The Fear of Flying: How To Conquer Flight Anxiety
Afraid of flying? You are not alone. Millions of people suffer from panic attacks and crippling flight anxiety that prevents them from stepping foot in a plane unless they are two bottles of wine to the good. (Spoiler alert - that doesn’t actually help!).
The contributors to this article were each in the same boat once upon a time. Since then, they’ve learnt mechanisms and found products and medication that have helped them manage their fears effectively. Even so, it is unlikely any of them will say that flying is their most enjoyable pastime, but they can now say that flight anxiety doesn't determine where they visit or ruin their holidays.
Fear of Flying
Flying is so safe nowadays. What are you scared of? You have more chance of getting struck by lightning or being killed crossing the road. How many times have you heard this? Although true, these statements provide little solace to an individual plagued by flight anxiety. And like any other phobia, a fear of flying can come across as irrational to someone not suffering from the same fear.
“My wife is scared of water and loves flying, and I am the opposite”, said Lewis, the founder of Nomad Genie. “We share our fears and help each other to overcome them, so we don’t miss out on adventures that we both want to experience. As a couple a mutual understanding is vital”, he continued. “One person may want to do a skydive but the other is scared to look out the window from the 30th floor. We each have our fears and need support with them."
"Rather than undermining your partner who may be scared by something you are not, help them overcome that fear. Ultimately, it will benefit you both.”
Flight Anxiety - A Deal Breaker
With the above said, compromises can be made on most things - but with flying there aren't many other options out there if you want to honeymoon in Thailand, or travel around the world. You have to get on a plane.
Flying has opened the world up to almost anyone and is a phenomenon we are privileged to experience. It's never been more accessible, with some airlines offering eight-hour flights for less than £200 if you time it right!
What Causes The Fear of Flying?
As with any other phobia, the fear of flying can be attributed to many different factors, but clearly, it is not a natural feeling to be flying through the sky at 500mph and 35,000 feet altitude for most people. With that said, flying is proven to be one of the safest modes of transport around. Many phobias are caused by irrational fears and flying can be included in that group because of the sheer facts on safety. Thankfully, most people will not know anyone that has been involved in a fatal air crash. This can be attributed to the impressive safety standards and skilled personnel across the globe, together with state of the art technology in modern-day planes. You are more likely to get struck by lightning...twice... than for the plane that you are on to fall out of the sky. But that provides little comfort if you are the one experiencing flight anxiety.
If we approached everything with such fear of what might happen we would not even cross the road. Sure, we feel safer with two feet on the ground but the risks to our safety are far more considerable than when flying - fact. One thing that reinforced the safety aspect was when we lived close to a very busy airport in Asia. Watching numerous flights taking off every minute or two (literally) was very reassuring. People with a fear of flying tend to think that their plane is the only one up in the air. The anticipation, security, and wait on the runway before take off can help to make the whole experience feel quite isolating. In truth, there are far more than 100,000 flights taking place each day worldwide carrying millions of passengers.
Conquer Flight Anxiety
Watch What You Eat & Drink
Caffeine is wonderful when you are trying to focus or get 3 hours of work done in 30 minutes but for those with the fear of flying it can accentuate the fear and make you more alert to what is going on around you. Swap your large cappuccino for a camomile tea and keep yourself hydrated in the 24hours before flying. A hangover while flying is also not recommended, as you will have a natural anxiety to the alcohol withdrawal. If you are going on a longer flight where you may try and get some sleep cutting out alcohol and high sugars will definitely help you drift off.
Where To Sit On The Plane
There are lots of opinions on this but we’ve found sitting over the wings as good a place as any, and this is backed up by many pilots' opinions that seats around the wings can lead to less turbulence. If undecided, sit nearer the front rather than the back, but it is really whatever you are comfortable with. On a huge plane such as an A380 (soon to be taken out of service) you probably won’t notice much difference wherever you sit. The same goes for many large popular planes such as 777s that are designed for the safety and comfort of passengers. If the back seats were that uncomfortable they would be a much cheaper price - and they’re not! We have had bumpy flights sitting at the front and perfectly smooth flights sitting near the back. Once you find something you are comfortable with try and book that area each time you fly but be careful not to get too attached - or your anxiety will peak if you are unable to secure the area where you usually sit. It is important to note that no normal turbulence that a plane experiences will typically (if ever) cause it to crash.
Two Things to Buy Before You Fly
1. Sound Proof Headphones
Invest in the best sound proof headphones you can afford. They will be worth their weight in gold, and if you listen to music in your spare time or work on a laptop you’ll get plenty of use out of them even when you’re not flying. Sounds are one of the main things that makes flight anxiety worse in nervous flyers. Every little creak, the landing gears being put into action, or the air brakes (little manoeuvres from the wings) that help force the plane lower, can cause heavy heart rates and palms to sweat. With sound proof headphones not only will you dull out the drone from the engines and all other distractions, you will get to watch your movie in peace or even drift off to sleep with the tranquility. They make a HUGE difference, believe us.
In our opinion the best ones sub £500 are the Bose Quiet Comfort 35 II wireless smart headphones. You can pick up the originals for an even better price but they don’t have bluetooth capabilities. The new ones provide bluetooth and the necessary leads to use directly on plane entertainment systems etc. We are in no way affiliated with Bose and do not profit from any links in this article from Bose or anyone else.
2. Face Mask
Many airlines will provide blankets and face masks for longer flights where passengers are likely to want to take a nap. Our advice is to buy your own and remove any anxiety about the fact the airline may not provide them. A face mask, together with your soundproof headphones will equal a peaceful and calming environment in which to relax.
Wear Comfortable Clothing
Wearing loose and comfortable clothing and having a hoody or similar with you as backup if the air conditioning is a little cool or you want to get snuggled up for a nap is recommended. Tight denim is not conducive to a comfortable long haul flight so think loose and comfortable jogging bottoms as an example. Staying at a comfortable temperature will help you to manage flight anxiety.
Medication For Flight Anxiety
We are not recommending medication as a sole solution to flight anxiety but in some people it can mask the symptoms and help you get through the journey, especially on long haul flights.
We have tried various herbal remedies and found them to do very little for severe flight anxiety. For people with a fear of flying phobia without a doubt the number one in our opinion is Diazepam, also known as Valium. It is also the most potentially dangerous / addictive. Depending on the country you are flying to / from this hugely powerful and calming drug may even be illegal, so be sure to do your research. Our experience with Diazepam on long haul flights is taking a very small dose (half a tablet or as prescribed) before you fly will help calm any initial nerves. Taking another half tablet whilst eating the in flight meal adds to the effect and afterwards you should feel in a position to calmly watch a movie and hopefully drift off to sleep. We spoke to the doctor and did a few trial runs of different doses before flying to see the effects. Ultimately, having never slept on a plane before taking Diazepam and subsequently sleeping for 6hours + after taking it, it worked for us but it is beneficial to be travelling with someone when taking such medications and always seek expert advice from a doctor.
So, these are all the things that definitely work for us, and that we think will work for you too. There are world renowned experts such as Paul McKenna that have complete courses on how to conquer flight anxiety so you may wish to check them out. They require a lot of commitment and a certain personality / mental capability in our opinion to really work. We tried them, and did pick up a couple of useful things and they also relate to anxiety in general such as distraction techniques, breathing and suchlike. We have listed some of the most popular flight anxiety resources below.
Paul McKenna - Total Flying Confidence
Cockpit Confidential - By Captain Patrick Smith
Flying Without Fear - By Duane Brown
Fear of Flying Workbook - By David Carbonell