Fear of Flying … What to do?



Yes, I am a frequent flyer. Yes, I have taken planes to most risky destinations, low cost airlines to which cost should be minus the low of it, landings at airports listed in the most weird and dangerous in the world.

Yes, I travel as part of my job. Do I like it? No. I would be glad if airplane is taken away from travel.

I have a confession to make: I hate flying. It scares like no other thing does… even worst than a live snake. This is how my typical airport experience goes:

Before the flight: “The wait is enough now, let’s get on that plane and get on with it”

During take off: “Tuned to the airplane mechanics, I’ve scanned the model, how many engines it holds, how many seats it has, this is an A380, Oh I like the take offs and landings, it is smooth, technology is superb …. but it still rattles a lot”

During the flight as I watch a movie or do work: “I can’t believe we’re flying. Science is amazing. I have wi-fi in the sky!! Look at all the pretty clouds! No, not too much my head is turning, why don’t I read? yes, good idea. Hours seem like months”

During turbulence: “What was that sound? Are we supposed to turn like that? Why is this so bumpy?!That was a big drop! What’s wrong? We’re all gonna die!! Relax, just look at the calm crew, no one is panicking, I should not, but they are paid to show this face. ”

During landing: “Announcement of the Captain for beginning of descent, Oh No! bumps here we go … Breathe. Landing on way to home, Heathrow is good. Air is always cool, less bumps. It’s going to be O.K. Breathe. Elsewhere …No, please don’t go through those clouds”

Landed: ” Finally, why does this have to be so painful?!”


images (1)  emirates

Flying gives me a lot of anxiety. I white-knuckle grip the armrest at least half the flight! And I’m not alone: about 35% of people are afraid of flying.

For me, it’s because I’m scared of heights…,  I don’t like bungee jumps, being near ledges, or even looking down from a tall building. It sets my heart racing and  triggers my vertigo.

This has just been a recent happening. It all happened on board of a South African Airways aircraft. We went through such a big turbulence that the crew shouted, glasses broke, some almost lost their balance, and resulted in a bit of a mess. It was my awakening to fear of flying. I guess I never recovered from it. Besides my obssession of watching plane crashes on TV, in a way to get an answer to my question, is aluminum tube going 500 miles an hour 37,000 feet above the air safe?

On a rational level, I know I’m going to make it to my destination. According to MIT Scientist, I could fly everyday an average for 123,000 years before dying in a plane crash. But the lost sense of control freaks me out. I mean, who are these pilots? Did they get enough sleep the night before? Are they sane? Are they experienced enough to know what to do in an emergency?

I recently sat on a flight next to a  pilot going home to SA. We had a series of bad turbulences, it was so scary that I couldn’t stop myself from asking him whether it is alright? He was grinning each time people were screaming at the back, he told me that on the Gabarone track, they encounter worst than this and it is very common due to hot air. I calmed down after his (reassuring) comments.

So I’ve learned three tricks to help get over the fear of flying (or, at the least, reduce the anxiety):

  1. Fly Business or First Class – Perhaps the answer is simple. Maybe you just need to experience a taste of business or first class therapy? that extra full leg, white linen, complimentary quality drinks, personalised meals and service and the wide screen?
  2. Fake it — As the saying goes, fake it until you make it. When I’m flying, I like to imagine myself as a normal person. What would a person who isn’t afraid of flying do right now? They would sit there, read the in-flight magazine or sleep, and be calm.  I distract my mind and have it focus on something else. 
  1. Recite the facts — I like to recite facts about airline safety to reassure myself that planes are safe and I’m going to be fine. I’m always repeating to myself things like “Planes are safe, planes are safe. They have strict safety rules.” or “Turbulence doesn’t cause plane crashes; it’s just changes in airflow.” or “Cars are far more dangerous.”

There I am 37,000 feet above the ground with my fate in the hands of two strangers. It combines my two biggest fears. I mean, what if we go down? You have twenty or thirty seconds of sheer terrifying falling as you realize THIS IS IT!

But No. It always goes on fine, you land in magnificent places, meet great people, and see beautiful places.

I am a very lucky cookie indeed!zurich.jpg


One thought on “Fear of Flying … What to do?

  1. Kudos for flying anyway, even though you’re scared! As Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

    Here are a couple of other visualization tricks that can help with coping with turbulence in particular:

    1. Visualize the air as being “thick”, because it really is. You can test this for yourself by sticking you hand out the window of your car the next time you go for a drive.

    When you are going slow, you can hardly feel the air, but when you are going fast, the air pushes on your hand and you can hardly keep it on one place. Now if the air feels that thick at 40 or 50 miles per hour, just think how thick it must feel at 10 times that speed, which is how fast planes fly.

    This “thick” air supports the plane, so it can’t possibly just fall to the ground. When you visualize a plane flying through the air think of it like a submarine in the ocean. Running into some churned up air in your plane is just the same as a submarine going into some choppy water.

    Sailors inside may get bumped around a little but the submarines not going to drop to the ocean floor, because it is held up by the water around it. Same thing for a plane. Passengers get jostled but the plane itself is held up by the thick air all around it.

    2. A lot of people think that the plane will drop “hundreds of feet” when you hit an air pocket. That’s not correct. It may feel like a big drop, but in most turbulence you’re dropping 1 or 2 feet – in really rough turbulence, maybe 20 feet.

    To visualize how minor this is, take a drive with someone with a plastic cup and water bottle. Find a bumpy road and fill the cup with water. Notice if the water spills out of the cup (it probably will). Then next time you are flying and you hit some turbulence, notice whether your drink spills (it probably won’t). Which just shows you that most turbulence is no worse than driving over a bumpy road.


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