Fighting the Fear of Flying

According to some estimates, an astonishing 1 in 4 Americans claims to have some kind of fear of flying. I am definitely one to admit my aviophobia, which comes as a surprise to many. Because I am a frequent flyer, how could I possibly be afraid of flying? Or perhaps my fear isn’t very strong because I go through with it so often, right? Wrong. I have a white-knuckle, gripping fear of being in a chair 30,000 feet up in the sky, and personally, I can’t understand why others don’t. You who don’t have the slightest fear of flying, maybe YOU are the crazy ones.

This morning the news reported that a flight attendant was critically injured after hitting the ceiling so hard that a panel actually cracked. A baby was thrown from its parents’ arms but “landed safely” two rows away. TWO ROWS AWAY. This was a result of some severe turbulence the plane experienced on a flight from Denver to Billings, Montana. Billings, Montana! That one hits close to home, and news like this always deepens my fear of flying.

Fear of Flying

How to “Overcome” the Fear of Flying

So what can we possibly do to curb our debilitating fear of flying? There are many opinions and helpful suggestions out there, but you’ve got to figure out what actually works (or helps the most) for you. When it comes down to it, I don’t think there is anything that could rid me of my fear of flying, which ultimately comes from my gut-wrenching fear of heights. For me, it’s not so much the fear of flying or even being trapped, but a fear of falling, helpless and hopeless, out of the sky should something catastrophic happen.

There are a few things that I have found to help me “stay calm” while strapped into a chair in a small space 30,000 feet above the solid ground (or ocean to make matters worse). I hope at least one of the following tips can help you attempt to stay calm as well.

Reach For the Wine

If the pilot announces expected turbulence, it is worth it for me (even as a budget traveler) to prepare by purchasing a glass of wine to calm my nerves through the turbulence. If you need two glasses, buy two. It helps. I love Alaska Airlines because they offer free wine and beer, not to mention refills.

Avoid Stressful Movies or Music

World War Z just didn’t cut it on my last overseas flight. The chaos in the movie was making the turbulence much worse, my stress levels were high and I couldn’t handle it. I switched programs to watch Monsters University for a second time. Sorry, monsters, you really aren’t scary. I have a soothing playlist on my iPod that I often listen to on planes to try to sleep, but I will often resort to this playlist during turbulence as well.

Look at the People Around You

When I’m tensed up, hands white-knuckled around my armrests during turbulence, I make a point to look around at the other passengers. Most of the time, I am the only one “over-reacting” and this is incredibly helpful for me. Sometimes others are peacefully sleeping, reading, or watching movies without the slightest bit of concern about the turbulence. The flight crew is often still serving drinks or chatting at the back of the plane. It’s as if I’m the only one feeling the turbulence. The calm on the faces of others is very comforting. Take note, those of you who aren’t afraid of flying, be the rock for the rest of us.

Make Friends with a Pilot

This is the single best thing I’ve ever done to curb my fear of flying. My friend Ryan is about to get his pilot’s license and I’ve had the opportunity to pick his brain and listen to him explain why flying is so “safe.” He laughs at my fear, which makes me feel better. He tells me why turbulence is nothing to be afraid of, and that a plane won’t simply fall out of the sky unless something really catastrophic happens (which it could… I’ll never forget the news about the Air France fight in 2009). When I’m 30,000 feet up in my chair in the sky going through bad turbulence, I listen to Ryan’s voice in my head, telling me that what’s going on is nothing to fear. It helps. I have plans to have this conversation at least yearly with Ryan in attempt to keep it fresh in my mind so I can access it when I need it most.

Free wine on Alaska Air
Enjoying free wine on Alaska Air

What Works for You?

When 1 in 4 Americans admit to having some sort of fear of flying, we know two things are true: 1) that this affects a LOT of people, and 2) that the fear is going to vary from person to person.

I have determined that mine is more a fear of falling from upwards of 30,000 feet in the sky, but I know others suffer more from the claustrophobic element of being trapped in the cabin of a plane, or otherwise.

What is your fear of flying about? How do you combat it and do you have any tips to share that could help the rest of us? Share in the comments!

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9 replies on “Fighting the Fear of Flying”

The music thing is huge. I too have a “chillax” mix on my iPod to help me when flying both in and out of my windy city, as well as when there’s turbulent skies. I find reading a book hard to concentrate on when I’m stessed during a flight, but a magazine like People or even SkyMall helps me out. I don’t have to do anything but look at the pictures and read short blurbs about mindless topics. While the Kardashians and hair regrowth helmets may be ridiculous, the distraction works most of the time!

I am one of those who doesn’t have the faintest fear of flying, to the point that some turbulence is an exciting and welcome distraction from the monotony of a 8 hour+ flight. I have a friend like you though. She’s calm enough once she’s in the air but really stresses during take-off and landing (I guess that’s kind of sensible because those are the most dangerous parts of a flight!) We were on a plane together once when the landing gear made an awful grinding shuddering sound (making the plane vibrate) when it was raised and lowered and she did not cope well with that. I even found it mildly disconcerting, although once I realised it was the landing gears (because it wasn’t immediately apparent what was making the sound) I wasn’t concerned.
Unfortunately I think this year’s Malaysia Airlines events will have done nothing for people’s fear of flying (probably making it worse for some!) I actually feel bad for MA because while their handling of the MH370 incident was disastrous, we don’t actually know for sure if it was even their fault (apparently investigations are currently heading back in the direction of a suicidal pilot) and MH17 certainly wasn’t their fault at all (despite other people saying it was their fault for flying through that airspace, their flight path had been approved by the european air control body, so I absolve them of too much responsibility).

You’re right, the news does not help at all. You can’t think of those things, you have to think about the statistics, that flying is safer than driving and those types of things. Wine helps too…

haha. Then again we get told not to drink too much alcohol on flights because it’s dehydrating 😉 In fact I read yesterday some airlines are thinking of removing alcohol all together to avoid disruptive drunk passengers!… you’d think they’d just limit the amount people can drink :-/

I definitely don’t approve of disruptive drunk passengers, but cutting it out altogether would NOT be good for people like me! Just let me have my glass of wine when I need it (and pronto)!

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