Do pilots and cabin crew have bad dreams about flying? 

It’s a topic that’s rarely talked about but yes we sometimes have bad dreams. After having been in the aviation industry for 5 years and flying for 2 years, I have only had one bad dream. I asked a pilot who has flown for 20 years and he can remember one bad aviation dream. You would think that in our roles in the aviation industry that we would have more bad dreams about flying but actually we don’t. We face the risks of something going wrong every day but we don’t really dream about it. We are mentally prepared for the worst case scenario happening for every landing and take off. Even though we mentally picture these worst case scenarios like a plane crash or a fire on board, they rarely come into our dreams.

Why is it we don’t dream about the worst case scenarios when we mentally prepare for them every time we are in our role?

During our initial training and then in our yearly recurrent training we train for the worst case scenarios. We know what to expect and how to react. When we know what to expect and how to react there’s less space for our imagination. Also our logical part of the brain know the safety statistics. We might fly for years without having anything serious happening and it’s highly unlikely that the worst case scenarios will ever happen to us or even someone we know. That’s pure statistics. Our brain knows the statistics and if something would happen, we already know what to expect and how to react. 

However maybe we still have more bad dreams but it’s not just talked about.

When we have a bad dream involving for example a plane crash or a fire onboard, it can be hard to talk about it and share it with someone. In our industry we tend to work with new colleagues on a daily basis. Would you tell someone that you have just met that you have had a dream about a plane crash or a fire? Would you even tell a colleague after you have been working together three times? When you work in an environment with new people every day you always want to make a good first impression. Talking about a bad dream where a plane crashes isn’t the way to do it. Also there’s a problem with lack of time and private space. Working onboard a plane, preparing for departure there is a tight schedule that doesn’t allow room to talk about your personal life. Also talking about a plane crash once you are with passengers onboard might cause passengers or your colleagues to panic. So you just don’t tell anyone you work with about it. Therefor having bad dreams about flying might be a more widespread issue than we think. 

If you dream about a plane crash, does it mean you’re going to experience it?
Most people have had bad dreams at some stage but rarely these dreams come true. Should a doctor be taken off from work if they have had a bad dream related to work? Or would you take yourself off from work because of a bad dream? Most people would say no. The tragic German Wings accident made everyone aware off the risks of pilots having mental health issues. With the way the aviation industry works today it is hard to talk about anything negative related to flying as there is a fear that you could be seen as a threat and not as a human being. Therefore it is sometimes easier not to speak up. You may also feel that if you speak up then the airlines are likely to brush it under the carpet as it never happened or you would be punished in some way. For example by not being allowed to fly while there is an investigation going on. This could of course impact your ability to pay your bills as when you are not flying you don’t get paid as much (if at all, depending on your contract). Also rumours travel quick in our industry and you may fear that you will be known as “bad dream Daniel”. The question is, how do you solve it. Pilots and cabin crew are not superhuman but passengers and airlines sometimes expect us to act and be that way.

Bad dreams can of course be linked to the way you are thinking (negatively) or it might be things happening in your sub-consciousness. In partnership with sports psychologist Freddy Gleisner we have developed a mental training program for pilots. Have a look

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