Hi, my name is Lizzie and I am a nervous flyer. I know that is probably a weird thing for a travel blogger to say, but sadly it is true. I usually spend the majority of my flights crying, staring at the aircraft wings hoping they don’t fall off, and watching the cabin crew to try and determine by their facial expressions if we are going to crash or not. The good news is the more I fly the more confident I become. So several flights and one fear of flying course later, I am sharing my tips on things every nervous flyer needs to know. From one nervous flyer to another, these are the things that help me get through those long hauls.
Tip 1- Turbulence is safe and the plane is not moving as much as you think it is
Despite the fact that my irrational anxious brain sometimes forgets this, turbulence is safe. You just don’t hear of planes crashing because of turbulence. Yes you do hear of people being injured because of really bad turbulence, but that is more due to the fact that things can fall and you can lose your balance when it gets bumpy. It is also important to note that the aircraft is not moving as much as you think it is. Sometimes when we have hit turbulence I have imagined the aircraft dropping 10 stories. It’s not true. Your inner ear tends to play tricks on you, as humans are supposed to be ground dwelling creatures. Our senses become distorted and this can make you think you are falling thousands of feet when in reality it might only be a few feet.
Tip 2- Have something to hold in case of turbulence
So one time on a solo flight from Bangkok to the UK, we hit turbulence. I panicked so much that I actually grabbed the sleeping man next to me by the arm. It was uncomfortable and awkward for the both of us. Now that I mostly fly with Dave, he has become the person that I grab. So do your fellow passengers a favour and have something to hold onto and squeeze during turbulence. This can be a small soft toy or a stress ball. It really helps squeezing all my stress and tension into something and helps calm me down.
Tip 3- Tell cabin crew when you board the plane that you are a nervous flyer
This is actually my best bit of advice, and something I do now routinely. If cabin crew know you are nervous they will check on you during turbulence and explain what is happening and how normal it is. Recently on a Swiss Air flight to Chicago I had told cabin crew that I was afraid. As we started our descent the captain explained it would be a bumpy landing due to the weather in Chicago. One of the flight attendants then came over to me to explain what this meant, and that it was safe and normal. This extra bit of reassurance really helped me. Sometimes you need that extra reassurance, especially from someone who flies all the time.
Tip 4- Bring something on the plane that will distract you
Distraction is a great technique, however I know it is easier said then done. I used to bring books on the plane thinking I would read them. Instead I would read the same sentence over and over again. Now I actually make an effort to bring my I-pad and download shows that I am really immersed in. I am embarrassed to say but reality TV shows work wonders for me when flying. I get so caught up in the drama and forget I am on a plane.
Tip 5- Don’t forget to breathe
This sounds really obvious but sometimes especially when we get turbulence I forget to breathe. I then end up hyperventilating and stressing myself further. Actually take the time to concentrate on your breathing. Taking some deep breaths can help calm you down as well.
Tip 6- Imagine you are somewhere else
Sometimes it helps me to close my eyes and imagine I am on a bus or a train. That way every bump or every noise becomes less scary.
Tip 7- Get up and walk around
This might not be for everyone, but especially after turbulence (once the seatbelt signs are off) I like to get up and walk around. When fight or flight kicks in it makes me want to get up and move around. I also feel a bit more in control as I can see that everything is actually ok.
Tip 8- Control your catastrophising
The thing about flying is, I know I actually wind myself up about it. My thoughts can go from pleasant to disastrous in a matter of seconds. I tend to catastrophise, and my thoughts just snowball from there. Something that has helped with this is wearing a rubber band around my wrist. When my thoughts get really bad I snap the band to try and shock myself into thinking normally again. If you don’t want to end up with swollen wrists though, try to stop yourself when your thoughts start to wander.
Tip 9- Know your facts
Statistically, flying is the safest way to travel. I know this, and have read this thousands of times. When my thoughts start racing I often try to remind myself of this. There are thousands of flights taking off and landing every day. They don’t all crash, in fact air accidents are so rare, which is something to bear in mind.
Tip 10- Don’t read the news
I know we all have that compulsion especially when you are a nervous flyer to read stories about flying. If I’m scanning through the paper and see a headline “near miss at Manchester Airport”, I’ll automatically read it and scrutinise over it. Save yourself the torment and just don’t. Newspapers are designed to sell stories and the best way to do this is through fear. No one wants to know about the ten thousand flights that landed safely. What makes news is that one flight that got a little bumpy and the passengers were upset. Journalists are not pilots, or experts on flying. But they are experts on sensationalising the smallest things. Remember that the next time you read an article about a flight that made an emergency landing (where the plane landed safely and no one is injured).
Tip 11- Trust your pilot
Keep in mind your pilot wants to get home as well, and wouldn’t put themselves in danger as a matter of course. Pilots spend the whole flight planning what to do in case of an emergency. They know where every airport is, and how to get there in case of an issue. Plus they train so much, and are constantly training. I know it is hard to do, but you really need to trust that your pilot knows what they are doing.
Tip 12- Concentrate on your destination
If we didn’t fly then imagine how much of the world we would miss out on. I have sipped cocktails by the Sydney Harbour, gone dune bashing in Dubai, ridden a gondola in Venice, and eaten deep dish pizza in Chicago, all thanks to flying. I get so nervous but I always know that getting to the end destination is worth it. And that is something important to remember.
For some travel inspiration to remind you what you can see when you fly check out these articles: