My Mild Fear of Flying

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My mild fear of flying had been building for a while. I didn’t fly much at all as a child. Once to Paris when I was 10. Next time to Rome when I was 17. After that it wasn’t until my mid twenties when I started to fly on holiday once or twice a year. Last year we took a lot of mini breaks and visits to friends and flew quite a bit. With this sudden increase in flights, I’d started feeling nervous about flying. We had a particularly difficult landing coming back from Rome last January, in the dark. People all around us were making panicky noises and grown men across from us were trying their hardest not to look too pale. It wasn’t pleasant.

After that I’d been a bit jumpy about flights and in the days running up to them I’d been nervous and withdrawn, which has not been the best mood to be in before or at the end of a holiday.

I decided to do some googling about (as one does will all problems these days) and found various tips and ideas. These are ones that have worked for me recently. Although I was still nervous and not exactly comfortable (especially during landing) I was much happier and better than I would have been, had I not prepared myself.

 

Look at the flight paths

This made a huge difference to me. In the week leading up to the flight every now and again I went onto Flight Radar 24 and watched all the planes snake their way across the map. It’s amazing how many are about. Watching them takes the mystery out of the process. You can see that planes do circuits in the areas around the airports, it’s totally normal. You can follow the long line that stretches from San Fransico up across Canada and the arctic circle and then down over Iceland, then Ireland, then Wales, then England into Heathrow. Looking at this reminded me that flight is amazing. Something to really marvel at. Imagine what your great-great Aunt Agnes would say if you told her you could be in New York before dinner time!

 

Deep Breaths

Not just in the car on the way to the airport. Take a deep breath whenever you’re sat down, doing anything at all. Just remind yourself of the moment. Do this in the week leading up to your flight. At home, at work, on the bus. Then on the way to the airport, on the plane, before and during take off, during the flight, and landing. It will definitely help.

 

Timing

If possible make the flight earlier in the day so you have less time to get nervous. Reduce your caffeine intake as much as possible, this was a struggle for me but I know it really helped.

 

Reframe the feeling of bumping about

One thing that I disliked a lot is turbulence or even just the normal bumping and shaking about that comes with flying. To help with this, in the lead up to the flight I took notice in the car, train or bus, whenever I was bumped about. I thought to myself: I’m not worried about this, this is a normal thing about travelling. If this happened on a plane it would be normal too, nothing to worry about.  If you take notice, you experience and ignore much more buffeting about on a car journey than you do on an average flight. It’s just about reframing this experience and normalising it.

 

Sit at the back by the toilets

This one we stumbled upon by accident. We were sat right at the back of our Ryanair flight, when I wasn’t reading or chatting I was watching the constant activity of the flight crew, their little private jokes and movements up and down the aisles, miming drinks to each other to bring down as they’d run out, calling someone to help make change after a passenger had paid for a panini with a €50 note. I became quite fond of the flight crew just from watching them work, they seemed happy to be doing their job and I can imagine it is a busy and tiring job. Watching them was a brilliant distraction. On top of this, every now and again, people shuffled by to the loos, which was another distraction. Sitting at the back felt busy but not noisy or frustrating.There was also a free row in front of us which meant we had more leg room and I felt less constrained. We also managed to get off the flight very quickly out the back door and were straight through to passport control, we’ll be booking the backrow again!

 

Book choice

Choose a book that is complex or interesting enough to really grab your attention. Make sure you’re already a few chapters in before the flight so you can just start reading. I wouldn’t start a new book on a flight just in case you don’t like it or can’t get into it. I had a nice book of critical theory and a book of poems, the opening poem was about the beauty of a plane flying into a gap in the clouds at sunset, so this was a nice thing to read on the flight. My other book on the way home was an Agatha Christie novel I was 3/4 way through. Perfect distraction!

 

Marvel at the view!

Leaving UK we had a perfect view of the Isle of Wight. It was beautiful seeing the whole island fit perfectly in the cabin window, to see the little ships dragging themselves slowly across to Portsmouth. The slow movement of life below. I’ve always found planes fascinating, looking up at them from the ground and wondering. It was nice to think that I’m up here now and people down on the ground are looking up thinking about where we’re going and where we’ve come from.

 

What actually happened on the flight:

Chilling on the back row, it was myself, my partner, and a lady in the window seat. The flight was totally fine, as we were late we taxied on to the runway and went straight into take off, without a moment for me to become nervous. Take off was exciting, the bumping and buffeting around stopped as the plane’s nose eased into the air. The weather was good and the views were beautiful. Everything was fine until we were coming into land in France. Due to the heat of the day, there were thermal updrafts near the runway which were causing turbulence. This meant the pilot could not make a clear approach of the runway. We had all been prepared to land but it was feeling quite rough and the pilot decided not to land. It was rather unusual as all of a sudden the engines whirred until action again and we tilted upwards. The crew made the annoucement about it being a missed approach. This alarmed a few people around us as we accelerated and banked to the right. People across from us (one of whom had been sat there crying during take off) started to throw up. Cabin crew had to rush about with a few sick bags. You can imagine, this was exactly the sort of thing I had been dreading. But I was actually fine. I took deep breaths, watched the scenery from the window (a gorgeous chateau with gardens, the fields, the snake of the river) and trusted that the pilot knew what he was doing. I felt safer thinking, yes people are in control of the plane, they’re doing their job, all is well. (silly though this sounds, it helped!)

As we were flying in a circuit to approach the runway from the other angle, we chatted with the woman next to us who was not at all bothered by any of it. She said, “I wouldn’t mind landing at some point, feel like I’m on a merry-go-round”. There wasn’t an ounce of panic in her voice at all, just the mild frustration, like she’d been delayed at a red light. A delay was all it really was. After we landed with a bit of a bump, applause struck up from the passengers and we came to a stop. A girl whose baggage was above our head came over to wait to get off and chat. “Ooof a few people suffered with that one didn’t they!?” She was totally fine and happy. No panic from her, no utter relief at it all being over. It was all fine. One member of the flight crew came by holding a sick bag, still with a smile on her face. Everyone around me was fine. Only a few had really suffered. And this wasn’t because the extra part of the flight was bumpier than before or the turning was sharp, it was just normal flying. People were being sick because they were anxious, having prepared themselves to land, we weren’t quite landing yet and this was disrupting. I realised it was more about experience (I’m sure the people who were nonchallant had been on more flights than I had). It’s about keeping yourself from suffering. I was really happy with the way I handled the landing after all my nerves about flying. I took deep breaths, looked out the window, carried on chatting with my partner and the woman next to us. I normalised the unsual feelings of being buffetted about and bumping at landing, thinking if I were on the bus, this feeling wouldn’t even register as scary. It was all fine. I was pleased to be off the plane but I wasn’t scared to get back on in a week’s time.

When we flew back I continued with my deep breaths and the whole flight was fine, even if the landing was once again a bit bumpy in the final approach (at least we only made one final approach this time!) There were some young kids sat behind us and the young girl was telling her mum how excited she was about flying, she said coming into land was her favourite part because she loved the sinking feeling, watching the ground rush up to meet the plane and the bump of being back on the ground.

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One comment

  1. Brilliant post, Ed! I love your writing, your descriptions always nail it, I felt as if I were there with you!

    Have you ever listened to the Radio 4 sit com ‘Cabin Pressure’ about a tiny, 1-plane company? Funny and witty. It’s written by John Finnemore and it’s BRILLIANT!

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