"Inquisitr" Faux News Report Terrifies An Anxious Flier

Client: "Very upset, about what happened yesterday."

Posted Aug 11, 2015

A flight phobia client just called saying she was very upset, about what happened yesterday. I asked her what she was talking about. She said, "A United plane fell ten-thousand feet!"

She found this terrifying report in the headlines when she turned her computer on this morning. Anxious about what had reportedly happened, she was thinking of cancelling her flight.

The article that frightened her appeared on a web site called "Inquistr." The headline says, "Chicago-Bound Flight Diverted After United Express Airline Flight's 10,000 Foot Drop." The story, which offers no by-line, calls this incident "a minor accident." 

The plane did not drop. This was not an accident. The plane descended completely under control.

During cruise, if cabin pressurization cannot be adequately regulated, the pilots intentionally descend to an altitude at which neither pressurization nor oxygen masks are needed. 

In training, every airline pilot has to demonstrate that he or she can fly the plane down from cruise altitude to 14,000 feet in four minutes or less. This is done by bring the throttles back to idle, and extending the speed brakes. On some planes, the landing gear is extended to increase drag and steepen the descent. This maneuver is simple enough that it can be done using the autopilot, not even needing to put a hand on the controls.

This incident would not qualify as news were it not for irresponsible journalism being applied. But, to grab attention and increase web site hits, some media outlets mislead and sensationalize aviation stories. This callous irresponsibility victimizes people. A person who is already uncomfortable with flying can easily become unable to fly due to fear that they will experience the in-flight terror web outlets such as "Inquisitr" describe.

The article goes even farther into sensationalism. "The United Express flight’s 10,000 foot drop could have been much worse. A United Airlines flight in 1989 suddenly lost pressure when a cargo door came open mid-flight. Nine passengers were sucked out of the plane . . . ."

Here "Inquisitr" leads the reader to believe a simple cabin pressure regulation problem could have become catastrophic, and developed into a fatal major accident in which a cargo door opened and was ripped off, and people fell from the plane.

"Inquisitr" is not alone in yellow journalism. Jacquellena Carrero, writing for NBC News, says the plane "suddenly plummeted" and characterizes the controlled descent as "a 10,000-foot vertical drop." 

Can terrorizing readers to gain "hits" be justified? I think not. Will these "news" outlets be taken to task effectively? Not likely. These best we can hope for is that anxious fliers will verify what media outlets report by following expert aviation writers such as airline pilot Patrick Smith, former Boeing engineer Todd Curtis, Ph.D., and myself, or by asking questions about news reports on the SOAR web site's message board.