9 Tips for Fearful Fliers

We live in an age, a fantastically technological age, when flying is possible. Not only is it possible but it's statistically safer than bicycling, even. But still there is a lingering fear over the unknown and a lack of trust in the airline, the airplane, and the personnel both flying and maintaining the aircraft. This is what it all boils down to. We're here to tell you that you don't have to be afraid.

The statistics are on your side, although, if you have heard that you're more likely to die by a bee sting than a plane incident than you're probably pretty stuck inside your aerophobia (1:5.5 million chance vs. 1:7 million). That's okay, we can work with it. The goal is to learn how to deal with it.

Most of us have found ourselves there, gripping the armrests for dear life as the plane lifts upwards, jolting in turbulence. As many as 25 percent of Americans have or have had some fear of flying, so you're not alone. However, if you're planning a plane trip in the future, you'll probably want to get out of your funk and learn how to fly like a pro, or at least fly without vomiting.

Tip 1: Distract Yourself - Calm your mind by keeping yourself busy doing crossword puzzles, Sudoku, reading a book, or watching that awful movie on the airline TVs. It doesn't matter what you're doing so long as you keep your mind too occupied to care about the fact that you're sitting in the air going 500 plus miles per hour. On my last flight, as I too can get afraid of flying, I played card games to pass the time. Anything you enjoy doing will do the trick.

Tip 2: Treat Turbulence Like Bumps in the Road - The odds are in your favor by an impressive, staggering margin. The plane is actually designed and regulated to be able to take an enormous amount of stress so what you're feeling, those slight bumps, are infinitesimal compared to what level of tolerance your plane can actually take.

Tip 3: Choose Your Flight, If Possible - The smaller airlines and regional planes may be cheaper but if you're afraid of flying, go with major U.S. airlines. Major airlines have a policy of hiring civilian and military pilots who already have at least 1,500 hours flight experience. On top of that, the pilots then undergo rigorous training complete with psychological tests, training routines, practice hours, and then when they finally get into the cockpit they do so under the supervision of an established captain for a one year minimum probationary period. On top of that, major U.S. airlines have more money for higher tech in the cockpit including "heads up" displays that overlay a computerized outline of the runway for the pilots in case of low visibility and you have larger personnel to handle maintenance and plane upkeep. You're in good hands.

Tip 4: Avoid High Caffeine Before a Flight - You all know how caffeine can affect a nervous system, especially in high stress situations. If you're afraid of flying, keep to hydrating liquids, mainly water, to keep calm and to ward off dehydration.

Tip 5: Try Breathing Exercises - When you start to panic, your breathing becomes labored and shallow, decreasing the amount of oxygen in your system while increasing carbon dioxide which leads to more anxiety. Occupy your mind by focusing on breathing deep and slow. You can try exercises like the Four By Four method or even download breathing apps on your smart phone. With the Four By Four, breathe in deeply, hold it for four seconds, release for four seconds and hold for four seconds before repeating. This works to calm your mind and release the tightness in your chest when you get anxious.

Tip 6: Move Your Seat - I don't mean move mid-flight because they probably won't go for that. Before you board you can ask at check in if you can be seated at the front of the cabin where turbulence is lowest. If you go more for statistics, you can also sit at the confluence of the wings where you're technically the safest.

Tip 7: Find Out What You're Afraid Of - Is it the takeoff? The turbulence? Or are you afraid of panicking? Before you can treat an issue you have to know what the issue is. If the problem is claustrophobia, then treat claustrophobia instead of your fear of flying. Find the root of the problem and act accordingly as treatments for each will be different. If you tried to fix the problem on your own and it hasn't worked, maybe it's time to get help. Therapists can of course help but there are also fear of flying courses to conquer the phobia.

Tip 8: Don't Stress the Weather - What gets a lot of people scared of flying is the weather. Most people have had past experiences flying through bad weather and what they thought was thunderstorms but in actuality, it was far from it. Know first and foremost that pilots are trained to handle any and all kinds of weather conditions. Secondly, know that air regulations require all pilots to stay at least 20 miles away from storms at all times. What you thought was a storm was actually just minor turbulence around the storm. I've heard people talk about their planes being struck by lightning and while I am still skeptical about their stories, it is a very slight chance that a stray bolt will actually strike the plane. Don't freak out though because the plane is designed to act like a Faraday's Cage which distributes electrical charges uniformly until it's completely dispersed. Lightning cannot hurt an airplane.

If you get fearful seeing the fog outside your window, thinking the pilot cannot possibly land in such conditions, then stop. When it comes to fog, pilots have been trained to operate in near zero visibility conditions. Aviation law says that runways must be clearly demarcated and lit for such occasions plus, like I said earlier, many major airlines have "heads up" displays so the computer can see exactly where the pilot needs to go.

Tip 9: Be Optimistic - Easier said than done, right? But really, your outlook is your choice, plain and simple. If you choose to look on the bright side of things and focus on the destination rather than the plane flight there, if you focus on the odds stacked in your favor instead of the one in seven million chance of something bad happening, then you'll have a much better journey.


Extra sources: FlyFright.com, Huffington Post: 10 Tips for Nervous Flyers