How to Cope With a Fear of Flying
Newsflash: I Hate Flying.
Don’t get me more. Travel is my life. I spend hours researching faraway lands. UNESCO sites. Quirky neighborhoods. Hostels and couchsurfing. Street food. And yes, bookstores. … But wait. How long is the flight to my final destination? 11 hours? …. damn it.
Wondering why I hate flying? I’m terrified of it. I wasn’t always afraid of flying. Actually, when I was a child, I loved turbulence because the sudden bumps reminded me of carnival rides. Then, back in May 2012, my family and I boarded a flight to London. Roughly an hour passed before crazy turbulence hit, striking out of nowhere. Overhead compartments sprung open. My mom’s wine slammed into the ceiling. My butt came at least two inches out of my seat. Thank god I wore a seatbelt.
The turbulence lasted ten minutes. I don’t think it was “severe” turbulence (at not least by the FAA’s definition), but it was enough for me to dig my nails into the armrests for the remaining 5+ hours of my flight. The pilot announced an apology after we safely landed at Heathrow.
The rest is history. The flight that made me terrified of flying had lasting consequences on my life, to say the least.
For me, flying is torture. I experience anticipatory anxiety if I know a travel day is approaching. However, I try not to allow my fears take full control of my life. So I still fly – sometimes for 9 hour flights – and often I travel alone.
It’s not easy and it’s not fun. But, like I said, travel is my life, and I refuse to let my fear of flying stop me!
Here are a few suggestions for how to cope with a fear of flying. Heck, even if you just hate flying, I still want you to read this post and improve your pesky travel days.
I hope these suggestions help you kick some major butt too! I believe in your strength.
Soul Searching and Your Fear of Flying
A fear of flying is common. Many sources suggest 20-30% of adults feel some apprehension about boarding a plane and taking to the skies. However, a fear of flying is a very individual phobia. You need to ask yourself why you are scared to fly. There are so many common flying fears. So. Many.
Do you fear a plane crash? Are you claustrophobic? Do you worry about terrorism? Are you prone to motion sickness? For me, the fear stems from a lack of control. The sooner you know the reason(s) behind your phobia, the better equipped you are to address it.
Aviation Fear and Damned Statistics
Research the cold hard facts. Airsafe is an excellent resource that compiles statistics for each carrier and airplane model. For example, let’s pretend I’m flying with United in a few days and experience awful anticipatory anxiety. According to airsafe, United has had 21.9 million flights from 1970-2005. How many serious incidents? Only 11 out of those 21.9 million. The last major incident was 9/11/2001. These numbers plainly show that commercial airlines are extremely safe.
Yet my fear of flying is irrational, and I suspect the same for many others. Numbers may work to soothe nerves on the ground, but they don’t help me much on a rough ride through thick clouds.
Still, statistics are a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to figuring out how to cope with a fear of flying.
Choose Your Seat Ahead of Time
If you can, don’t allow the airline to pick your seat for you. Trust me, you’ll probably sit in the very last row near the bathrooms. A lot of major carriers allow you to select and reserve your seat online for free. I always choose an aisle seat close to the wings. It’s been proven that turbulence is less forceful over the wings. Use seatguru for assistance on selecting the best seat.
Fearful flyers need to plan ahead to avoid extra bump trouble in the air.
This tip may not work for all of you.
Random noises frighten nervous fliers. Prior to take-off, my mind always asks if the engine is supposed to sound like a dentist drilling a cavity or not. Sometimes, before a long flight, I watch airplane clips on youtube to re-accustom myself to common sounds heard on-board. This reinforces that planes are supposed to make noise, and those weird buzzy groans at take-off aren’t ominous.
Therapy can also address the big pressuring question: why am I scared to fly?
A smart and savvy therapist is worth his/her weight in gold, and can teach you how to cope with a fear of flying – even as soon as Day #1.
Take A Class for Your Flying Fear
Many airports and carriers offer “fear of flying” classes for customers. One day I hope to take a class for my anxiety. Don’t be shy about booking yourself into one of these classes! Again, a fear of flying is super duper common, and you’ll be surrounded by other brave souls who finally want to kick their anxiety forever.
Here is an example of a British Airways course:
Face Your Fear of Turbulence
I hate turbulence. If humans magically controlled air patterns and could offer a guaranteed “turbulence free” flight for $200, I would hand over the extra cash with zero regrets. Alas, we cannot control nature.
Facing a crippling fear of turbulence is complicated and more difficult than it sounds. I always tell myself bumps are harmless, but forget logic once I’m in the clouds. Shudder.
Check out turbulence forecast for a rough (ha) idea about conditions. This site is not 100% accurate and depending on the person, could possibly ramp up anxiety. For me, I like having a rough idea of what to expect in the air. The “fear of flying” courses also discuss turbulence in great detail if that’s a specific concern of yours.
Does Alcohol Help Fear of Flying?
Now I do NOT recommend getting drunk. If you are visibly intoxicated, the airline has every right to deny you from boarding. Plus 35,000 feet in the air is not an ideal place to puke all the contents of your stomach.
However, one or two glasses of wine may relax you for the duration of the flight. If your fear is mild, a drink could quickly calm your nerves. I won’t judge if alcohol is helps you cope with a fear of flying. Do whatever you need to.
Anti-Anxiety Medication for Planes
If you’re unable to reduce your anxiety, then visit a doctor and request a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. Xanax (Alprazolam), Ativan (Lorazepam), and Valium (Diazepam) are a few of the prescribed drugs given to fearful flyers.
Most doctors are very understanding toward fearful flyers. My doctor does everything in his power to help me.
Remember: this fear is common. Your doctor has heard everything from other patients. I promise.
In addition, don’t feel embarrassed about taking medication to fly. If pills help you fulfill your traveling dreams, then they are worth every penny and no one should judge you.
Note: Be responsible. Do not mix any medication with alcohol. For example, Xanax is extremely safe if appropriately used, but serious complications occur if you throw alcohol into the mix. Also, if this is your first time taking any drug, try it at home prior to your flight. These pills affect everyone differently so it’s important to know if your body can handle the dosage.
Fearful Flyers: Don’t Suffer In Silence
Don’t allow your flying fear to embarrass you. Learning how to cope with a fear of flying means learning how to speak up when you need help and love from people around you.
As for me, upon boarding the plane, I immediately mention my anxiety to the flight attendants. They are always responsive to my concerns. For instance, on a flight to Dublin, we hit a patch of rough air. The flight attendant immediately came to my seat and told me that “turbulence is uncomfortable but not unsafe.” Her words reassured me that everything was fine.
Reach out for help. You’re not alone.
Are you afraid to fly? How do you cope with a fear of flying? What are YOUR tips for fearful flyers?
For more comprehensive information, check out my 43 tips for fearful flyers and start traveling like you’ve always wanted to.