Overcoming the Fear of Flying

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by  Peggy Hattendorf – Travel Editor


how to overcome fear of flyingIf a fear of flying is precluding you from traveling, you’re not alone, especially as recent as Friday a man, Esteban Santiago, fired his gun at other travelers, killing five people at the Fort Lauderdale airport. Understandably, some of us are not keen on flying, but the desire or the need to travel makes us willing to take to the skies.

Consider these approaches to make it easier to board a plane and take a trip.

  1. Understand some basic information about flying. Familiarize yourself with the “normal noises” associated with take-offs and landings. While turbulence, that atmospheric instability characterized by sudden or unpredictable air movements can be disconcerting, remember planes are designed to stay in the air. Pilots receive detailed flight plans and weather forecasts prior to their flights.  Additionally, they obtain real-time information from Air Traffic Control (ATC) on weather conditions throughout their flights including reports from other aircraft that have just flown through the same area. When feasible, ATC will advise on altitude changes to minimize the bumpy ride. Clear air turbulence however, is different. It occurs when bodies of air, moving at widely different speeds, intersect. Unfortunately, this can happen without any visual signs like storms or clouds. This is why you are requested to keep your seat belt fastened at all times when seated.
  2. Review the aircraft safety manual in the seat pocket and be attentive to the airline safety announcements before take-off. Note that pilots go through continuing education every six months and they are trained to operate a particular type of aircraft so you won’t find them flying a large 777 one week and a smaller 737 the next.
  3. Select your seats strategically based on your comfort needs. The ride tends to be less bumpy when seated at the front of the plane. Window seats make you feel more grounded. Aisle seats may make your feel more comfortable as they allow easier access to get up and walk around. Even the “dreaded” middle seats have some advantages as you are positioned to chat with two passengers. A pleasant conversation may help pass the time.
  4. Peek into the flight deck (cockpit) when you board and say hello to the pilot and co-pilot. This can help calm the nerves.
  5. Rational thinking and logic should prevail. My airline expert, retired American Airlines captain Michael Davis, has said it best: “Remember, pilots want to return home to their families as well.”



For more formalized approaches to overcoming these fears you might consider:

  1. Enrolling in a Fear of Flying clinic or workshop. These classes are offered in many of the major cities worldwide.
  2. Seeking cognitive behavioral therapy if the fear is severe. This type of therapy addresses general anxiety.
  3. Checking with your physician to see about prescription medications.
  4. Taking a flying lesson in a real plane or simulator.

The more you experience flying, the better equipped you become to manage your anxiety or overcome your fears. So maybe when you hear the words from the flight deck, “Now sit back, relax and enjoy your flight” you will do just that.


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