How to Overcome Your Fear of Flying
BY AMY HILL
With the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, travelers are more likely to consider hopping on a flight and taking a vacation outside of their living rooms in the coming months. While the travel industry will be ramping up again, not much will change for some. Even before the pandemic, people have been hesitant to fly due to an intense fear of everything that could go wrong. While the likelihood of a mid-flight mishap is low, the fear of flying is undoubtedly rational. According to a 2018 article in TIME, it’s estimated that up to 6.5% of the U.S. population struggles with an intense fear of flying, referred to as “aviophobia.”
Why do airplanes trigger such fear responses in nervous fliers? From an evolutionary standpoint, it is only natural for humans to be wary of heights – cavemen weren’t exactly soaring through the air at over 500 miles per hour. In fact, a fear of heights is actually adaptive, and has been keeping us alive for centuries. Without a healthy fear of heights, what would stop us from getting too close to the edge of a cliff?
If you’re dying to fly, but can’t fight the fear, here are some tips on overcoming your fear of flying.
If people knew how low the risks of dying in a plane crash actually were, they wouldn’t be as reluctant to board their next flight. Statistics show that the likelihood of dying in a plane crash on an annual basis is as low as 1 in 11 million. This places the risk of dying in a plane crash almost equivalent to dying via shark attack.
Why are plane crashes so rare? Somehow, the aviation industry has nearly perfected its craft, making flying to Europe technically safer than driving to work. Straight from the horse’s mouth, my father, Dan Hill, a pilot for nearly 45 years and a flight instructor for seven years, attributes air travel’s high level of safety to training. “Most incidents are the result of a chain of events,” explains Dan. “Planes don’t crash just because one thing goes wrong. The industry has learned from past accidents, and regulations and training programs have been implemented to prevent history from repeating itself.”
Preparation is Key
Before your flight, pack as many distractions and comfort items as possible to make the flight (somewhat) enjoyable. Download lighthearted podcasts, television shows, or movies to your laptop or tablet, and avoid watching anything scary during the flight. When your nervous system is already on edge, watching reruns of Full House may be your best bet, as opposed to choosing a new horror movie that you’ve been dying to see. Most importantly, as I have learned from personal experience, it is a horrible idea to prepare yourself for a flight by watching movies about plane crashes such as Castaway or Sully the night before departure.
Pack your favorite snack or candy to munch on throughout the flight, or wear your coziest socks and sweatshirt for warmth. Once you are in the aircraft cabin and are able to notice how calm the flight attendants are behaving, along with how many passengers are already snoring on their neck pillows before takeoff, it is easier to realize that the fear is most likely just in your head.
Talk to a Doctor
Finally, if none of the tips above are effective at getting you to set foot onto a plane, your primary care physician may be able to help in ways that cozy socks cannot. Sometimes nature trumps nurture, and it isn’t possible to calm your nerves without the help of modern medicine. Many doctors are willing to prescribe medications to help ease anxiety on an as-needed basis. If you receive a prescription, you may find that you only need to use it on one or two flights before discovering that flying isn’t as scary as you initially thought. Who knows – you may even fall in love with flying and decide to go shark diving as your next adventure!
Reference: Why Some People Have a Crippling Fear of Flying — and How They Can Overcome It By Jamie Ducharme, TIME Magazine, July 6, 2018