Fear of flying and how to cope with itTips for coping with the fear of flying

24 March 2010

Tackling the fear of flying 

Travel plane flying

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Roughly one in six of us are afraid of flying, according to the latest statistics. Yet for the millions encumbered with fear, the issue is often treated as the elephant in the room – something you don't talk about.

Often, it is dismissed as jittery nonsense, or countered with safety statistics. Statistics become meaningless however, in the face of those familiar feelings of anxiety and panic.

What is the fear of flying? 

The fear of flying can refer to anything from mild in-flight anxiety to extreme phobias such as acute reactions at the mere mention of, or when looking at planes. It can be a phobia in itself, or a trigger for several others. Sheer variety of symptoms and causes means that the fear of flying as a definition casts a very wide net.

Myth busting for fearful fliers

Many fearful fliers turn to alcohol before or during flying. However, alcohol can often contribute to dehydration inside the dry environment of an aircraft which won’t help. Alternatively, stimulants like caffeine lead to feeling jittery, which is also unlikely to alleviate anxiety.

Some cling to myths, perhaps subconsciously to justify their anxieties. Remember that cabin crew do not use secret code to communicate over the intercom. They have a duty of care to their passengers and will always inform them of any developments they need to know about.

It’s also impossible for any crazed passenger to open the doors mid-flight, not just because of the security measures, it’s also practically physically impossible to do because of air pressure.

The same goes for lightning striking the plane. Aircraft technology has come a long way and craft are designed to take it. Lightning is most likely to strike one extremity of the plane and exit off the other, in any case, the fuel and other major components of the craft are insulated against it. In practically all cases it’s just the loud noise that leaves passengers shaken.

Which? Holiday top tips to cope with the fear of flying

  • Give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport. Rushing around will only add to your anxiety.
  • Wait for your flight in an airline lounge. Many airlines have private airport lounges that are peaceful and can be luxurious oases away from the hectic hustle of the rest of the airport. They're usually reserved for club members but you can often buy a day pass for a fee. It could be well worth it for pre-flight relaxation instead of stress.
  • Don’t try and block out take-off, after all it’s almost impossible to do. Try to accept it instead knowing that it will be over in a matter of seconds. The brain is much better at focussing on ‘I do want’ rather than ‘I don’t want’, try not to ignore the bad thoughts as it were, rather preoccupy yourself with good ones instead.
  • Keep your eyes open if you can, closing them will only heighten the sensations of take-off.
  • Remember that turbulence can be unpleasant but it never hampers the aircraft's ability to fly. Air currents are natural, just as they are in water.
  • Don’t think too much about the motion and ‘feeling’ of the plane’s movements. You’re unlikely to pay the same attention to the movements and judders in the car or train on the way to the airport after all.
  • Fearful fliers are often affected by a lack of control. Remind yourself you made the choice to fly.
  • Breathe! As you get more nervous, your breathing may become shallow. Breathing deeply and slowly will almost instantly relieve stress. Give yourself a count if it helps.
Which?Holiday April 2010

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