Overcome your fear of flying
- Identify your particular fear – Is it the noises, sensations, or lack of control?
- Read about the plane and why it makes the noises
- Have faith in the airline
- Have a plan – Always keep yourself busy
- If at any moment you are worried, look at the crew.
How can you overcome your fear of flying? Firstly, I used to be afraid of flying. There, I’ve said it. I know, it’s hard to understand that somebody who loves travelling being afraid of flying. I used to cry when we took off. It was so embarrassing in some ways. But, I was not alone.
Up to 1 in 10 people have a fear of flying.
And I was one of those people.
Some Psychologists say that a fear of flying is not irrational.
It is a rational fear! Even though the chances of something happening are small, the possibility exists. And, I think, we tend to deal with fear in a fight or flight response, being trapped in a metal tube at 36,00ft narrows down the options of our fight or flight instinct! You feel trapped!
Denial of fear is not a rational response!
To explain, if you have a fear of snakes and you live in a country with a lot of poisonous snakes, that wouldn’t really be an irrational fear, would it? Even though the chances of being bitten are tiny, the possibility exists.
Likewise, the fear of a plane crashing is incredibly small but the possibility still exists. To deny that fear is irrational!
Yes, the possibility of a plane crash exists, but it is extremely rare! Statistically, the odds are a plane will crash every 1.2 million flights. With odds of dying in a plane crash are one in 11 million. You actually have more chance of becoming the Prime Minister of the UK, the odds for that are only 1 in 10 million!
In 2016, 325 people died in 19 air crashes worldwide.
In 2017 no jets crashed in passenger service anywhere in the world.
The airline industry is getting safer all the time. Conversely;
About 450 people die from falling out of bed in the US alone each year.
Do you have a fear of falling out of bed?
No, me neither.
However, knowing all the facts and figures didn’t help me!
And I doubt it helps you.
We all know in the back of our minds that flying is the safest form of travel. But still, my fear of flying persisted. I had to get over my fear of flying quickly because it was such a problem. Also, it was not getting any better.
For me, I found the real bowel knotting terror when taking off and landing. This I think was twofold. Firstly, there are a lot of sensations, movements of the plane as it accelerates down the runway and strange movements as it climbs and bank. Secondly, I’d heard it was the time at which most accidents occur.
When we were in flat level flight it was bearable, but only just! And even then I had to be pouring Vodka down my neck in great quantities just to cope!
So, how did I do it? And how can you overcome your fear of flying?
To Overcome your fear of flying, learn about your fear.
Why are you afraid of flying? For me, this was the starting point, the key to understanding my fear.
Is it being in a small tin tube hurtling along at 35,000ft?
What if the wings fall off?
What are all the noises and whats happening?
Why does it feel like its falling soon after take off?
Is it because of a lack of control?
Is it Turbulence that has you worried?
Once you have identified your fear or fears, you can start to overcome them. Find out what is your trigger – what starts the feelings of anxiety? Learning what starts your feelings of terror and panic makes it a lot easier to deal with them and switch them off.
What helped me?
I had a big list of what frightened me about flying.
- Fear of heights
- Feelings of claustrophobia
- Unfamiliar noises
- Bad feelings and sensations as the plane moved
- Learn how flying works and challenge your anxiety with facts!
- It’s just not natural, dammit!
To Overcome your fear of flying, let me list the things that helped me and see if they are appropriate for you.
Treat it as a game to win
Yeah, on face value, you may have a hard time believing this one! But, let me explain if I may! You have to build the right mindset and proceed from there. Put the energy into this as you would learning a new instrument or language. I certainly found this was easier than either of those two!
Once you see the process and some results of treating your fears this way, it will help. It did me! And as you see results you’ll be spurred on to new achievements.
Business Class Or Economy
Flying in business class helped. For me, this was not a status thing although being treated like royalty helps. For example, sitting up the front near the driver meant I would get a drink pretty quickly after taking off and on long-haul flights, a welcome glass of something when I get on board. Additionally, I didn’t feel quite so penned in, I had more space around me.
Notably, the cabin crew are more attentive in business class and gave me less time to worry about my fear.
If flying economy, I used to get an aisle seat. This also gave me the illusion of more space with the added bonus of being further away from the window! My solution is to withdraw into myself and distance myself from the physical feelings and sensations around me.
