Fear of Flying

Enjoying our business class seats on our recent flight from Munich to Abu Dhabi. See, I don’t look scared at all (just crazy!).

My very first flight was the morning after our wedding, from Detroit to the Dominican Republic where Tony and I honeymooned in June 2006. Back then, I was terrified to fly. I reached adulthood during the years after the September 11 attacks, and had a real fear for my safety on an airplane. I remember our flight to the DR quite well, I was a nervous wreck. We hadn’t slept yet, I was exhausted and running on adrenaline from the wedding, and I was terribly afraid to fly. Making things worse, though Tony and I were technically seated next to each other, we were separated by the aisle — very romantic. At every new sound or jostle, I turned to him and whisper-shouted “Is that normal?!?!”

That was nearly 10 years ago. My flight experiences now are very different. While I still (likely always will) deal with anxiety, my fear of flying is under control. It’s taken a while to get here though, and I know that many others suffer the same fears so I figured I’d share what has helped me get over my fear, and enjoy traveling.

  1. Know the statistics. This is one that Tony pushed on me, big time. Air travel is incredibly safe, with statistics putting the risk of death in air travel at 1 in 7 million. That’s far safer than train travel and traveling by car both of which I’ve done without hesitation.
  2. Identify yourself as a nervous traveler to a flight attendant. This was a little embarrassing the first time I did it, but I was so glad I did. When I was working remotely for a publishing company in Michigan and living in AZ, I had to fly to our headquarters for a training. I let the flight attendant know that I was afraid of air travel and she took such great care of me! She also told me to watch her, or any member of the crew, if anything was making me nervous. If they didn’t seem nervous, neither should I.
  3. Embrace distraction. Watch a movie that you’ve been wanting to see, read a book you’ve been excited to read, listen to your favorite music, strike up a conversation with the person you’re seated next to, sleep if you can — whatever! Do something to make the time pass so that you’re not just constantly thinking about the flight itself. Anything to make the time go faster is helpful!
  4. Concentrate on why you’re flying. Are you visiting family and friends that you haven’t seen in a long time? Are you about to visit a location you’ve always dreamed of seeing? Whatever the reason for your travel, when anxiety starts to creep in remind yourself the reason for your trip and that it will be worth it when you get there.
  5. Breathe. I took up yoga about a year ago, and one of the many benefits it has taught me is the power of deep, purposeful breathing. Concentrate on filling your lungs with air and slowly releasing. Deep breathing got me through a particularly difficult anxiety attack on a flight just this past fall. Slow, intentional breathing to get through the immediate pain and fear of anxiety.
  6. Upgrade your seat. I know this is not doable for everyone, but travel hacking has allowed us the opportunity to fly in business class a few times. Honestly, the flight experience just doesn’t compare with coach. Flying in business/first class is infinitely more comfortable, relaxing and enjoyable. So much of the stress of travel is alleviated when you sit in a premium seat, and man oh man does that help when you’re an anxious traveler. I can most often be found in a coach seat, but on the occasions that I’m in an upgraded seat, I find that I enjoy the flight. Particularly on the carriers boasting high levels of service (looking at you Etihad!), you will get off of that flight having eaten well, rested comfortably, and enjoyed the on board entertainment. Build up your travel points and then treat yourself to upgrades when you can!
  7. Have a baby. Flights became infinitely easier for me once I had Matteo because I was so busy worrying about his behavior and ensuring that he didn’t make the flight miserable for everyone else on the plane, that I didn’t have time or energy to think about all of things I was afraid of. So, if all else fails, have a baby!

The truth is if you want to pursue travel, flying is the most efficient way to get you from point A to point B. Most of us want to maximize our time at the location, rather than spending our vacation days getting to the location, and that means flying. So in order to see the world, and enjoy the world, you have to bite the bullet, take the risk, and get on the plane. I promise though, the more you do it the easier it gets!

Don’t let your fears dictate your life.


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