How to Manage Fear of Flying

How to overcome fear of flying
There was a period of time I couldn't fly without experiencing a panic attack

Ten years ago my fear of flying was extreme. I often couldn’t fly without a panic attack. Five years ago, less anxious but still nervous, I took mild sedatives for any flight over an hour. I recently flew from Japan to Boston leisurely reading, napping and enjoying snacks without a pit in my stomach or clenched fingers on the armrest every time we hit turbulence. I can’t say I’m cured, but lots of reading about it, talking to pilots and flight attendants, and more than 30 flights in 2017 helped me overcome the worst of it. I no longer hate flying.

What is a fear of flying

While 12% of Americans are said to have a phobia of flying, another 25% have some degree of anxiety when boarding an aircraft. In the last ten years, I definitely shifted between intense fear and mild nervousness. Mine was a fear of crashing, but others suffer from mild claustrophobia to feeling of a lack of control.

How to manage your fear

There’s no quick fix, but here’s what the experts recommend for more comfortable flights on even the longest haul.

  • Understand turbulence isn’t going to bring the plane down. While terrifying, it’s pretty normal for most flights.
  • Sit in the front of the plane or over the wings. Turbulence feels more aggressive the further you are towards the back.
  • Take a flying lesson and go up in a small plane. While it seems counterintuitive, the act of learning about the mechanics and understanding what’s behind each sound and bump will help your brain to process it next time you’re on a commercial flight.
  • Attend an educational seminar given by airlines meant to demystify flying and help you overcome fears. British Airways holds regular Flying with Confidence classes at airports around London, and Air France provides Stress-Free Flying Workshops at both airports in Paris. Though these are both costly options.

There’s no magic solution, but I’m here to tell you it’s possible to overcome the anxiety and even look forward to plane rides. I love my time flying now as I’m blissfully disconnected from devices and have the chance to sip a cocktail and watch a movie or read a book free of distraction.

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