Line Up at JFKCredit: Ad Meskens

Everyday thousands of passengers head to the airport to hop on a flight to some exotic destination. Within this group of travelers are business travelers, family vacation travelers, and a host of others who are trying to get from point A to point B in the shortest time possible. If we go a step further we find yet another subcategory of people who are labeled as fearful fliers.

These “fearful fliers” are the travelers who have a fear associated with being on a plane and enjoying what should be an exciting experience. This fear can come from past experiences, overhyping of previous aviation incidents from the media, or a general lack of knowledge concerning the world of flying. Whatever their situation is, the prominent factor is that they all share a fear of flying.

Taxi/Takeoff Segment of the Flight:

Flying is a very complex and technical feat but we can break it up into three different segments to help compartmentalize the topic. The first compartment or section of the total flying experience is the taxi and takeoff portions of a flight. It is during this segment of flying that the level of anxiety begins to rise in our fearful fliers due to the fact that the journey is just beginning and there is a lot going on around them.

The passengers, crew, and plane are all very busy at this point as the pushback; engine start, passenger brief, and taxi out are accomplished. It should be a priority for any fearful flier to not only listen to the flight attendants brief but also to read the safety card and familiarize themselves with the planes exits and emergency equipment locations. By knowing this information, a fearful flier can rest assured that should the highly unlikely occur, they will at least be able to help themselves. Otherwise fearful fliers should concentrate on calming down and taking in all of their surroundings.

Once the plane has made it to the assigned runway a few different things happen. First, the crew should make some announcement as to what number you are for takeoff and then the flight attendants will take their seats. As the plane is taxied onto the runway fearful fliers should anticipate hearing the engines create a lot more noise. This is all completely normal and shouldn’t be cause for alarm since the engines have to work harder than when you are taxiing.

As the plane begins to roll down the runway fearful fliers can anticipate a sinking feeling as gravity forces them further into their seat. This will only last momentarily until the plane has lifted off the ground and which point the G-force feeling will subside. As the plane climbs out small power adjustments to the engines may cause a momentary sinking feeling but once again this is completely normal. At this point the pilots will raise the flaps which will cause some minor noise, set a climb takeoff performance setting into the engine, and will probably make a few turns to get the plane on course. About ten minutes later you will hear a chime overhead indicating that you have successfully survived the first segment of a flight!

Tips for coping with the Taxi/Takeoff Portions of a Flight:

Tip #1: Ensure that all of your carryon baggage is stowed so that you avoid restricting your personal space. Let’s face it, planes aren’t the roomiest places to be and there’s nothing worse than being scared flying and having a feeling of claustrophobia at the same time.

Tip #2: Familiarize yourself with the safety instructions so that you know what to do in the highly unlikely event of an emergency.

Tip #3: Introduce yourself to your seatmates since having a conversation can distract you from what’s happening around you.

Tip #4: Try to select a seat next to the aisle to avoid having to look out the window.

Tip #5: Turn on the air duct above you if you can stand the cooler air since it naturally helps your body fight the affects of air sickness.

Climb/Cruise/Descent Segment of the Flight:

Things should be starting to calm down on the flight once it’s reached the climb segment. At this point you will be able to pull out your portable electronics and the flight attendants will turn on the in-flight entertainment if the plane is equipped. Anyone who has any fear of flying should utilize both of these if possible to help distract them during the flight. Watch a movie, listen to music, or read a book in order to focus on something other than what’s happening outside the plane. Taking a nap is also a very effective method of passing the time on a flight since you may just wake up at your arrival gate not having experienced any of the flight.

The cruise portion of the flight will most likely be the longest portion and can last for hours depending on the route. A snack or potentially a meal with drinks will be served although the quality can vary from airline to airline. Fearful Fliers should avoid alcoholic beverages in order to avoid the aerodynamic effects of flying from feeling worse than they are. This is important because a lot of people will tell anyone with a fear of flying to drink, but it will make the flight infinitely worse. Otherwise, make sure to relax and find some form of entertainment while you cruise the friendly skies.

As the saying goes; what goes up must come down. Eventually your flight will be nearing its end and the plane will begin its descent. This is the time that may seem the most hectic, but usually that is because the flight attendants are running up and down the aisle collecting garbage and putting items away that were used throughout the flight. During this period, fearful fliers should ensure that their items are stored properly and don’t take up too much personal space. From there it is important to sit back, relax, and enjoy the rest of your flight.

Tips for coping with the Climb/Cruise/Descent Portions of the Flight:

Tip #1: Get comfortable since you may have a long flight ahead of you. Recline your seat if you want, eat a snack, drink some water, or take a nap.

Tip #2: Avoid Alcohol! This will make your flight much worse if you drink too much.

Tip #3: Bring a book, a movie, or music to keep yourself occupied.

Tip #4: Get up and take a walk to the lavatory is you feel restless or need a break from the sitting.

Tip #5: Take a nap if possible! Sleeping through an entire flight is the best way to avoid stress.


Wing View out of CRJ200Credit: Joseph Perriello

Landing/Arrival Segment of the Flight:

The landing portion of the flight is often considered the scariest since the plane is flying at a high rate of speed and aimed at a small portion of the Earth. In reality, it is just another routine portion of the flight and shouldn’t be stressed over. Pilots are highly trained to handle various landing conditions and go through extensive scenarios to ensure the landing is not only safe but also smooth.

During this segment the plane will be gradually descending to the ground. It will probably make a few turns and you will hear the gear and flaps extended. The noise level will increase as these are extended but it is nothing to be alarmed about. The actual touchdown may come as an initial shock and will be followed by a rapid deceleration, but once again this is normal and shouldn’t be cause for alarm by any fearful flier. The whole process is a choreographed routine that happens thousands of times every day without incident.

After landing the planes flaps will be retracted and passengers will be greeted with the welcome speech given by flight attendants. It is important to remain seated during this time and to keep the seatbelt fastened until the plane has arrived at the gate and the seatbelt sign is turned off. Once the plane arrives at the gate passengers are home free and all that’s left is to collect baggage and head for the exit. Anyone afraid of flying should take a deep breath and exit with the knowledge that they successfully completed a flight!

General Tips for Fearful Fliers:

Tip #1: Wear comfortable clothing so that you don’t feel restricted on the flight.

Tip #2: Only carry on the plane what you will need. Not having to worry about luggage will clear the mind and allow you to focus on the flight.

Tip #3: Feel free to let the flight attendant know that you are a fearful flier. They are trained to deal with people afraid of flying and will go the extra mile to make them comfortable.

Tip #4: If you want you may also be able to say hi to the pilots and see the flight deck. Having a personal connection with the person flying the plane can calm nerves and make people feel safer. Of course this has to be done before the plane departs so ensure you ask on your way in.

Tip #5: Seek out a class aimed at conquering the fear of flying. There are many available and some even involve going into a full motion simulator to view a normal flight from the flight deck.

Tip #6: Remember to keep breathing and concentrate on relaxing. It can be easy to hyper ventilate when trapped on something that makes you uneasy, but focus on your breathing to keep calm.

Tip #6: If you feel sick, the sick bag is located in the seat back pocket in front of you and may also double as a anti-hyperventilating device.

Tip #7: Avoid watching anything with an aviation disaster before the flight.

Tip # 8: Avoid coffee or other caffeinated beverages as they will raise your level of anxiety. 



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