Research shows around 25 per cent of people have a fear of flying, while for 10 per cent that fear is a phobia.
According to 2016 figures, air travel is safer than it has ever been.
Fear of flying can range from mild anxiety to downright debilitating, forcing you to forgo otherwise exciting plans to see the world.
Here are some top tips to help you overcome your fears and help you enjoy your flight and your holiday, without worrying about the return flight.
Locate your fear.
Do you fear a loss of control? Is it a fear of death? Is it claustrophobia? Different triggers require different things to help soothe them. If facts about aviation safety will make you feel better, read up on those before boarding. If claustrophobia is a trigger, talk to your airline about boarding early or getting an aisle seat.
Think about the situation logically.
Even though your emotions might feel powerful, take a step back and look at the big picture.Airplanes are a very safe mode of transportation.You have a much higher chance of getting injured or killed driving on the motorway (or even sitting in your own home) than flying in an airplane. Lots of people are scared to fly, but the fact is, the chances of anything going wrong in an aircraft are virtually zero. If you don’t believe it, do some research yourself and find out!
Choose your seat, but don’t panic if you can’t.
It is true that turbulence is usually greater at the back of the plane, so ask for a seat as close to the front of the plane as you can. However, if you haven’t been able to reserve a front of flight seat, don’t worry – simply remind yourself if you do hit turbulence that your seat means you feel the effects a little more and breathe slowly and deeply to try and steady your nerves.
Coping with turbulence, remember it’s ‘just a road in the air’
A bumpy flights is a tricky experience for a nervous flyer, and adds to the level of worry before the next flight. But once you understand what causes it, you’ll understand that turbulence is a normal part of flying and not something to fear.
When a plane flies through an area of low pressure to high pressure (or vice versa), it causes a “bump” in the ride. These bumps aren’t dangerous, but pilots intentionally navigate away from strong turbulence to ensure the smoothest possible ride and the least anxiety for passengers. Another fact to keep in mind: Modern planes are designed to handle much more intensive turbulence than they would ever encounter.
Finally, a mantra that many nervous flyers repeat to themselves, ‘it’s just a road in the air’. Just like on a car or train journey, bumps and jostles are nothing to fear. When the seat belt light goes on dont panic, this is just because the pilot does not want you to fall on the guy next to you, not because there is any type of flight risk.’
Remember that turbulence is uncomfortable but is not dangerous. It is a perfectly normal part of flying caused by nature.
Preparation is key.
Each fearful flyer has their own set of tools to get through a flight. Some sit by the window and stare at the ground until the plane lands, others like to distract themselves with films, music and games. Whatever your tools, make sure you have everything prepared in advance. Fill up your iPad with TV shows you want to watch (though avoid thrillers and stress inducing shows like Breaking Bad or Homeland).
Cram your bag with fun things to distract yourself; crosswords, great books and a head pillow and eye mask.
And try to remove any stress triggers from the process of flying. So that means leaving plenty of time to get to the airport, keeping papers and passport easily accessible for check in, removing bottles of liquid from your bag and allowing yourself time to relax (or treat yourself) at the airport.
Chatting to a neighbouring passenger is a good way to distract yourself from obsessing over unusual noises
Michael Salem, author of the book Brave Flyer: How to End Your Fear of Flying, says ‘Many fearful flyers become hyper listeners during the flight, because their brain is programmed to believe there will be some sort of life-threatening problem and will try to prove it by listening for the faintest of sounds.
The best solution for this problem is to use sound cancelling headphones’.
So, if possible, while in flight, distract yourself from imagining worst-case scenarios and listening out for every suspicious noise by chatting to your neighbour or listening to calming music or a meditation app such as Calm (be sure to ensure it is accessible in ‘Flight’ mode).
Sometimes just the noise of the engines is enough to stir someone up. Bring an mp3 player or iPod with quiet, calming music or nature sounds; you can get many free apps for iPods for this.
Close your eyes, pull up your blanket, and try this easy technique:
Hold your body still and breathe deeply. Listen closely to the nature sounds that you have on. Release (relax) your muscles and imagine you are wherever your sounds are (maybe on the beach or in a rainforest). Concentrate as much as possible on this. It might be a little hard at first but whenever an outside thought pops into your mind, push it out and keep focused that peaceful place in your mind.
Allow yourself a drink, in moderation.
Mixing alcohol and calming medication is NEVER a good idea
If a glass of wine helps calm your nerves then there is no evidence to say you should avoid alcohol but remember that excessive drinking, or combining alcohol with any medication, may make you jittery, dehydrated and anxious. Limit yourself to two drinks, tops, and avoid mixing drink and any prescription pills, remember that alcohol has a much greater effect up in the air and too much will make you feel worse.
Before and during the flight, it’s important to keep blood sugar levels up. Stick to water and juices to keep hydrated and remember to eat little and often to maintain your energy, which can help control anxiety levels. Rest if you can, though sleep is not essential.
Nervous flyers should try to avoid coffee and chocolate before a flight, no matter how early it is! Caffeine can cause nervousness, palpitations and anxiety – none of which are conducive to a calm flight.
Make yourself as comfortable in your seat as possible.
It’s hard not to feel stressed when you’re too cold or sore from the hard seat.
Be sure to bring along a small throw blanket, a pillow, a shawl, slippers, a sweatshirt or whatever will make you comfy while traveling.
Close your window cover or ask your neighbor to if you don’t like heights.
Wear a hat. It is scientifically proven that the simple act of wearing a cozy hat can relieve mental insecurity and make you feel more at ease.
Bring something that makes you happy or comforts you. This might include a favorite small plush animal or maybe some kind of comfort food to indulge yourself in.
Relieve your stress with simple exercises
if you feel that your emotions are just too out of control or that you can’t concentrate on anything else.
Bring along a small squeeze ball or stuffed animal to discretely squeeze as hard as you can. Just keep squeezing and squeezing and eventually you will have released a good deal of energy. This will help alleviate tension.
You can also try this: Starting with your feet, and moving up your whole body, tense and squeeze all the muscles in your body as hard as possible. Hold this as long as you can and then gently and slowly, from head to toe, release all you tension and completely relax every muscle in your body. Take a few slow sips of water, take a few deep breaths and repeat if necessary. This should help. Basically, when you feel that you can’t control your anxiety, do some simple in seat exercises that will drain excess energy.
When to seek Medical Advice
If your fear begins to take a hold of your life in a way that feels unmanageable, it’s important to reach out to a medical professional. Professionals will be able to help you identify what’s causing your flight fear and find effective ways to manage it. They can help you find treatment to restore your mental and physical well-being.
Treatment for fear of flying usually involves either medications or therapy. Doctors may suggest antianxiety medication. There are generally two types: one you take only when you encounter triggers for your stress, and another that you take on a regular basis.
Doctors may also suggest psychotherapy, including:
- exposure therapy
- talk therapy
Relaxation and breathing exercises may also help.