Common Flying Fears and How to Confront Them

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common flying fears | anxiety | fear of flying | planes | travel hacks | travel inspirational | motivational | mental health

How to Avoid Common Flying Fears

Yikes, common flying fears, do you say?

Sometimes it’s not enough to say, “I’m scared to fly,” because it’s too broad of a fear to immediately fix. It’s difficult to address a big problem. Even as a teacher, supposedly a “natural problem solver,” I still hesitate to tackle “large and vague” problems. I get overwhelmed, give up, and bake cookies or something. Not exactly inspirational, huh?

Truthfully, it’s much, much, much easier to break down your fear into bits and pieces. This gives you the ability to discover what specifically bothers you. Then you can take appropriate steps to confront the issue and resolve it.

A fear of flying isn’t cool if you like to travel. I mean, being scared of planes isn’t ideal regardless, but it’s reeeeeeeally sucks for those of us who collect passport stamps, haha. You feel as if you’re going into battle every time you step into an airport. To tell you the truth, even seeing the train platform at Newark International Airport gives me an uneasy feeling. It stinks.

However, don’t “lock away your fear” in the far recesses of your mind. Denial only makes matters worse. You deserve better especially if you love travel as much as I do, which is a hell of a lot. I’d be incomplete without it.

To help you, I’ve broken down “fear of flying” into six different categories. Think about which fear you relate the most to. Then mediate on ways you can actively address it.


common flying fears

1. I’m afraid of a terrorist attack.

Without a doubt, 9/11 changed air travel forever. And terrorist attacks are scary. They are random, unpredictable, stay in the news for weeks, and are just unpleasant to think about regardless of your political views. However, please remember the odds of a terrorist attack happening on a commercial plane are very low, minuscule actually. You’re way more likely to have a vending machine fall on you. The best thing you can do to address your fear is to stay aware of your immediate surroundings. Remind yourself of the low statistics. Go on an “information diet” to limit news about attacks.

If you truly feel uncomfortable, say if you see luggage unattended, then find security personnel to address your concerns. You’ll feel more “in control” that way, and help with safety at the same time. Just don’t “cry wolf.” I think you’re smart enough to know the difference. If you’re fixated on terrorist attacks, then it might also be worth speaking to a mental health professional about tackling your fear in a healthy, productive way.

common flying fears

2. I’m afraid of the plane’s engine failing.

Luckily I’m a lot more used to those “weird noises” at take-off and landing so I worry less about the plane’s engine dying. Haha, I was that annoying person who was scared of the landing gear! Okay. Engine failure. Remember plane’s engines are designed by the best companies. Think Rolls Royce. Your chances of experiencing catastrophic engine failure aren’t high. At all.

But let’s say the worst happens. Keep in mind a plane can glide a very, very, very long time without a working engine. Also commercial planes have multiple engines so even if one dies, the plane doesn’t lose altitude and a skilled pilot will ensure you land safely. My best advice is to remember that the professionals, namely pilots and maintenance crew, know a lot more about the inner workings of the plane than you do. Buy noise blocking headphones and don’t try to analyze the plane’s sounds. You’ll drive yourself insane for no good reason. And think about it. Your plane is a multi-million dollar piece of equipment. Do you honestly think any airline would risk skimming on maintenance and losing all that money? No way.

common flying fears

3. I’m afraid of the turbulence.

Turbulence anxiety absolutely stinks. Honestly, turbulence is my greatest enemy. I hate it. Absolutely hate it. I would pay an extra $100 for my ticket if the airline guaranteed I would not experience any turbulence on a flight. Ssh, I know that’s an impossible scenario, but you get the idea. The thing to remember here is that turbulence alone has never taken down a commercial plane. It’s normal and safe.

