Fear by plane.

Funk in an airplane

  Cambodia and Thailand - February 2011

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 

This trip to Cambodia and Thailand made me take six planes and three airlines (Malaysia Airlines, Bangkok Airways, AirAsia). Usually, I am not too afraid, I am not not too much trouble flying. But then, I had a big scare on the way back, on the Phuket - Kuala Lumpur section...

Six planes

I had fun recomposing my journey in video (a nice feature ofiMovie (You can plot your route on a globe).

Our project, with the friend who accompanied me: to arrive in Cambodia and leave from Thailand. An "open jaw" flight in the jargon of the airline companies, with different entry and exit points. We opted for Malaysia Airlines, hence the stopover in Kuala Lumpur. That is to say four planes, for the outward journey and the return journey between Asia and France.

Then, to go from Cambodia to Thailand, two additional flights were added:
→ Siem Reap - Bangkok (on Bangkok Airways)
→ Bangkok - Krabi (on AirAsia)

My friend came back to France a week before me. I was lucky enough to be able to extend this little vacation... And I took the opportunity to dive, of course! (I'll come back to tell you about it in the next posts.)

Big scared

So Friday, after spending ten days in the south of Thailand, I embark on flight MH791 of Malaysia Airlines. Takeoff from Phuket scheduled for 18:10, arriving in Kuala Lumpur about an hour and a half later.

We take off and I get ready with the camera. The flight over the bay of Phang Nga, bristling with islets and rocky peaks, is always spectacular.

I have no particular understanding at the time. I am near a window, behind the wing. The plane is not young anymore, you can see it, the wing has big grey marks and several riveted parts obviously added as reinforcement or repair. But nothing suspicious.

And then, as I start to photograph the bay, a little disappointed that it is already too dark, the plane tilts to the side to start a turn. The feeling is always a bit strange, but the maneuver is classic after a takeoff, when the plane has to change direction to follow its flight plan.

That leans, then. Normal.

I have a twinge in my right ear. I have a small ear infection, usual diver's soreness. I have been bubbling non-stop in the Andaman Sea these last few days. With the altitude and the pressurization of the cabin, the pain wakes up. It's normal.

Except that ... except that ...

The plane is tilting too much, way too much, right now. It's not normal. Normally, they don't do acrobatics, the pilots of commercial airlines, right? There is the comfort of the passengers, the safety, all that...

It's going full throttle, the acceleration is brutal. I find myself plastered to the back of the seat. Oh, no! This is not normal at all!

I take a look at my neighbor on the right. She makes a funny face. She also feels that something is not right.

Funk in an airplane ...

Technical problem

This atrocious turn lasted a few seconds, no more. The heart misses a beat, the stomach flips, the fear nestles deep in the gut.

And then the plane recovered, stabilized.

We are no longer stuck in our seats. One dares again to breathe. My neighbor sketches a pale smile, the hands tightened on the armrest.

The speaker sputters. "This is your captain speaking... We have a technical problem, so we are now flying back to Phuket, to solve this problem. Please keep your seatbelt fasten. I repeat : we are going back to Phuket. Be ready for landing."

Nervous laughter rises in the rows in front of me. My neighbor is pale.

Technical problem? He wants to bring the plane back to Phuket? And he will still be able to land? Besides, what is the problem? Is it serious, or not? For him to decide to come back, it must not be a small problem. Rather a big problem, even.

There, the funk starts to grow serious.

The following minutes are long, very long. We lose altitude, not too much turbulence, the plane descends towards the sea, gets back on the runway axis, it vibrates a little. Complete silence in the plane.

And everything is going well. We land normally.

Of course, everyone gets loose and claps wildly once we're down. Not me. Nor my neighbor. This isn't a show, is it?

After that, we stayed in the plane for an hour, while they fixed the problem... Mechanics and guys with walkie-talkies came and went between the back door and the cockpit. I don't know what the technical problem was. We didn't get a clear explanation.

Then, the captain simply told us that the problem was solved, that we were leaving. We took off again in the same plane. My neighbor and I were not laughing at all. We would have preferred to change planes.

Uneventful flight. But I was more than tense, all along. Big relief, when we finally landed in Kuala Lumpur...

Fear has its reasons that reason does not know

I wasn't (too) scared on the next plane from Kuala Lumpur to Paris. I stayed on my toes during the whole take-off phase. I pretended to sleep during the turbulences. And a bit sleepy when it became calm again. I didn't even have a movie to watch to think about something else during the more than 13 hours of flight: their entertainment system was out of order... (Bah! As long as the engines and everything else works, we won't complain!)

I know. It's not rational to be afraid of flying. On the Indonesian company Lion Air, they understood it well: there is a prayer booklet adapted, for all faiths.

Come on, there's nothing to freak out about: 2010 would have been the safest year in the history of aviation, according to theiatathe International Air Transport Association. North America has a ratio of 0.10 accidents per million flights, Europe 0.45, North Asia 0.34, Asia Pacific 0.80, South America 1.87 and Africa 7.41.

Otherwise, there are a lot of nice sites to cure (or not) your fear of flying:

(Last site above added on the advice of the other girl, the one who took the same flight, without incident, a week before me. I quote her: "The best site about airlines. Plus, they don't talk about crashes." 🙄 )

Strangely enough, the more I fly, the less reassured I am. It's the body talking, the survival instinct, I don't know... There's something unnatural about flying, actually.

I leave you with Anne Roumanoff, who explains it very well!


