Five Ways I Deal with a Fear of Flight

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I have written a number of things over the past few years about being afraid of flying. The blog name of Grounded Traveler echos to that as well. I do now fly when I must. It is not at all my favorite activity, but I do it so I can see things and visit people that would be impractical (almost no where is impossible) by train.

First off, before we get to the thoughts, I am not fully beyond this. It still freaks me out, but I deal. Here are a few things I do to get through it:

Movies

The longer flights are somehow easier for me. For one, the planes are bigger. They feel more stable to me as well as being physically bigger so I don’t feel so claustrophobic. For another, the big planes have the seat back TVs. I really believe these should be mandatory on ALL flights and be allowed from the moment you get seated until the plan lands. Watching movies really helps me deal with flights.  I can concentrate on the movie which just keeps going. If I try to read, every time I get scared, my eyes stop reading. This doesn’t happen for movies. I tend to pick cartoons as well. I am just a big kid most of the time.

On shorter flights, I will bring a laptop with movies on it. By the time I can start watching anything, a 90 minute cartoon usually gets me pretty close to when I have to shut the laptop for landing on a 2 hour flight. Here the trick is to prepare the laptop with the movie already in the video player, but not started, and set the laptop to sleep mode. Don’t turn it off or it can take a while to turn it on again.

Drugs

Yup, this past trip we went to the doctor and upped my dose to 5mg of what amounts to generic valium. Ali says it helps. I notice it as well. I ONLY take this during flights, not any other time else despite the stress and temptation sometimes. I was cautioned to not have it with alcohol.

Counting

On most flights from the time the plane lifts off until the seatbelt sign goes off is only a few minutes. I tend to count the seconds, backwards. So I will start at 200 or 300 when the plane takes off and stop when I feel comfortable again.

Turbulence is what bothers me the most. If a plane was perfectly stable all the time I would be much better. What I try to remember is that most turbulence never lasts more than a few minutes. I tend to pick 120 and count backwards when I get scared by the trembling. I also try to be very conscious of when it stops. I rarely get below 70 or so.

The trick with some of this counting is that I never let myself get to 0. If I get too low in counting, I will just start again higher. The point is not to be measuring time, but giving the brain something else to do (like with the movies).

Talking Partner

On a few of the shorter flights I have had really good luck distracting myself talking to my neighbor. Sometimes this is Ali, but it often works better with a stranger. The rituals of small talk and hearing a new voice are inherently more distracting (and thus more useful) for me than Ali and my repore.

Avoidance

While I will still fly places, not perhaps as much as many others. I am perfectly ok with a 12 hours train to avoid a 2 hour flight. The larger planes on long haul flights as well as when it would mean several days on overnight busses.

There are definitely times to fly. I could not have made it to New Zealand or Hong Kong at all or as many of the places in Europe as we have seen in the past years without flying. We just got back from 7 weeks in Asia that meant 12 hours flights as well. And yet there are a lot of times when we just don’t need to fly. Especially in Europe trains can be just as good and far more comfortable.

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So for me it comes down to distracting the mind. Movies seem to work the best, but I don’t think I would fly without the drugs either. I tried alcohol once, but it doesn’t seem to help enough.

My fear of flight is an irrational one. I understand completely how it all works, but still it freaks me out. I deal because I don’t want to let the fear stop me from doing what I want to do.

10 thoughts on “Five Ways I Deal with a Fear of Flight

  1. Drinking is the key. I have learned it in our first flight from Bucharest to London. An English guy got 7 bottles of beer. It was a 3 hours flight. On Heathrow he was a lion indeed. On our flight back we had red wine from the British Airways. What? Fear? No way. It was a funny flight. :)))

  2. Whoa, crazy, I thought I had a fear of flying, but now I see it is just a minor problem. I would definitely not take a 12 hour bus over a 2 hour flight.

    It is great to see you can fight it in your own way though. Great job.

  3. I so get this!

    I’ve flown exactly twice – from Las Vegas to Upstate New York and back again, when my husband and I got married.

    I’ve driven cross country three times. That was much better. =)

    I love your suggestions – if I have to fly in the future, I’ll try some of these.

    • Next you should try the train across country. Not that it will be any better, but certainly different.
      It helps to have a reason for the flight. Well all flights have some reason, but one that you are looking forward to heavily enough to deal with whtever the uncomfortableness of the flight offers.

  4. Great post! It’s nice to know how differently everyone copes with the fear of flying 🙂 I’m not scared of flying anymore (although after that disappearing airplane maybe I should be haha), but when I was really young, I had all sorts of things to comfort me, like bringing my favourite *lucky* stuffed animal, or even a small bible even though I’m not religious haha.

    • Thanks. I remember bringing stuffed animals as a kid too. Somehow just something to hold onto helped as the plane moves about.

  5. I also have come a long way in overcoming my fear of flying. There was a time (during our RTW) when I would take drugs AND drink. Somehow I have talked myself out of most of it – mostly from using techniques such as you do. I like the counting one; I’m a natural counter so this would work well for me. As I’m sitting in the Toronto airport right now waiting to board a flight to Chicago, I will have time soon enough to put this one into practice!!

    • The point of the counting for me seems to be counting backwards. It requires a bit more brainpower and has a “foreseeable” end of 0 even if I never let myself get that far. I have done alcohol and drugs once, but at a lower dose of the drugs. I still get anxious about it all, but I can fly as needed.
      Glad you got over it. Look forward to hanging with you guys this side of the pond.

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