When the flightpath changes

Imagine you’re on a glide path to landing on the runway after a long and bumpy flight.

You’re uncomfortable, and aching to stretch your legs, arrive at your destination and indulge in some home comforts and company. But suddenly, there’s a gust of wind, and a storm blows up out of nowhere. The tannoy bings and the flight attendant pick up the phone link to the flight deck as you hear the engines rev into life. The plane stops descending and you feel it lift again.

Your heart sinks

You hope it’s just going to be once around the block and then another attempt at landing, but somewhere deep inside you know it might mean a diversion to a different airport, and a long and uncomfortable bus ride to where you want to be. Or even worse, back to your starting point, resetting and starting again tomorrow.

Maybe it wasn’t the wind that forced the pilot to pull up. Maybe, somehow, someone got on the runway and it wasn’t safe to land. How they got there isn’t the immediate problem, though that needs a thorough investigation. The point is, they are there, and the pilot needs to decide. From your point of view, looking out of the window, you can’t see. You don’t have complete information. The pilot doesn’t have complete information either. They rely on the information gathered by their knowledge and experience of flight conditions and what’s relayed to them by air traffic control gathering other information that the pilot cannot see from their position. This triangulation means the plane pulls up. The risk is too high to attempt a safe landing.

All the passengers on the plane let out a collective, audible groan. You look around and you can see various reactions: disappointment, frustrations, anger, resignation and more.

“How can this happen?”

“I don’t see why we aren’t landing – the wind isn’t that bad”!”

“Why doesn’t the pilot tell us what is going on?!”

We crave predictability

After a long flight, or a long lockdown, and where expectations have been set for a smooth landing and being able to move on with our lives, it can be very difficult to change the plan. That much is real – it’s hard to give up cherished plans and expectations. But the reality alongside this is that safety trumps everything. Yes, we can get better forecasting systems to predict when and where storms are likely to hit. We can get better processes to ensure that hazards that really could be managed better do not pop up unexpectedly.

But, as passengers, we don’t have access to the flight deck, or the dashboard of information that needs to be interpreted in real time to make as safe a landing as possible in real time.

No one wants this situation, but everyone wants to get down safely. We may have to take a much more uncomfortable route to get to the destination we all want to get to.

But we will get there.

 

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