I have a confession to make. I’m a travel blogger with a fear of flying. I know, crazy, right? For around a week before I’m due to take-off, my anxiety level gradually rises and peaks on the day of the flight. By this point, my stomach is churning, my appetite has vanished and my finger nails are chewed to bits.
While externally I might look like a suave, calm, collected and super-cool travelling millennial, internally I’m a nervous wreck!
Despite this fear of flying, I still fly a lot. The payoff of travelling somewhere new, exploring new cities and neighbourhoods, meeting new people and sampling different cuisines is so great that I’m willing (and somehow able) to cope with the anxiety.
It’s hard to know exactly why I get into such a state, but if I had to narrow it down into a single reason, it would be this: I’m not terribly keen on dying horribly in a plane crash. It’s a legitimate reason and one shared, I assume, by just about everybody. It seems though that while most air passengers are able to deal with the thought of dying horribly in a fire ball in a sensible, rational manner, I struggle.
What have I done to control my fear of flying?
Over the course of my flying history, I have created a routine in order to help me reduce or manage my fear of flying. Each part of the routine helps me to feel more comfortable, and/or normalises the concept of flight. If you too are at all concerned by flying (even slightly), this post is for you, as it contains everything I do to overcome my fear of flying.
To make things as easy as possible, this post is split into two main parts; ‘Before Boarding‘ and ‘On-Board‘. Let’s start safely on the ground.
Pack a comfort kit in your hand luggage
Before you fly, think about the things that bring you the most comfort whilst at home. Make a note of these things and bring as many of them with you on your flight. The idea here is to have familiar stuff with you whilst on the plane. Perhaps think of it as recreating what it’s like to be curled up on the couch at home.
Here are some of the things I like to take with me when I fly:
- Hand Gel (less than 100ml of course)
- My favourite hoody
- Flight socks
Most of these are self-explanatory, but I’ll explain in more detail why each of these items are useful in the second part of the post.
Become an aerodynamics expert
Well, maybe becoming an expert is a bit too much to ask, but learning the basics of how planes get into the sky can be useful. Doing so can help to eliminate reasons for you to get worried. Questions like, ‘what was that noise?’, ‘why’s that happening?’ and ‘is that normal?’ are all answered the more you learn. As they say, knowledge is power!
The questions and answer website Quora is absolutely fantastic for this. There’s an active community of pilots, engineers and cabin crew answering questions from curious passengers, so if you have a question where you feel the answer might help with your fear of flying, don’t be afraid to sign-up and ask! It’s completely free!
Here are a few common questions that have received excellent, detailed answers.
- How do airplanes fly?
- What are some facts to make me believe that airplanes are safe, come rain, lightning or turbulence?
- Why do so few planes crashes occur?
The educated answers on these pages may not make your worries disappear completely, but they should help to lessen them.
Become a plane-spotter
If you take a personal interest in aircraft and airlines, the world of air travel becomes normalised and less mysterious. Luckily, it’s never been easier, nor more socially acceptable to become a plane nerd.
The FlightRadar24 app tracks almost all aircraft in the sky in real time, telling you where they are flying from/to, their altitude, their land speed and numerous other readings. Beware, it can get pretty addictive. I find myself curiously jabbing at my phone every time a plane flies over to find out where it’s going.
You can find FlightRadar24 online, in the iOS App Store and on Google Play.
Familiarise yourself with the entertainment options
Most of the major airline websites allow you to browse what’s on the in-flight entertainment system before boarding. Doing this, you’ll know exactly what to expect when you’re in your seat. I’ve always initially gone for comedy shows that bring me comfort such as The Big Bang Theory and The Office. I’ve seen all of the episodes several times before, but that’s the point. The familiarity helps to ease the anxiety and to alleviate my fear of flying.
Choose your seat carefully
Whichever seat you choose very much depends on what you think will bring you the most comfort. Some like the snugness and security of a middle seat. Some like a window seat for the views, while others enjoy the added control one gets from an aisle seat.
I always choose an aisle seat if I can get one. I find it reassuring to know I can get up whenever I like without disturbing anyone. I once took a flight from Doha to Hong Kong and was stuck in between two strangers. The person to my left in the aisle seat cocooned himself in so much, I felt trapped and increasingly anxious.
Another thing to consider when choosing your seat is the location. The consensus is that the rear of the plane is the bumpiest part of an aircraft (this Quora page explains why). I always try to get a seat on the wing as this is generally thought to be the most stable section. Bear in mind though that there’s not much of a view from a wing-side seat.
Get some sleep with the Trtl Travel Pillow
Wouldn’t it be lovely if you could just instantly fall asleep the moment you sit down and then wake up at your destination? Well, short of buying a first class ticket with a flat bed seat or taking a pill, sleeping in an economy seat is not an easy task.
In the past, I’ve tried getting some sleep on flights in order to make the journey pass by quicker. To help, I’ve tried two of those U-shaped neck pillows you commonly see in airports, one inflatable, the other full of beans. Since they’re so common, I expected them to be comfortable and to ease me to sleep. They didn’t. The inflatable one consistently deflated while the bean-filled variety made me feel like I was wearing a neck brace.
Thankfully, some former students of the University of Dundee have invented a clever alternative. The Trtl Pillow is a lightweight, super-soft, hypoallergenic fleece scarf with an internal neck support system hidden inside. Wearers simply wrap the scarf around their neck and affix the velcro to make it snug. The wearer is then able to lean their head to one side and feel completely comfortable and supported.
We’ve tried the Trtl Pillow out ourselves and can attest that it is indeed very comfortable, significantly more so than any U-shaped pillow. We’ll definitely be taking them with us on our next trip.