Pilots also monitor turbulence and will do whatever they can to stay out of rocky conditions for the passengers’ comfort, not because the bumps are “unsafe.” Honestly, I watch the wing in bumpy conditions. It barely bends and for me, seeing that is reassuring. It’s physical proof the plane cares a lot less about the air than I do! You can even speak to a flight attendant if you feel super uncomfortable on a rocky flight. They always have reassuring words and will even bring you hot tea. I can speak from experience. And remember: turbulence feels scarier than it is. It poses no threat. None. A bumpy road is more dangerous to your car.

common flying fears

4. I’m afraid of flying over water or at night.

Not a fan of flying over water? You’re not alone at all. I don’t know about you, but flying over water and/or night makes me feel… a little off. It’s not logical either. Just know the plane won’t suddenly crash because solid land isn’t underneath it. Planes can even land on water! Remember the amazing Hudson River pilot? He rocked that water landing. As for flying at night, close your window blinds and try to forget about it. The pilot can see everything just fine. I promise. If you’re flying to Europe, just remember that you’re always close to a land mass such as Canada or Greenland. Time actually spent over the Atlantic Ocean is very limited. Maybe close that GPS window on your seat back screen too.

common flying fears

5. I’m afraid of suddenly dying in a plane crash.

Okay, in my humble opinion, I think this fear is less about the plane itself and more about facing one’s fear of death, particularly unexpected death. It sucks but we’re all gonna die one day and can’t predict it. Personally, I enjoy Caitlin Doughty’s Youtube channel about accepting your own mortality. She’s helped my anxiety a lot!

And let’s say you have astronomically terrible luck and die in a plane crash. Remember it’s better to live in the moment and die doing what you love (travel) instead of slipping in the bath tub or something else lame. This is another fear that I recommend speaking to a licensed professional. Cognitive behavioral therapy can teach you coping mechanisms to solve your fixation on death.

Just don’t watch videos relating to crashes on Youtube. Don’t.

common flying fears

6. It’s not the plane, but I’m afraid of the lack of control.

Arghhh, I feel you here. I’m a control freak too. And trust me, you have zero control of what happens in the air. I mean, have you heard of Clear Air Turbulence? On second thought, don’t Google that crap.

I understand placing your safety into the hands of faceless strangers isn’t comforting. But think about it: would you rather fly the plane? For example, I know I get angry with other drivers. I can’t even imagine my “road” rage in the air, haha. All joking aside, try to remember the intense training pilots have to go through in order to fly for a major airline. They know what they’re doing waaaaaay more than you do. It’s essential you give up your perception of control. As for me, I always thank the flight crew and pilots when I disembark the plane. I don’t know why, but letting them know that I appreciate them taking care of me makes my control issues a little better. It humanizes the people in the cockpit.

common flying fears
Haha, winner.

You’re Not Alone in Your Fear of Flying

A lot of people have asked me why I travel all the time if planes make me so anxious. Why torture myself? Hmm.

Honestly I don’t think you should let fear run your life. It doesn’t matter if you’re afraid of spiders, heights, love, clowns, polyester, whatever. You need to shut fear down before it destroys your confidence. I live and breathe travel. If I picture my life without travel, I see a miserable existence. So I’m boarding that plane. I have no choice. And a lot of avid travelers feel the same way I do. You’re not alone. According to estimates, 25% of Americans experience some anxiety on a plane. Talk to someone! You’ll feel less isolated.

common flying fears

For More Information on Flying Fears

I’ve written, uh, a lot about being scared to fly. Please check out these other resources to kick your fear to the curb where it belongs.

How to Cope With a Fear of Flying

The Guide to Beating Anticipatory Flight Anxiety

6 Things Fearful Flyers Hate Hearing

Why I Still Travel Despite My Flying Fear

The Fearful Flyer’s Guide to Long Haul Flights

43 Tips for Fearful Flyers

The Ultimate Carry-On Guide for Fearful Flyers

Why Your Fear of Flying Isn’t Stupid

Are you afraid to fly? Which “category” do you fall into? What advice would you offer? As always, you can email or Tweet me for support. You got this, yo.