A Pilot's Enemy During the Holidays!
- December 8, 1972; United Air Lines 737-200, Flight 553; Midway Airport, Chicago—crew stalled their plane and crashed.
- January 13, 1982; Air Florida 737-200, Washington DC—crew forgot to turn on deicing, didn’t identify the need for more power and crashed in the Potomac.
- December 20, 1995; American Airlines 757 inbound Cali Columbia—Lack of situational awareness and procedures, crashed into a mountain.
- December 20, 2008; Continental Airlines 737-500; Flight 1404; Denver, CO—The aircraft skidded across a taxiway during takeoff in Houston.
- December 28, 1978; United Air Lines DC8; Flight 173; Portland, OR—crew ran the plane out of gas over a landing gear indication.
- December 29 2009; American Airlines 737-800; Flight 331; Kingston, Jamaica—Crew landed during a rainstorm and couldn’t stop, crashing off the end of the runway.
Last week you discussed depression, but what about distraction? It’s no mystery that accidents happen during the holiday months. Could there be a correlation to holiday distraction and the accident rate? Mental fitness is as equally, or more important, as physical fitness. What can pilot do to be safe during the holidays, or any time during stress?
Dr. Larry says:
Karlene, it would not surprise me to learn aviation incidents occur at a higher rate around the winter holidays than at other times of the year because the level of stress and anxiety is often much higher at this time. People try to do more, schedules become altered, sleep is affected and fatigue becomes a significant player.
Confusion and poor decision-making are consequences of being tired. Reaction times are slower and our ability to stay on task is compromised. Distractibility occurs more readily when fatigue is present and it’s easy to be overwhelmed with projects and obligations.
Holidays also create a plethora of visual, auditory and physical stimuli such as lights, ads, horns, crowds, traffic, etc. Too much “noise” of any kind and our minds become saturated causing our attention to fade.
How then to protect against distraction and mental meltdowns?
Mental acuity is the combination of preparation, alertness and fitness. Did you know the brain, like our muscles, can be conditioned and strengthened? Ongoing research centers like the Cleveland Heart-Brain Institute. confirm the regular practice of brain games and challenging our learning capacity leads to better outcomes when the brain is injured, as in strokes, heart attacks and concussions. Like running on a treadmill, the better the conditioning, the longer the staying power, and the same holds true for alertness.
Being well rested is job one. Caffeine and other stimulants may speed up metabolism and increase mental alertness but its benefits wear off and what’s left is often below standards. Maintain hydration, minimize alcohol, push the veggies and fruits and avoid the temptation to over eat. As in flying, peak performance will be affected if weighted down.
In aviation and most endeavors, planning and preparation predict successful outcomes. Avoid over-scheduling. Anxiety is a consequence of tight timelines. Make a list of tasks to accomplish and be realistic with what is possible. Resist the temptation to do it all. Guaranteed, there’s a price to pay.
Create personal boundaries and don’t be afraid to say no. Lose the guilt complex and do what is healthy for yourself and your immediate family. Pay attention to signs of anxiety, irritability and irrational behavior. Ask yourself why you are behaving badly. Stop and rebalance. Mandate time for yourself, even if it’s 5 to 10 minutes of meditation or deep breathing a couple times a day.
For all the excitement, noise and confusion, the holiday season is a beautiful time of year. Be prepared, practice gratitude, wellness and patience, and you will automatically minimize the potential calamities of the season.
Happy and healthy holidays to all!
Thank you Dr. Larry! I am working on gratitude, wellness, and patience. My friends say I need to work on saying, "no." Maybe a New Years resolution for that one.
Enjoy the Journey!