Wear a hoody
Endure the stigma attached to hoodies and wear one to bring comfort, warmth and privacy. I always pack my hoody in my cabin baggage for these reasons.
Take frequent toilet breaks
I don’t know why, but whilst in the air, I always feel better when I’m on my feet. Perhaps I think I’m less likely to feel turbulence when I’m walking about. Perhaps it also brings me a sense of control.
Visiting the toilet to freshen up or going for a stretch and a mini-workout is a good excuse to go for a wander. Depending on the aircraft, you might also be able to wander up/down to the next level or browse the self-service snack bar (airlines such as Qantas have these).
In any case, going for a wander might help if you’re feeling anxious.
Keep clean with hand gel
Banish those concerns about aircraft hygiene and pack a small bottle of hand gel in your hand luggage (ensure you adhere to baggage restrictions). According to reports, aeroplanes aren’t the most hygenic places, therefore such precautions are essential to preventing you from catching something grim from your fellow passengers.
This is about reducing any other concerns you might have so that you can focus on your enjoyment of the flight. A little can go a long way when it comes to overcoming your fear of flying.
Wear your favourite slippers
Do you have a favourite pair of slippers? If so, take them with you. The association of curling up on the sofa in front of the TV with your slippers on will be triggered if you wear them when onboard and may bring you some extra comfort.
Take a blindfold and your favourite headphones
Airlines on long distance routes normally supply blindfolds, ear-plugs and headphones, but they’re always pretty flimsy and cheap. For familiarity, take your own with you.
In order to use your own headphones with in-flight entertainment systems, you might need to buy an adapter. These are available on eBay and don’t cost very much.
Blindfolds are always available in stores or online. The more you spend, the better.
Turbulance? Don’t panic, watch the cabin crew
Turbulence is just part of the flying experience and you should expect it to happen on every flight. That’s why you’re told to keep your seatbelt fastened whenever you’re seated. It’s worth keeping in mind though, it’s considered by airlines to be an issue of comfort rather than a safety issue. Therefore, you really shouldn’t be concerned about a bit of occasional bumpiness.
The cabin crew experience turbulence frequently, so watching their reactions can bring some relief. For them, it’s just a normal part of their work day, so watching their nonchalant responses should remind you that you’re perfectly safe.
Planes are designed to withstand extremely high levels of turbulence, much more than they do under normal circumstances, so sit back and try to relax.
Wear flight socks, particularly on long-haul flights
The sock-making industry had a field day when deep-vein thrombosis was discovered. Chances are slim, but I always wear a pair of flight socks whenever I fly long distances. It’s one less thing to worry about, so get yourself a pair.
Eat everything offered to you (and ask for more)
Eating brings everyone comfort, so eat as much as you can get. It’s worth finding out whether your airline provides extra snacks on request. I once discovered Singapore Airlines provide free Cup Noodles on request and I therefore made numerous requests for them on a flight to Sydney. Other airlines provide complimentary self service snack bars while others hand out bags of food after the main meal is served.
By the way, don’t be afraid to ask for more if you’re hungry. I’ve had great success in the past when I’ve asked for more, particularly when it comes to deserts. There are normally leftovers and the crew are normally happy to get rid of them.
If in doubt, ask!
There’s no harm in talking to the cabin crew if you’re feeling worried. As seasoned fliers, they’ll be able to give you tips and advice. Their calm attitude will also help to normalise the situation. Either hit the call button above you or get to your feet and find someone. They’ll be pleased to help you, particularly if you tell them you have a fear of flying.
Enjoy the views from the window
Even if you’re sitting in an aisle seat, make sure you look out of the window (just lean across if you have to), particularly during take-off and landing.
Take off is the most worrying part of a flight for me, but I try to look out the window and the sheer spectacle of seeing the ground fall away offers an unexpected distraction from my fear of flying.
During the cruising stage, skies are blue and the clouds are bright, white and fluffy. It never fails to be impressive and always makes enduring the anxiety worthwhile.
Landing is the best part for me (as you might expect). Seeing the ground arrive after even the shortest of flights brings very welcome relief.
Keep in mind, huge jet aircraft have been flying for decades
The first Boeing 747 commercial passenger flight took off in 1969. That’s over 40 years ago! Since then, technology and safety has improved significantly. If a massive passenger jet could fly safely around the world back in the sixties, it’s highly likely they can do the same now in a much safer fashion.
Plan what you’re going to do on arrival
It always helps if you justify why you’re doing something. Whilst you’re in the air, see if there are any articles on your destination in the in-flight magazine. Occasionally, in-flight entertainment systems also have ebooks or tv shows on a variety of destinations, so have a click around.
As a fail safe, make sure you keep your guide books in your hand luggage so you can make some plans.
In Conclusion: Don’t be ruled by your fear of flying
In this guide, I’ve covered a wide variety of tips and suggestions for overcoming a fear of flying. Ultimately though, the most important piece of advice I can impart is that you shouldn’t allow your fear to determine whether or not you travel. Travel opens doors, builds relationships, expands your mind and is good for the soul and you therefore shouldn’t deny yourself these opportunities.
Not all of the tips in this guide will be useful to you. Indeed, you might end up trying all of the advice in this post and still find that your fear of flying is holding you back. The key component to overcoming a fear of flying is inside you. You’ve got to want to beat it! Your desire to see the world has got to be all encompassing and has to rule your decision to book those flights and get in the sky.
I hope you’ve found this guide useful and I hope all of your forthcoming flights are safe, comfortable and enjoyable. Happy travels!
Did I miss anything? Do you have any tips or advice for fellow travellers? Also, have you overcame a fear of flying? How’d you do it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Matt lives in the UK and is the editor of Here To Travel. He’s someone who will try anything once, particularly if there’s an opportunity to take some photos, shoot some video and write about it.