However, some people with flying phobias want to sit near the window to give them a frame of reference. Some of course like the middle seat where they can grip the armrests like your life depended on it. (Yup, been there, done that!)
You can’t always fly business class but this is where airline loyalty and frequent flyer programs can help.
Frequent Flyer Programs
Gaining status and points with an airline increase your chance of upgrades. Using one of the main partnerships worldwide can help. Your choices will be dictated to you by your location. For me, it was the One-World Alliance because being based in the UK, British Airways is my carrier of choice. I trust them.
Find an airline YOU trust.
That makes for a huge difference when helping you overcome your fear of flying. I still only fly on a couple of Airlines. BA and Qatar Airways are used on 95% of my flights. I have used them and trust them and I can’t stress enough how strongly that feeling of trust is important!
The feeling of not being in control
This can be an odd one to quantify as generally, you are ok in the passenger seat in a car aren’t you? Part of the reason is you don’t know personally who is flying the plane and in charge. Also, you have a dependency on that person, as you cannot fly the plane. You are being asked to trust someone you have never met with your life.
If you suffer from this like I did, all sorts of things are going through your mind. What are they doing up front in the cockpit? Are they paying attention?
Well, the good news is;
Pilots go through a lot of training to see who is suitable and who is not. Then to become the Captain, they have to go through many more courses and have to have many hours of experience. The person flying the plane is a very experienced and highly trained professional.
And don’t forget the co-pilot who is also a very experienced highly trained professional. There are two sets of eyes and many warning systems on modern planes to alert the pilot and crew to any problems.
And the even better news is;
All pilots must keep current, that usually means more training and tests every six months! All commercial pilots must constantly refresh their skills!
Another thing to bear in mind is that these people have families too and they have as much interest in having a safe flight as you and indeed everybody else does on the plane.
Another top tip
If you are worried about a particularly sudden or strange noise, a bump or indeed anything, look at the cabin crew. In times of problems or emergency, you will see it in their faces to a greater or lesser extent. Because human beings are generally not that good at hiding emotions in a crisis. 99% of the time after an unexpected noise (to you) they will have heard it 100’s of times before.
Also, don’t lose sight of the fact that they are trained professionals too. They are not just glorified waiters and waitresses. Your safety and that of the aircraft is their primary concern. Getting you a second glass of wine is not. They have sensor boards they monitor and readouts and they can soon determine if there is a problem or not.
Keep your mind occupied
Firstly, this is why my bear started coming with me. Yes, I have a travelling bear. He started out as an emotional crutch on flights to help with my fears. Nowadays, he just comes with me to enjoy the ride.
Another key point;
Which helped me, was that I always told the crew when I got on the plane that I was afraid of flying. That way I would get a bit extra support. And every little helps. Most crews will deal with you sympathetically.
I still have a drink in my hand, as can be seen above! Yes, it looks like orange juice but the small bottle of champagne in the right of the picture gives away that it is actually a Bucks Fizz. Just another step in the fight to overcome your fear of flying.
However, with this fear of flying tip, it is best to know yourself. The odd glass of wine helps me relax but if it peps YOU up, it’s not the best thing to help. If camomile tea is your relaxing drink of choice, take a couple of T-Bags in your carry on luggage and get some hot water and a cup of the cabin crew.
If you feel the need to see a doctor and get him to prescribe something, do it! Hey, whatever helps get you through. I would think it’s best not to mix alcohol and prescription medicines though, unless you want to see unicycling Giraffes!
All these things used to help me, but I still wasn’t there yet.
The turning point
Then one day a crew member on a British Airways flight told me about a great book, Flying with Confidence. That is where the change started. Click on the link to get it from Amazon. I can’t recommend this book highly enough!
What I liked about this book was the explanation by a pilot of what all the noises were, what the sensations were and what was happening. I used to hate that feeling of falling soon after takeoff accompanied by the drop in engine noise. Is it going to stall? Are we about to fall out of the sky? No, this book had all the answers and explained everything simply and clearly. This book really helped me and I hope it will help you to overcome your fear of flying.
This is a book by British Airways, written by one of their most experienced pilots, that they use in their fear of flying course. I’m told the course is very good. I’ve never been on it as I could see the progress I’d made just by reading the book. This is mainly because I don’t do well in groups. My fears are not something I want other people to see in me!
