Freaky Fly Day: Five Techniques I use to Deal with my Fear of Flying

I used to love flying. I run a travel blog for goodness’ sake! Back in the old days, I used to get three days off in a row and immediately start looking at cheap flights. Over time, I began to have unexplainable nightmares during my flights, then I began fearing the nightmares. When the Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed, that was it. Every flight has me paralysed with fear, sometimes even to the point of crying.

You could sit me in front of all the facts, it wouldn’t matter. Yes, I am more likely to die doing literally anything else, yes planes are safe, but anxiety is irrational. Even the above unsplash image makes me queasy. For those, who like me, cannot be appeased by being told planes are safer than cars (seriously, stop telling me that, all you do is make me scared of cars too) here are five super useful techniques I use to calm my fears of flying. I hope they help you too!

I had to take a nine hour flight from Melbourne Tullamarine to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi in the height of my fear of flying. The plane was doing all sorts of twerking and jerking. My husband told me outside the window he could see an enormous lightning storm.

To get through it, I somehow managed to make Beyoncé’s Netflix documentary ‘Homecoming’ last nine hours. It’s a two hour documentary! But by watching it, and absorbing myself in something other than being 35,000 ft in the air, I managed to relax.

If you have the kind of phone that allows you to download movies and tv shows, I highly recommend this. Brooklyn 99 and anything funny is one of my favourite things to watch on a flight because I’m laughing so hard, I tend not to notice the flight is happening.

This is straight out of the Jessica Dore playbook. In fact, I learned it from the great lady herself. This is a brilliant technique for managing anxiety.

My biggest fear is take off, followed by turbulence. When my anxiety starts to rise, I look around for evidence that makes it clear my anxiety is not rational. Questions you can ask yourself are:

  1. Do people around you look worried? The man next to you is sleeping, so he’s not worried. the children are laughing. They’re not worried. Why are you worried?
  2. Watch what the cabin crew are doing. If they’re serving drinks and snacks, they’re probably not worried.
  3. If the seatbelt signs illuminate, remember that it’s just turbulence, and turbulence can’t bring down a plane.
  4. If you’re reading this, you’re probably not a trained pilot (if you are, let me know and I will never take another flight). That means you, as a passenger are not privy to any higher information that the pilot, cabin crew and other passengers don’t know. So remember that unless the other people are panicking and screaming, there is no real reason to do the same.

Often, airlines will give a choice of seats, and those extra pounds or dollars may be worth a few hours of comfort.

The front of the plane is a better choice for nervous fliers because it endures turbulence much less than the back of the plane. Being seated at the front is a quieter journey too. If you can’t do that, consider over-wing seats where you can see what the wing is doing (during turbulence you can see the plane is not in turmoil) as well as flying during the day, when you can more easily see what’s happening outside of the plane.

This is something that comes with time. Did you know, Airbus flights and Boeing flights sound different. After months of flying with Airbus, I got used to the whines and whirrs of Airbus, and taking a Boeing plane freaked me out because the noises sounded different and I thought something was wrong.

Smithsonian Mag covered some of the noises you’ll hear that are completely normal.

Another thing that really helped me was watching the altitude map. What I thought was us plunging tens of thousands of feet, was actually just my plane ascending a couple of feet. For example, what felt like dropping from 35k ft to 30k ft showed on the altitude map as going from 33,662ft to 34,000ft and we ranged from 33,000–35,000ft throughout the course of the flight. If your flight does not have a screen, download maps.me which has a built in altimeter that may display this information.

It really helps to disprove what you think is happening in the flight based on the misjudgments your anxiety is pushing through.

Sounds counterintuitive right? But this is a technique from cognitive behavioural therapy. What would happen in the worse case scenario? The plane starts going down, how would you handle it?

Imagining myself having a huge party at the end as things go down, dancing in the aisles to Smells Like Teen Spirit, knowing that I will handle a crisis like this as well as I handle other crisis, approaching the end with as much grace as I approach other things, all helps me realise that the worst case scenario – as rare as it is – is something I can handle.

In the end, you’re really safe, and you know you are! I hope these techniques help you get from one end of the Earth to the other – and if it doesn’t, remember that by not flying, we’re doing the universe a big favour!

i live in italy, i write about travel, love and dating and all the little in betweens of being black & a woman. @trashgrrrl_ twt, @sempiterna_ insta

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store