How to fly if you’re scared of flying

I am a terrified flyer. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed it, but, sadly, it’s something that life occasionally demands that you do. For some people, flying is a necessary evil; for me, it’s a month of plane crash nightmares, panic attacks, and asking my parents if they think the pilot could turn the plane around and land in some backwater town in regional Kazakhstan.

This year, I was faced with 14 lots of 10+ hour flights, and I wasn’t entirely sure how I would cope. To make sure I was able to spend Christmas with my family, I had to quickly come up with a few strategies to get myself on that plane (and keep calm while I was on it!). I’m no flight therapist, but I know that I was desperate to learn people’s strategies this year, in case anything could help me. Therefore, I thought I’d share a few of mine, in the slight chance that it might help someone.

1. Know your flight paths

Before booking a flight, have a look whether the flight path is one that suits you (you can search this on Flight Radar 24). Whether you don’t like flying over water, or mountains, or want to avoid certain areas, there will probably be a flight path out there to get you where you want to go, while avoiding the problem spots. I hate flying over water, so this helped me choose an over land flight path for more than half the way to Australia, and allowed me miss out the notoriously bumpy Bay of Bengal.

2. Research the noises

I used to freak out when I would hear the engines suddenly go full throttle for no apparent reason during turbulence. Or, similarly, when they used to just ‘cut out’. One day, I decided to crack down and actually learn what the noises are: I now know that this happens so that the plane can fly over or under the bumpy bits and allow for smoother service.

When you take off and land, there are a few noises that might scare you: with research, you’ll be able to identify them and understand why they occur. It is often the not knowing that scares people during flying, as it is all so foreign to anyone who doesn’t work in aviation. The knowledge of what’s going on can really help to ease any worries that simply stem from the unknown.

3. Research flying

My main fear during flying is turbulence: with some research, it really helped me settle my nerves. I learned what pilots do during turbulence, how the plane is built to withstand it, and what it actually is. I have also learned how to predict it: flying over mountains or islands, crossing the jet stream, flying from land to sea. This all helps to understand the normality of turbulence: it’s just like driving down a bumpy road.

As well, knowing how a plane flies has really helped my fear. I now understand what it takes to take off and land, as what keeps the plane up. Research has also helped me to understand air better, and not think of it as us flying through ‘nothing’.

4. Before you leave, check the turbulence

I discovered Turbulence Forecast last year, and it has been such a saviour to me. The website allows you to check the turbulence forecasts around the world, so you can anticipate any bumps that may occur. If you’re an avid ‘track the plane on the map’ person like me, it can also help to explain any diversions or loss/gain of height.

5. Get to the airport on time

Don’t get there late – the added stress of thinking you might miss the plane can just compound that which comes with flying and make for a very unpleasant experience. But don’t get there too early either – the airport is full of triggers for anxiety and too long spent in the lounge can make you incredibly stressed.

6. Relinquish control

This is perhaps the hardest one for me. One of the main reasons that I hate flying is because I feel so out of control. But honestly, understanding that the pilots know what they’re doing and want to get home safely too really helped me. Let them fly the plane, and you do your job and sit back and try to relax.

7. Focus on the positives

I love travelling, but I’m not keen on flying. Focusing on the positives of travelling is incredibly hard to do when you’re frightened, but thinking about the destination, not the journey, is a good way to reduce pre-flight stress. Think about seeing your family, or the fun you’re going to have on your holiday, or the important business you’re going to do while abroad.

8. Little extras

These probably don’t deserve their own subheading, but are some of my most useful tips:

  • Lift your feet off the floor during turbulence: most of the feeling of turbulence comes through your feet, so lifting them up can really help reduce the severity of it and keep you calm.
  • Breathing exercises: my favourite breathing exercise for when I’m feeling tense is the 4,5,6 method. I’m pretty sure I saw this on Tumblr in 2009, so it may not be accurate, but breathing in for 4, holding for 5, and releasing for 6, has really helped me. (Especially useful if you’re prone to panic attacks!)

So that’s all I have! You’ve bled me dry of all of my tips and tricks. If you have any more, definitely share them in the comments – you never know who you might help!

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