AUS: 1300 630 488    NZ: 0800 1477 6287

Fear of flying? We’re here to help

There are various reasons someone may be fearful of flying. While for some, it’s a combination of stress, anxiety or feeling a loss of control, for others aviophobia can be traced back to a traumatic flight experience.

What seems to concern many people is turbulence. But generally speaking, turbulence is nothing to be fearful of. Realistically speaking, turbulence is usually avoided for the comfort of passengers, rather than safety. Plus, to alleviate one’s fear, it has often been compared to potholes when driving or headwinds while sailing – all par for the course. “Turbulence is like ‘waves of air’ that an aircraft passes through, similar to riding a boat on choppy water,” explains Ben Evans, co-owner of Flight Experience Sydney. “Aircraft are designed to withstand severe turbulence and multiple simultaneous lighting strikes.”

On top of that, pilots today are put through such vigorous testing and then audited every six months, plus they usually have more than 4000 hours of flying experience under their belts. You’re pretty much in the safest hands. And the plane itself is incredibly capable of dealing with multiple issues, especially considering all more aircraft systems have at least two back-up systems. But what happens when all of this information just doesn’t cut it? There are some things you can do onboard when anxiety hits.

Just breathe

Simple, yet effective. A common side-effect of anxiety is shallow breathing, so key here is to concentrate on elongating your breath. There are meditative breathing exercises you can do or simply close your eyes and take a few deep breaths until you feel your heart rate relaxing. If need be, Evans says listening to relaxing music can help. “Focused, deep breathing is an instant stress reliever. To increase focus, listen to white noise or nature sounds to help block out the hassle of passengers around you and the ambient noise of the plane.”

Relax your muscles

It’s normal for the body to tense up when the mind thinks it’s in a stressful situation. This can lead to muscular aches and pains, yet it can be hard to distinguish exactly which muscles are causing the tension. As you’re sitting in your seat, try to relax small groups of muscles at each time. This will help figure out what part of the body is most stressed. Start from your feet and work your way up to your neck and face.

Skip the alcohol and caffeine

While many people associated alcohol with calming the nerves, it’s actually the opposite. And when it comes to caffeine, you’re only making it worse. “Caffeine increases the heart rate, making it more likely that you will have a panic attack when faced with a situation that already makes you anxious,” Evans explains. “An alternative to alcohol or caffeine is chamomile tea. It relaxes your entire body. You can even bring a few tea bags in carry-on and ask a flight attendant for hot water to make your tea on board.”

Focus on the positives

Yes, easier said than done, but reminding yourself about the safe environment that you’re in can actually help a lot. Distraction is also a fantastic tool and with modern technologies at the tip of your finger while on board, losing yourself in a television show or movie is much easier than ever.

But perhaps what’s the most important thing to remember when feeling anxious on a plane is that for every accident that happens there are thousands of planes that take off and land safely. With more than 9500 thousand planes in the sky, carrying more than 1.2 million people at any given time, they really are the safest form of travel.

Evans has some final advice: “Remember that every flight provides you with the opportunity to make the next one easier. Your goal is to retrain your brain to become less sensitised to the triggers that set you off.”