I hate flying with a deep passion. The other day, I had to cancel a trip and was actually relieved: it meant that I would not have to go through the 11 hours on a plane that were needed to take me from Europe to the U.S. West Coast. Only two days later did I start to feel sad: I was not going to travel! I became so fed up that I searched for a solution, and when presented with the opportunity to go anyways, but for a shorter time, I immediately booked the new flight.
Was I happy that I would go to the U.S. after all?
No. Instead, I started obsessing over the plane ride again.
I know that I am not alone with this, though – fellow Travelette Nikki Vargas recently told us about her dislike of planes, and we’ve already published an article with 10 unconventional ways to deal with fear of flying. I am the person who religiously reads these articles before every flight, but I’ve noticed that many of my coping techniques are not really mentioned. So here’s 10 more tricks for the nervous flyer, tried and tested by yours truly.
1. Preparation is key
When I fly, I come prepared: two books and a magazine are the bare minimum, usually completed with a couple of downloaded episodes of podcasts, my journal, an in-flight to-do list, and a playlist with my favourite music. More often than not, I end up only using half of those things, but it makes me feel good to know that I have enough material to distract myself.
2. Make yourself comfortable
This might seem silly, but it totally works: take off your shoes, kick back, pretend you are in your bed. If the seats next to you are free (and you’re not taking-off or landing), use the space to prop up your legs or lay down. Why is this useful? Because nervous flyers tend to tense up really quickly. By putting your body into a position that is usually used in relaxed, chill situations, you are telling your mind to quiet down and just enjoy the flight.
3. Watch airplanes come and go
This works especially well at busy airports: just have a look out of the window while waiting for boarding and watch all the incoming and outgoing airplanes. If flying were really that dangerous, how come you have never seen an airplane crash during take-off or landing? For me, this is the most soothing if I am at an airport where new planes are coming in every minute or so – if all of them can do it, my airplane will manage, too.
4. Treat Yo’ Self!
Create something to look forward to during the flight. One of my BFFs swears on facial masks during her flights (the peel-off type, to avoid being messy!), my mother (also a very nervous flyer and most likely the one responsible for my irrational fear) enjoys a glass of sparkling wine before take-off, and I always order black tea with milk on my flights. Choose something that you don’t do every day, but that you still very much like, and you’ll learn to associate the dreaded flights with something pleasant. It makes the whole experience a lot more enjoyable!
5. Hold something in your hands
It’s as simple as that. Bring something that you can keep in your hands during the flight – I like to take along small blankets or hardcover books. The reason sounds a bit stupid, but it’s very helpful: you don’t notice as much when you get sweaty hands. Noticing that your body is sending out nervous signals will not make anything better (actually, it will make it worse), so just pretend that you don’t get any of those symptoms. No better way to do that than by holding on to something soft and cuddly.
6. Trick your body into sleeping
I cannot even count to a number that would be as high as the one showing how many people have told me to “just sleep” on a plane. People who are not afraid of flying, you mean well, but you obviously have no idea. Here’s a few things that you can do to fall asleep anyways: listen to music, or hum your favourite song in your head; put a silly movie on play and just let yourself nod off; close your eyes and try to not think, or try to look at the colourful shapes that form when your eyes are closed; and most of all: don’t think about the way your body feels in this plane, 30.000 feet above ground. Just – don’t.
7. Time your bathroom breaks wisely
The most terrifying thing about flying for me is having to go to the toilet. Not only do I not like small, confined spaces (hey, like a plane!), but I also believe somewhere in my panicked mind that I control the plane and the second I loose focus and get up from my seat, we will crash. The most relaxing thing for me is to just not stand up, so I time my bathroom breaks. On short flights, I keep them to zero, on long flights, I try to keep them to exactly one. Or less. How? Don’t drink too much water in the hours before the flight, and always, always, always head for the bathroom right before boarding.
8. Stay warm
Another time when bringing a blanket comes in handy: staying warm. Planes get notoriously cold, so staying warm is always a good idea, but it’s especially important for nervous flyers. If you are cold, your body tenses up, and from here on out, it’s basically the same logic as point number two. If your body is tense, it’s harder for your mind to relax – so avoid it.
9. It’s you, not the plane
This one was a breakthrough for me: realising that it’s not the plane that is experiencing troubles – it’s just me. Let me explain a bit: I’m the kind of flyer who is extremely attentive to every single little sound a plane can make. Everything that seems out of the ordinary to me (read: literally every single noise you will hear on a flight) sends my heart racing. Some noises, I have learned to be okay with – I now know that getting the wheels out before landing is a thing that just cannot happen quietly. But every plane makes different noises, and add to that the people who are opening and closing overhead compartments, flushing the toilet, or banging their feet on the seat in front to them, and you end up with the noise landscape of my worst nightmare. Did somebody just open the bathroom door? Or are we crashing?
The turning point for me came when I finally realised that it’s my ears (and mind) that are being crazy, not the plane having technical difficulties. If the jet engine sound of the plane changes, it’s probably not because the engines have stopped working, but because my ears have popped. If I hear a suspicious bang and think it’s coming from right underneath my feet, it’s probably not some terrible explosion in the plane’s belly, but my already freaked-out mind hearing noises coming from the wrong sound source. It relaxed me to no end to start thinking that everything I used to associate with disaster is a fabrication of my mind and body – the plane, on the other hand, it totally fine.
10. Try flying a plane yourself
Granted, this one is probably not the easiest to do, but if you are ever presented with the opportunity to fly a plane yourself, or join on a flight in those horror machines with only two or four seats: DO IT. Don’t let your fear stop you. Seeing how a pilot operates in the cockpit with your own eyes will make you understand the mechanics of flying, which, in turn, will soothe you. Better yet, try flying the plane yourself for a bit, and you will feel how safe and steady the machine is in the air.
To encourage you, let me tell you about the first time I got to go on a flight in two-seater: I cried. I cried so hard that the pilot didn’t want to take off, but I guess my protests, half drowned in the river of tears that was streaming down my face, must have appealed to him at some level. As soon as we reached the height of trees, I started shouting: “Okay! This height and not higher! Not higher!”, which made my pilot almost laugh his face off. This is also when I learned that the higher you get in a plane, the safer the ride is – because you have more time to plan an emergency landing. Well.
We eventually did go higher than the trees, and I enjoyed one of the best flights of my life. And what’s more – I went back and did it again, just for fun. Flying doesn’t have to be terrifying, but you have to have the courage to get over your fear first.
There, those are my secrets. I’m not going to lie, I am never very happy to have to board a plane – but at least I can sit through the flight without major panic attacks. What about you, are you scared of flying as well? And how do you cope with it?