According to stats, up to 40 percent of people have some degree of anxiety or uneasiness when they fly, so when you consider each day nearly 3 million people take to the skies, that means there are about 1,200,000 uneasy people in the skies today alone. Another 1,200,000 will go up tomorrow. If you think you’re one of those people, there are ways to put yourself at ease.
1. Understand your fear
Fear is caused by a perceived threat (whether or not it’s a real threat is irrelevant). Because most of us don’t really understand how planes do something that seems very unnatural (hello, 80-ton object flying through the sky), there’s a lot of room for us to perceive some level of threat, no matter how many times we hear that flying is safer than driving.
The first step is to understand what you’re actually afraid of and how fear works. Do you think the plane is going to fall out of the sky if it hits turbulence? Do you feel claustrophobic? Is it a fear of heights? Is it the loss of control? Pinpoint your fear and then move on to tackling it with knowledge.
2. Arm yourself with knowledge
Misinformation is behind a lot of perceived but false threats. While you don’t need to go out and get a degree in aeronautics, do a bit of reading to learn the basic physics of a plane in flight. For example, the air around you right now has very different properties from the air around a flying plane. For the plane, air acts more like Jell-o, keeping it in the sky.
Turbulence really is a non-issue for planes, too. They’re built for it. They expect it. The main reason pilots try to avoid it is so they don’t spill their coffee, not because they’re in danger.
Consider the statistics, too. So many people, literally millions, fly every single day without incident. While your fear or anxiety may be real, the perceived threat that causes it isn’t. You can’t tackle that fear until you tackle the perception that drives it.
3. Don’t keep it inside
If you do find yourself feeling uneasy at the airport before a flight, you don’t need to suffer in silence. Let a flight attendant know that you’re feeling a bit uneasy. Ask to speak to the captain or first officer before your flight. Seeing and speaking with the person responsible for flying the plane may bring you some comfort.
You could also let the person sitting next to you that you’re a bit nervous. They may be able to offer you some reassurance, or at the very least they’ll understand if you get a bit tense during turbulence. Sometimes having someone to talk to can distract you from your anxiety.
4. Seek help
A smaller percentage of people have a true phobia of flying, which goes well beyond nervousness and anxiety and this can be quite debilitating. If this is the case, there are therapists who specialize in combatting phobias, and there are even special fear of flying programs. The secret to eliminating a phobia is a combination of cognitive and behavioural therapies.
Two former Air Canada employees (a pilot and an operations executive) are behind VisionAir, which offers fear of flying seminars in Toronto and Montreal. This two-day session is led by a pilot and a psychologist and ends with an optional graduation flight. Similar programs run across the country.