To be honest I have never read the second part of the book, the one about the psychology of it all. That’s how good the first part of the book is! It is written by one of their Aircraft Captains, one with thousands of hours flying experience.
To be sure, my problem was lack of control and what all the sensations and noises were. Once I understood that a bit better, I felt a bit happier. I am a science type guy, I need to see empirical evidence and get my information from trusted sources.
Anxiety Thrives on Ignorance
The way I see it is that my anxiety thrived on my own ignorance. I didn’t know what all the noises were. And were they normal noises? The whole ‘what if’ plays through your mind, but that’s just your own imagination at work. Furnished with the facts in this book of what was happening and what the noises were, greatly reduced the feelings of anxiety and panic.
Take Off and Landing
What I have found that helps me is watching music videos during takeoff and landing. Whether you are sitting in Economy or Business Class, whether you have IFE (in-flight entertainment) or not, there is always a way to watch a video. If you are sitting in Economy, use a bag that they make you put liquids in at security and hang it on the back of the seat with your phone in. With the headphones plugged into the phone and in your ears, you will be able to hear it and see it.
Why is this such a breakthrough?
Or, how will this overcome your fear of flying? This is all part of keeping the mind busy on something else. The earphones will keep you from hearing noises. The fact you are looking at the screen means you can detach yourself from reality a bit. Also, as you are looking at the screen you won’t notice any movements the plane makes so much. Your focus will be on the screen.
What Happens during take off?
Take off happens many times a day all over the world and it is normal procedure for all the pilots and crew. The aircraft is actually at its happiest when it is in the air. Below, is an extremely good video of seeing the take-off process from the pilots’ point of view and it also has explanatory notes on the screen of what is happening. This is all part of the learning about your fear and finding out what happens.
After reading and learning all about the procedures, it was repetition. I would take a flight at least once a month to various places. And I’d keep doing it. Things gradually got easier and easier.
The more I knew about the aircraft procedures and the more I understood what was happening helped massively.
To clarify, I still don’t sit by the window but I will look out of it. My fear of flying never stopped me from travelling but it made it extremely frightening and unenjoyable. But it has made it so much easier to travel now I have got over it, at least for the most part.
As can be seen above, I can now even look out of the Window!
I was even relatively happy on the longest flight in the world, 17 1/2 hours between Auckland and Doha. As I said before, I don’t think it will ever be my favourite pastime but the fact that I don’t have to cram 6 vodkas down my neck means I can appreciate a decent wine or two in the lounge before I board the plane to go on my next adventure.
Turbulence – A few tips and info
If you don’t like turbulence, there are somethings you can do to help.
- Sit over the wings of the aircraft
- Always wear your seat belt
- Choose a flight that is earlier in the day
If you sit over the wings, the feeling of turbulence will be lessened. This is due to you being closer to the centre of mass. You’ll know this makes sense if you have ever ridden on a bus. At the back of the bus, you’ll know the ride is bouncier and more uncomfortable, however, in the centre of the bus, it’s not as bad.
Always wear your seatbelt is fairly self-explanatory, just in case you encounter turbulence on a flight, you are already strapped in.
Fly earlier in the day can sometimes help.
In summer the sun heats the earth’s surface unevenly and that can lead to warm air rising, thus creating turbulence. There is a really good article on turbulence, written by a pilot, here.
Planes now are built to withstand much more G-force than they could possibly encounter in the air.
Overcome your fear of flying – Conclusions
To be honest, flying is still not my favourite pastime but I have overcome it. My love of seeing new places used to overcome my fear but I did need about 6 vodkas before getting on a plane.
If you can overcome your fear of flying, it will help you enormously. Flying is still not something to be enjoyed but now I can handle it a lot better. I even manage to look out of the window occasionally! That used to be such a big no-no. The key for me was to learn all about the noises and sensations and to understand what was going on.
I hope the how to overcome the fear of flying tips above will help you. But, I found, it was the book that did the majority of the work in helping with my fears. I hope it will do the same for you!
The Bears Top Tips
- Identify your particular fear.
- Read about the plane and why it makes the noises
- Find an Airline you trust.
- Always keep yourself busy while on board
- If at any moment you are worried, look at the crew.
For some more articles in my flying series; see below
British Airways and other airlines offer courses to help overcome your fear. See here
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