it a sixth sense. Whatever it is; a shiver down your spine, hair standing up on the back of your neck, a lump at the bottom of your stomach, something has alerted your senses. You shouldn’t ignore it. That fear could very well save your life.
One of the first stories Gavin shares is about a pilot who enters a convenience store and then immediately walks right back out because his sixth sense told him to leave. The pilot had no idea the store was being robbed, but when De Becker asked the pilot why exactly he left, the pilot said he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. De Gavin pressed the pilot for more details, and soon the pilot realized what really triggered his reaction; a man wearing a winter coat in the middle of summer, customers all turning to stare at him when he walked through the door. All these clues came at the pilot so quickly, he couldn’t make sense of why he felt the way he felt, but he trusted his gut and got out there quickly.
So why did the cop who walked into the very same convenience store seconds later not feel the same way the pilot did? Because when the customers in the store spotted the cop, relief swept over them, replacing fear, which may have been why the cop did not pick up on what was going on quickly enough to prevent him from getting shot.
Remember Richard Reid, the shoe bomber? At flight attendant recurrent training we learned there was something about the man that made each flight attendant on his flight take note of him right away. For some reason those flight attendants got an uneasy feeling the minute he walked onto the airplane. But no one said a word to each other. At least not until the ordeal was over. If you feel a little uneasy about a certain situation, tell someone. If someone tells you they feel a little weird about a certain situation, listen. I know I do.
Fear on the airplane: A few years ago a passenger on one of my flights from New York to Los Angeles caught my eye…