Flying over water

By Faith Kibor

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of flying over a body of water?
I don’t mean a small stream or pond; I’m talking a wide harbor full of boat traffic, or a truly massive lake, or an ocean rippling with waves that stretch as far as the eye can see.
Do you get a sudden shiver? If so, you’re not alone. People regularly discuss this scenario with their loved ones, and even send out signals to total strangers. (Don’t believe me? Here’s a post on Reddit about it.) Many of us become anxious just thinking about flying over water. Some of us dwell on what could happen in the (admittedly very unlikely!) event that their aircraft will have to land on water. 
A lot of this fear is actually brought about by false beliefs. In this piece, we will debunk some of the common misconceptions with insights from our founder and Boeing 787 captain, Alon Pereg.
Read on, and we bet that you will feel more confident next time you’re flying over a body of water.

What if we need an emergency landing?

A major misconception is that aircraft are often in the middle of nowhere without any airports or airfields nearby. What happens when we need to land urgently? Do we have to wait for hours on end? The good news: no, this is rarely ever the case. Over the Atlantic Ocean, for example, Pereg explains, there are many more options for an emergency landing and passengers may simply not be aware of their proximity. “Most of the time, we’re closer than 90 minutes away—Canada, Iceland, the Canary Islands, Norway, Faroe Islands, and Greenland are some areas where we can easily land if needed.” He adds that for larger bodies of water such as the Pacific Ocean, there are areas that are only three hours away, and these locations are reserved for planes that are flying far away from land. The flight path is strategically planned so that in case of an emergency—whether it involves mechanical failure or a medical issue—your plane should have an opportunity to land in one of these designated areas.

What about severe weather patterns?

Weather and other natural phenomena like wind could be a source of worry for many travelers. It’s not entirely true, however, that the weather you’ll encounter when flying over oceans is more severe than over land. In case of a rare occurrence of extreme weather, Pereg assures us that pilots are well informed of weather predictions ahead of time.
“If there is a hurricane or other storm with a path known days in advance, pilots are avoiding it by hundreds of miles,” Pereg explains. With state-of-the-art monitoring tools and sophisticated forecasting information, pilots are able to avoid areas where extreme weather is anticipated. If a forecast is dire enough, airlines will postpone or cancel flights, and in very rare circumstances, airports will close.
Rest assured that airports’ aviation weather intelligence teams are always looking out for you and focused on ensuring the safest environment for flight.

What if we have to land on water?

This one might surprise you. “Planes are actually designed to land on water and can float,” Pereg says. You read that right: Pereg explained that if there is an absolute need to land on water—an incredibly rare event—planes are designed to land safely. It’s called ‘ditching’ an aircraft, and every licensed commercial pilot is trained to do this using simulators.
It’s so rare, in fact, that it’s the stuff of major news stories and even a Hollywood film. An event that took place on the Hudson 13 years ago this month (January 2009) represents an elaborate and real demonstration of a successful water landing.
Flying over water may indeed seem frightening. This is understandable, but like many other fear-inducing scenarios in aviation, it’s caused by a false alarm. Rest assured that there is no need to feel uneasy. Flying remains the safest form of travel. (Think about that the next time you buckle up behind your steering wheel!)
So if you feel a little nervous before your next flight, you can always revisit this article—or try out our SimpliFly app to chat directly with a pilot who can help settle your worries.