Many things scare me when it comes to flying:
Getting a stinky, tuna salad-wielding in-flight neighbor. (And the inflated prices of said airport tuna salad.)
Missing a connection and having to sleep at the gate in a torture device disguised as seating.
Having my luggage burst and watching my neatly-packed belongings show up on the filthy carousel one by one. (My mom to me at Boston Logan in 2003: “That poor girl has ALL the same shirts as you!” That poor girl was me.)
And, well, just the whole experience of being in an airplane – from takeoff, to landing and everything in between.
If you’re a nervous flyer like me, know that we truly aren’t alone. Case in point: For every three American travelers, there’s one who experiences various symptoms of anxiety in the air – regardless of frequent flyer or first-timer status.
Now, for most of us with airborne anxiety, the aforementioned tuna salad-wielding neighbor is the least of our problems: It’s the sheer panic induced by every bump, sound and otherwise normal occurrence on a flight. For some, that panic is enough to stifle opportunities to travel altogether – but it shouldn’t have to be that way.
After all, there are plenty of ways to ease the fear of flying – before even taking off. The best part? They don’t require a prescription, and they’re simple, too! Check out these four ideas before your next trip, and you may be pleasantly surprised at just how friendly the skies can be!
Know the Statistics
My mind on a flight: “What if the plane runs out of gas? What if there’s a screw loose on the wing? What if lightning strikes the fuselage? What if there’s a new, inexperienced pilot?”
Your mind, too? If you can shut your thoughts off for a moment, take comfort in the cold, hard statistics, like this one: Your odds of being killed in an airplane crash are 1 in 29.4 MILLION. You’re more likely to be attacked and killed by a shark, if that makes you feel any better. (Seriously. I looked it up.)
What’s more, airplanes are among the most rigorously-tested manufactured items in the world, and they’re held to the highest standards, too. AOL Travel has a neat article that details everything an aircraft has to go through before it’s allowed to fly – from extreme weather testing to speed stall testing and more.
Acquaint Yourself with Airplanes
I often find myself yanking my headphones out of my ears every 10 minutes or so during a flight. “What was that?” It’s always nothing, as the unfazed passengers and flight attendants around me indicate, but it still begs the question “Really, what WAS that?”
Thanks to an airline pilot and the fine folks over at USA Today, curious flyers like you and me now have the answers about those mysterious noises – and hopefully, some peace of mind. After all, that loud thud was probably just the landing gear. And landing gear is a good thing to have on a plane, of course.
You know what else is good to have on a plane? Confidence in your knowledge of what to do in the event of, heaven forbid, an emergency on board – or even how to survive a crash landing. If the mere thought of reading the seatback evacuation card and listening to the flight attendants’ instructions have you envisioning disaster scenarios, try checking out one (or all!) of these lighthearted takes on airline safety videos before you fly.
Make Yourself Comfortable
One of the biggest challenges an anxious flyer may face is the feeling of being “out of control.” While we can’t take the wheel (er, the joystick?) mid-flight, there are a few comfort-inducing things you might consider doing prior to takeoff – and they only take a few clicks of a mouse or swipe across your smartphone.
Most commercial airline and budget travel sites, along with their apps, include the type of plane assigned to each flight. So, if you prefer a newer, larger aircraft with fewer sounds and upgraded features (like additional legroom or improved cabin pressure), you may opt for an itinerary that includes, say, the Airbus 380 over the DC-10. Many airlines also allow passengers to select their seat ahead of time, too, if you prefer a certain spot on the plane to alleviate your fears.
You may also want to check out an app like Turbcast (iTunes, $1.99) before your flight. Designed by a pilot, Turbcast analyzes weather patterns just the way they would in the cockpit – and helps you understand why things like thunderstorms and air pockets often cause those uncomfortable shakes and shudders in the aircraft. The more you know, as I often say!
I’ve shared anecdotes about my past competitive golf career here on Zing, many of which involve my ever-prepared dad – and here’s another. A typical player usually arrives for tournament play about an hour prior to their tee time to allow just the right amount of minutes to check in and warm up. But then there was me and my dad, showing up two hours ahead – more than enough time to hit the range, the putting green and the practice bunker, peruse the pro shop, grab a snack in the clubhouse and do all those other things we golfers do before teeing it up. Embarrassed as I was, my dad knew me better than I knew myself. If I arrived with little time to properly prepare myself and steady my nerves, my game was likely to be subpar – and I don’t mean this in the golfing sense.
Sound familiar? There are the obvious safety reasons you’re advised to arrive at least an hour (or two, for international flights) prior to takeoff – but it’s also to ensure you make your flight, especially if you’re traveling through an unfamiliar airport or with a large group. If you’re late, you’ll have less time to check in, go through security and maybe get a quick bite to eat … meaning you might have to pull a McAllister family in the terminal. You’d be beyond frazzled before even boarding the plane. “Kevin!”
Here are a few other ways to put your mind and body at ease before heading to the airport:
- Dress for the occasion – opt for unrestricting, loose layers and comfortable shoes
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can worsen jetlag symptoms upon landing – try soothing chamomile or peppermint tea instead
- Pack familiar entertainment for distraction – choose a book, TV series or movie you’ve already started
- Stock your 1-quart bag wisely for your well-being – a few ideas include revitalizing facial mist, moisturizer, sanitizing gel, refreshing eye drops and vitamin C dietary supplements
When it comes to easing anxiety once you’re buckled in, remember this: You know you best. What calms you after a rough day or puts you in that ultimate relaxed, happy state? For me, it’s calming music, like Massive Attack or The XX. It’s also my cat – and that’s why on my last trip, I spent plenty of time on board looking at pictures and watching silly videos of her on my phone. I browsed snapshots of my destination, too, to remind myself why conquering my fear of flying was entirely worth it. Silly as it sounds, these techniques really worked – and they may work for you, too.
Have any other remedies that quell nerves at 35,000 feet – or prior to takeoff? Share them with us below!