This week I viewed a video clip regarding a woman who was described as “having a meltdown.” Of course, those words were used to grab a headline, but in reality they weren’t far from the truth. What made this clip particularly compelling to me was the fact that it happened mid-flight on a very full aircraft. I spend a good deal of time on airplanes and of course I teach a course regarding supporting people during their times of crisis.

So, a little background: this woman was flying to the funeral of her mother. Obviously, she was under some stress. Significant loss is traumatizing and people respond differently to those traumas. We discuss (in Chapter 4) the fact that sometimes people who are usually very calm might become “hyper” or that people who are more active might become more withdrawn or depressed.

I wasn’t on this particular flight but the short video shows a couple of things that people were doing really well. The person sitting next to this woman was talking to her, although it was impossible to hear what was being said. This tells me that the person sitting next to her was using a low tone of voice. That’s exactly what we advocate. I hope that the person sitting next to this woman was acknowledging her feelings of loss or anxiety and was being empathetic about this situation. It is most beneficial to just listen as opposed to trying to turn this into a problem solving session. Remember that when you and I are supporting people through these types of situations we tend to be processing things from a very cognitive standpoint (trying to find the “solution” to the problem) while the person who is experiencing this stress is processing it from a more emotional point of view. This woman has just suffered a very significant loss – now is not the time to try to solve any problems. She likely feels like the bottom has fallen out of her world and she might have no ability to be concerned about how her behavior is affecting other people.

On a flight that is in the initial descent it wouldn’t be possible for people sitting next to her to move away (because the seat belt sign would be illuminated), however, they were doing everything they could to give her space such as leaning away from her and waving away other people who approached. My understanding from the news coverage is that the flight attendant was aware, but was also staying away in an attempt to prevent the situation from escalating even farther.

Other people that were seen on the video were not in crisis; just the person sitting next to her was actually speaking to her. That’s another thing that we advocate – reduce the number of people who are involved. Too much stimulation is just more and more fuel on that fire. The people on the video were doing a really excellent job of trying to reduce the amount of stimulation around this woman.

I do not know the final outcome of this situation. Since the news agency did not go on to report that this woman was arrested or detained I take that to mean it was an unfortunate situation on a flight, but not one that was punishable by law. Perhaps one of the reasons for that outcome was the way that people around her were responding. She was being treated with dignity and respect.

We never know when a situation may present itself, so it is always important to remember to manage ourselves first so we might be in a better position to support others who are experiencing stress.

Nikki Wince – Mandt Faculty