You’ve probably heard the cliché statistic: you are far more likely to die in a car crash than in a plane crash.
For someone with a fear of flying, that statistic is of little
consolation - take it from one who knows. For the last six years my
fear of flying has seemed to increase the more I fly. I’ve shaken,
cried, and even hyperventilated on flights, much to the horror of the
passengers next to me. Even short trips I would be nearly paralyzed
with fear for the duration of the flight. For a certified travel
junkie, it’s more than a small problem. As my fear has grown, so has my
awareness of ways to handle it. I haven’t been able to eliminate my
fear, but by following these strategies, I have managed to keep it
Know Before You Go
|caribb on Flickr|
internet is a valuable tool when it comes to learning more about how
planes fly. Search online and you can easily find an in-depth
explanation of the principles and mechanics behind flight and why
planes won’t just randomly drop out of the sky. You can watch videos of
planes being tested in extreme conditions and read all about the
measures that are in place to make flying safe and the new developments
that make aviation safer every year.
Of course, it’s hard to remember all this when your heart is
pounding a million times per second and your palms are dripping with
sweat. The most useful bits of information I try to remind myself are
Think of turbulence like a car hitting potholes, or like a boat on
rough waters. There’s lots of shaking, but the plane was built to
withstand it. It is extremely unlikely that turbulence would ever bring
a plane down. Even in very rough turbulence, the plane is most likely
only moving up and down in the sky by a few feet. The biggest danger in
turbulence is that an unrestrained passenger will be injured, so when
the flight attendants tell you to buckle up - do it. To get an accurate
picture of the severity of the turbulence, put a half-full glass of
water on your tray table and notice how much it moves. Even if the
turbulence feels bad, the water probably won’t even come close to
spilling. I also take heart in knowing that because of the route the
plane takes when flying over the Atlantic, we’re actually flying over
land the majority of the time.
Keep Things in Perspective
I live in Chicago and have one of the nation’s busiest airports
nearby, so every day I see and hear several dozen planes overhead.
Around the world, close to 25,000 planes fly each day, which amounts to
nearly 10 million a year. When compared with those figures, the number
of incidents that do happen is minuscule.
Pilots and flight attendants take to the skies hundreds of times a
year - they wouldn’t fly on a near-daily basis if they felt it was
risky. When my plane begins to lift off, I remind myself of these
numbers and think of how many planes have already taken off and landed
safely in the last few hours. If they’ve all been fine, I reason I will
Your Flight Attendant is Your Friend
you are uneasy about flying, let the flight attendant know. I’ve been
on several flights where the attendant then went out of his or her way
to reassure me when we hit mild turbulence.
Having the flight attendant remind me that everything is okay and
seeing that he or she is completely calm helps me realize that
turbulence is routine and we are not in danger. Don’t be embarrassed to
inform the attendant of your fears. Many people are fearful of flying;
there is no reason to be ashamed.
Medical Help and Alternative Therapies
Sometimes fear is a physical reaction that no amount of rational
thought can control. Knowing that flying is safe doesn’t stop my heart
from pounding and panic from setting in when we take off. If all else
fails, talk to your doctor. Some people have found hypnosis to be very
helpful in retraining themselves to be less fearful, while others
My doctor prescribed Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication, and it has
made a huge difference. I still get nervous but the physical symptoms
have significantly decreased. There are some dangers involved in taking
anti-anxiety drugs while flying, so be sure to only take prescribed
medication and don’t mix it with alcohol.
Stay Busy and Choose Your Seat Wisely
people only experience fear during take-off and turbulence, while for
others the terror lasts for the duration of the flight. Even a short
hop can feel like a never-ending journey if you have nothing to take
your mind off your fear. Be sure to bring a full arsenal of distraction
like books, magazines, headphones or an iPod, or take advantage of the
in-flight entertainment system. On long-haul flights, the easiest way
to pass the time is to get some sleep. Bring the creature comforts that
will help you relax and fall asleep – a neck pillow, eye mask or soft
blanket. If you aren’t taking anti-anxiety medication, your doctor can
prescribe a sleeping aid or you can take some Tylenol PM to help you
sleep. Again, don’t mix drugs and don’t combine medication with alcohol.
When you can choose your seat, pick the spot that helps you best
deal with your fear. Some people like to have the window seat so they
can see what’s going on (and make sure the plane is still the
appropriate distance from the ground) while others prefer an aisle
seat. If they can’t see out the window, they can pretend they aren’t
35,000 feet in the air.
Face Your Fear
|John and Keturah on Flickr|
your fear head-on may help conquer it. Flight schools around the
country offer hands-on flight lessons during which an instructor will
explain all the mechanics of flying and walk you through a pre-flight
safety check. Students have the chance to control the plane during
take-off (with the instructor’s hands on the dual controls at all
times, of course) and perform simple maneuvers in the air.
My husband surprised me with a flight lesson for my birthday, and
while going up in the small plane was initially terrifying, by the end
of the flight I had calmed myself and even taken the controls. I don’t
know that it cured my fear, but I definitely think it helped. Seeing
all the preparation that goes into a flight and feeling the
responsiveness of the controls in a small plane gave me a greater
appreciation for the safety of commercial aircraft.
For some people, a fear of flying can never be conquered. But if you
follow these strategies, you may be able to control it. Flying may not
be pleasant, but it shouldn’t be a nightmare that keeps you from
exploring the world.