With the news that Britain's airports will be introducing full-body scanners, the issue of safety in the air is back in discussion. Those who are concerned about flying have different ways of reacting to their anxiety. Some turn to a glass of wine for relaxation on the flight, others make sure their seats are booked in a particular part of the plane which seems safer.
I was reminded of a priest who said he had memorised the Rite for Reconciliation with General Confession and Absolution in case he was ever on a plane which was in serious trouble. He hoped, if all else had failed, to be able to comfort passengers with prayer and support, and to reconcile people with God before the end.
He isn’t the only one who has thought of these issues. I once chatted to an American woman at an airport who said she prays the act of contrition in her seat just before each flight. It reassured her to know that whatever happened in the air she had made her peace with God as best she could. Perhaps these stories say as much about the perceived risk of flying as they do about spirituality. Flying is a comparatively safe way to travel but many people seem to be more anxious about being in planes than in cars or trains.
It could be the fact that in a plane we’re stuck in an enclosed space hurtling through the air 35,000 feet up. Every pre-flight safety demonstration is a reminder of this and gives us a sense of our own mortality, whether because of the very small possibility of an accident or of intentional threat. The brief run-through makes us think of exactly what we’d do and which direction we’d run in if faced with difficulty. People can find themselves overestimating the perceived risk of flying as compared to the actual risk.
It’s often in emergency situations that we see what really matters, what we really believe. We can hope that we would respond in a certain way but we never really know until we’re in the situation. It’s comforting to know that for some people, faith is so much a part of their life that prayer is something to add to the regular safety checklist. Along with how to put on a lifejacket, and remembering who would need special help. There’s always a chance things could be forgotten in a panic, but the preparations and the run-throughs have been made, the good intention is there.