Julie is the author of a number of guidebooks, including 'Melbourne's Best Bush Bay and City Walks' & 'Melbourne for Dogs' (with RSPCA). Read more of her adventures at her walks blog: walksmelbourne.com
Published March 23rd 2013
Fear of Flying or Fearless Flying? You decide
You know all the statistics about it being far safer to fly than drive in a car, yada yada yada, but sometimes rational statistics don't help – if your knuckles are already white just reading this, here's some other tips and techniques which might help nervous flyers get through a flight without too much trauma.
1. Sit at the front of the aircraft, and if necessary, pay extra to reserve your seat in advance. The front of the plane is far less bumpy than the back, when in turbulence, and you also don't look all down the length of the plane bouncing around in front of you, as you do at the back!
2. If flying internationally, try and book on one of the A380 double deckers. They are exceptionally quiet and smooth. Sit at the front of either the main or top deck.
3. This is a personal preference, but consider if you want to sit by a window seat, or prefer the middle. Some nervous flyers don't like looking out the windows, as they are confronted by the fact that they are so far high up in the air. In the middle you can look straight ahead and ignore the sky factor. On the other hand, some prefer to sit at teh window - you can lose yourself looking at the unbelievable views, perspectives and the patterns of the land below. The trick is to think about the land, not the distance between the plane and the land.
4. Let the airline know - at booking time, at check in and when you get on the plane - that you are a nervous flyer. Airlines are very, very good at accommodating and reassuring anxious passengers.
5. Book a long flight, rather than a short one. It is physically impossible to sustain the surge of adrenaline which accompanies anxiety for more than a few hours, so contrary to what you might imagine, a flight to London may well be easier than one to Sydney!
6. When you hit turbulence, remind yourself that when a car goes over a bumpy road, it jolts around, and that is exactly what a plane is doing – turbulence is the flight equivalent of a bumpy road. It won't go on forever. If you look out the window and don't see clouds (which usually mean a bit of turbulence), remember that clear air currents (wind) can't be seen but can cause lots of bumps. Think about when you are driving in your car and a strong cross wind buffets your car – it's the same thing. Remember that planes are designed to go through these bumps, and that they won't last for too long.
7. If you inadvertently look at the wings when you are going through turbulence and you see them bouncing around, remind yourself that this flexibility is designed and is part of what keeps planes safe and in the air. Just as bird's wings flex and move to accommodate different air currents, so do plane wings. The same applies to the disconcertingly rattly overhead compartments on take off - a little movement is a good thing, otherwise they would snap!
8. One of the most unnerving experiences for anxious flyers is various mechanical noises (for example, when the flaps on the wings or the wheels retract, and changes in air pressure, engine speed and throttle etc, which happens usually in the first 30 minutes after take off or before landing. Again, just remember that this is like a car changing gears and no more than that.
9. If you are feeling really scared, hug your pillow, open your eyes and look around you. Breathe slowly in and just as slowly out. The majority of the passengers around you will be unconcerned: reading books, watching movies, listening to music. They aren't bothered, which means you don't need to be either. Some people find learning relaxation techniques from a professional therapist can be of great comfort to stop them freaking out entirely when up in the air.
10. Sleep! Sustaining anxiety is exhausting. If you can sleep, do. If not, take a familiar book which you really love (Jane Austen is particularly calming!) or which you really want to read, plus some headphones in to listen to music or an audio book, or if flying internationally, watch as many movies as you can squeeze in. Bring some sudoku or crosswords. Chat to your fellow passengers about something other than how scared you are – anything to distract you from focusing too much. For example, I am typing this 40,000 feet above India - nothing like a bit of focus on the topic at hand to distract.
11. Somewhat counter-intuitively, it's not a bad idea to listen to people's horror stories about really bumpy flights or scary flights: next time you hit some turbulence, you can remember them tell their tale, realise your current situation is nowhere near so bad, and that since they survived to tell the tale, you will too!
12. Finally, if you are really bad, and your anxiety is stopping you from flying, enquire about the 'fear of flying' courses offered by some of the airlines. Fearless Flyers is a not for profit volunteer organization run by women pilots in conjunction with Qantas since 1979, and offers fantastic courses in most Australian capital cities throughout the year. The $950 fee includes a graduation flight and airport tour and allows you to hear from the experts: psychologists, meteorologists, pilots, aircraft engineers, air traffic controllers. One of their recent graduates went on to take flying lessons, so they must know what they are doing!
This should get your started. If you have any other tips for how you have overcome your fear of flying and are now tripping lightly around the globe without a care, I'm sure our readers would love to hear them! Alternatively, if all else fails, I hear train travel is pretty fun......!