JetBlue pilot story sensationalizes news, raises fear, and distorts reality

Yelling "they're going to take us down!,” a JetBlue pilot on Tuesday was kicked out of the cockpit by his co-pilot, then ran through the plane this Tuesday screaming that there was a bomb on board, eventually being tackled by passengers as the co-pilot landed the plane safely in Amarillo, Texas. How scary it must have been for the passengers and crew on board. The media’s attention on problems with airplanes, hijackers, drunken crew members or, in this case “disorientated” captains, raises the fear for air travel and terrorist attacks unnecessarily, while also distorting reality.

One of the reasons for this distortion is the big impact images and sensational news have in the media. The reason plane accidents, malfunctions, or hijackings are more likable than a car accident is simply because they are sensational and newsworthy.

TV and the internet are mediums that where the Jet Blue story can thrive. Interviews with eye witnesses or some voyeuristic audio from within the cockpit build a sensational story, one that is also newsworthy at the same time

Unfortunately, after these sorts of stories blow up, people actually start believing that stepping on a plane is more dangerous now then it was “back in the days” before the incident occurred. Suddenly, the pilot is an idiot, the flight attendant gave you a strange stare, and the guy sitting next to you has a longer than normal beard.  After this year’s 10th anniversary of 9/11, Dutch Public Television went out on the street and asked several people in remote areas what people where most afraid off. A middle-aged lady said she was most afraid of terrorism and planes hitting her or nearby villages. Other people in the show, both from small and bigger cities, gave similar or close to similar answers. The media has helped create a climate of fear.

I am not saying that the media  is solely responsible . People make their own decisions.

Still, what I do think is that incidents or accidents with airplanes do not always have to be headliners. There is little risk involved in flying, though the multitude of news stories we see make it seem otherwise. Not often you hear people talking about the fear of driving a car, or the fear of taking the train. When was the last time anyone asked you if yesterday's car crash made you afraid to drive?

Should we call for news organizations to stop paying attention to incidents in the air, should news organizations stop over-dramatizing relatively small incidents with planes just because it’s a plane and not a BMX? No, keep on reporting, but add a small box right next to the article with the facts putting the story in perspective. It keeps fear low, makes people in queue more at ease, it starts your trip much more relaxed and makes the unconscious fear of flying a bit less unconscious.