  Cambodia and Thailand - February 2011

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  1. When you get back, drop in on Panpan at the der, to make her feel better about her fear of flying. Kisses

  2. This big scare will at least have given you something to write about in a cool post. 😛

    Then you could check that the drivers were responsive and alert. Reassuring, in fact 😉

    For me, the hardest blow was undoubtedly the 13-hour flight without an entertainment system. Goodbye cheesy movies, exotic music and interactive parts of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire!
    The journey, even if it has the merit of being on a night flight, must seem very long. Especially when your only reading material is the company magazine (devoured on the outbound flight) and a Marc Lévy novel (a gift from a friend who wants you to discover this genius author 👿 )!

  3. I know what you mean, recently to my great surprise I felt an unpleasant chill on a plane... surprise, because it's always been my favorite mode of transport, synonymous with escapism... is it age? 😮
    However, I remain sure that I run a lot more risk every day in a car.

  4. It's nothing, the track staff had just forgotten to refuel, which happens to them quite often... The Thais are teasing...

    Ok I'm leaving !!!!

  5. Oula!
    I've only been on a plane twice so far, and I must admit I hate that moment when the plane turns, I can just imagine stopping breathing until everything is back in order... it's really scary...
    Thank goodness nothing more happened!

  6. @The other girl: Bah... it couldn't have been as long as those horrible, interminable minutes when you had water in your mask... 😀 (As for missing films to fill the 13-hour flight, it's no big deal, there was no Open Waternor Abyssnor Jaws in their program ...)

    @Manta: Damn, you too... 😯 What's happening to us?

    @Martinoo: Mai pen rai... 😆

    @Mamzell'Dree: Yes, I had quite a scare at the time. I had time to think: "Oh no, this time I'm on the wrong plane, at the wrong time, on the flight that's going to be on the news..." 😡

  7. I sympathize. I've been through this once in my life, with Lan Chile, taking off from Easter Island, heading for Papeete. Sparks on the wings, me next to them... Back to the airport, repairs, off we go again...
    When you say: "I was more than a little tense the whole time"... as you say... especially as we were only going to fly over the sea, and in the middle of it all, a single island, Pitcairn, where the mutineers of the Bounty docked... great... !
    I've flown Malaysia before, as have many other travelers. Whew, that went well.
    In any case your story is well told and well taken, it throbs.

  8. I sincerely hope it never happens to me. Ever since I became a mother, I've been a real worrier! P.S.: Thanks for reminding me to update iMovie! 😉

  9. Well, this Phuket - Kuala Lumpur flight was a funny experience. We laughed about it afterwards, but we weren't being heroes at the time.

    Speaking of flights, I did a trip report on the new Paris Orly - Kuala Lumpur route, available here:


    New photos of Koh Kradan, Koh Ngai and Koh Rok are available on my site including photos of dives.

    @ Soon.

  10. @Joce: Not a reassuring flight, either. Up until then, I'd never had anything to reproach Malaysian Airlines for... 😯

    @ Marie-Julie: Inevitably, when you're in charge of a little soul, it multiplies the anxiety. In the meantime, there's iMovie to fly virtually and without fear! 😀

    @Fabrice: With all the planes you'll be taking on your journey, I hope you never find yourself in a creepy situation like that! Have a good trip. 8)

    @SAFE: Many thanks for your link and your detailed report, very interesting (and I went back with happiness in these beautiful Thai pictures). I'll add it here, on my other blog:
    For my part, I'm going to try out Air Asia X in economy class return in July. I managed to get a decent fare with the launch promotion (€267 return). I did add a hundred euros or so by pre-ordering a lot of extra luggage, comfort-kit, meals... (total return = €390, it's still worth it). I'm a "little guy", so I should survive despite the narrowness of the seats.
    Otherwise, the compromise you suggest is not bad: the outward journey in eco, the return in premium. I'll think about it next time.
    Anyway, I had a good laugh when you reminded me about the cabs BEFORE customs at the LCCT. I got screwed once too. But the nice man in uniform to whom I gave a big smile as I explained my request allowed me to re-enter... 🙄

  11. "Curiously, the more I fly, the less reassured I am."

    Funny, I feel the same way 🙂
    And even retrospective fears, when a company taken qques time ago is found on blacklist! (One Two Go airways in thailand)

  12. @Paradise: In Indonesia, it's worse: no choice, as soon as you fly with a local airline, you find yourself on that famous blacklist... 😕

  13. In fact, Indonesia is gradually improving.
    For example, Garuda is now sure. Lion Air, relatively.
    And with Air Asia's low-cost service, you can travel well within the archipelago (but not everywhere, unfortunately...).

  14. @A World Elsewhere: I must say that the story of your near-catastrophic landing made me shudder... 😯

    As for Air Asia, in relation to Lemérou's comment above, yes, there are more and more international flights (I'll be testing the Paris-KL soon). The thing is, even if Air Asia flights cover a lot of destinations in Asia, they still don't really get you everywhere... So for some places, you have to resign yourself to using airlines with a reputation for being less safe, especially in Indonesia.

    As for Malaysia Airlines, which I flew on this Pukhet-KL flight, it's a good airline though, and one I usually trust.

  15. Thanks Corinne, I look forward to reading your thoughts on the Paris / Kuala Lumpur flight. In Indonesia we don't have much choice, I remember my surprise when checking in for my very first flight on LionAir and being asked to step on the scales with my cabin baggage on my back!

  16. Bjr pbda, the site is tip top, all my congratulations and bravo for this time spent to share with us. Question: what software/website do you use for the animated videos with the animated globe showing the route with the cities indicated? Like we can see in the Cambodia and Thailand section? Many thanks for the information and the time spent answering. Sincerely, Éric, Padi/Cmas instructor.