Realistically, I think I am writing this blog to convince myself I am ok with flying! I am … until I’m not! This post is one I’ve been wanting to write for a while and keep saying I will when I post about my holidays on Instagram, then I don’t get around to it … so here it is … sit back and relax … it’s a likely to be a long-haul post … hopefully not too much turbulence!
I have been on tons of flights in 40 years … starting when I was a few months old to Canada (obviously don’t remember that!!), then Spain with family, even a 13hr flight to Mexico for my Honeymoon when I was 20 and don’t recall having any issues with flying at all but after lots of conversations with different people, the common thing that comes up is that since having kids, the anxiety of taking a flight has kicked in. That said, there are various points about getting on that plane that cause my head to start spinning, some make more sense than others.
Planning a holiday for me is an exciting time, usually we’ve booked well in advance but have also taken a few last minute trips too but I busy myself with planning and lists, packing and repacking a million times. I don’t tend to freak out too much about the flight at this stage, it creeps in a little at times but usually it’s on the day of the flight, as we get closer to the airport.
At the airport
I think to be honest, excitement of the holiday and anxiety of the flight can manifest in the same symptoms. Rapid heart rate, sweaty palms, a sense of nervousness and overwhelm in one. Once we check our bags in, it’s time to head to security. I think a lot of people find this a little nerve wracking on some level … making sure you’ve taken appropriate things out of your bag to be scanned, did I put all liquids (including creams, lipsticks, mascara etc) into my clear bag … making sure pockets are empty, walking through the scanner, waiting for your bag, hoping it’ll just zoom down the belt, not that it’ll be stopped for anything untoward but the whole thing of having your bag searched is just another hassle … and if it is searched, did someone slip something into your bag between walking into the airport and the security? … you know … that bag that’s not left your side or even been within reach of another person but the thoughts creep in anyway. Between 2017 and 2022 I also had the added trigger moment of having to tell the guys at security (who are generally more approachable than they look!) that I had a heart monitor fitted in my chest (I had an ID card to prove it) so should really go through the x-ray machine instead of the metal detector. It was never an issue but I always felt it was!
During my holiday planning, I would even plan what we would do after security … the main duty free shop, breakfast, a wander through the shops if there was a delay and so on. Again, all things to keep me busy, keep my mind occupied and away from the fact I was about to board a tin can with wings and go up 38,000ft into the air! I actually quite like watching these ‘tin cans with wings’ from the window of the departure lounge.
Time to board
This is the part I really start to get nervous. Row numbers called, scanning in the boarding pass and hearing ‘thank you, have a good flight’ from the airline staff at the gate. Walking down the stairs or slope into the jet bridge and seeing the door to the plane for the first time. Clutching my passport and phone I walk onto the plane and take my seat. Again keeping myself busy, getting bits from my bag I might want during the flight. This usually consists of tissues (because I always cry on take off!), my phone, and a book I want to read but won’t! I actually get two books out. The second book is one I have read previously but always take it with me when I fly incase I want to refer to any of it.
‘The Easy Way to Enjoy Flying’
A while ago, my Sister in Law was telling me about a book called ‘The Easy Way to Enjoy Flying’ by a guy called Allen Carr or ‘The stop smoking guy’ as lots of people know him following his hit book ‘The Easy Way to Stop Smoking’. The stop smoking book had worked for Jess and she thought the flying book may help me so I got it. The first time I read it I was so emotional because the thing is with having a fear of flying is that unless the person you’re talking to has experienced it on some level, they, through no fault of their own just don’t understand what you’re going through. Some people say ‘oh don’t be stupid’ or ‘it’s the safest way to travel’ or some other version of something that makes you want to scream ‘I KNOW!!!!‘ but it doesn’t stop you feeling how your feel! The book on the other hand was written in a way that made me turn to my husband and say ‘It’s like I wrote this!!‘ because may fears were all there in black and white, not just as a list but as a feeling, as though Allen Carr himself had taken the words from my head when I am in panic mode but can’t explain why … the book explained it all. It goes through so much to do with flying, and one particular heading that stood out for me and made me feel normal … ‘An initial fear of flying is both natural and rational’ … fear of flying is different to a phobia … phobias are known as irrational fears and a fear of flying is rational for many reasons as he says in his book. As much as the book hasn’t ‘cured’ my fear of flying … it helps me to deal with it better because I understand more about flying and why my fears are totally normal fears … but then explains why I don’t need to fear those things.
Once the plane starts to taxi, my anxiety kicks up a notch … I’m usually leaning over my husband’s shoulder (who always gets the window seat!!) to see if we’re on the runway yet … I’m literally like a kid ‘are we nearly there yet?‘ … realistically this is my nerves doing this because it’s like I need to know when we are off the taxi way and on the runway so I can sit up and prep myself for the take off! As the plane hurtles down the runway my heart starts racing and as soon as you can feel the wheels are up, the sense of dread hits, fearing it will just drop out of the sky. Trust me I know this sounds ridiculous but I bet if you’re someone with a fear of flying reading this you’ll be nodding that you get it! As I mentioned before, I think it is a mix of anxiousness and overwhelm because I do cry but not all out of fear, it is a strange one to explain! I no longer fight this because the more I fight it, the worse I feel. I accept I may cry on take off, then when I do and I settle, which doesn’t take long, it’s not as draining. Fighting anxiety is exhausting!
Noises on a flight are probably my biggest trigger. When we are on a small plane for a short haul, these noises are much more noticeable so I’m constantly asking my husband, ‘what’s that? is that normal? why is it rattling?’ … as a plane enthusiast he’s always able to explain it to me. My first post-covid-lockdown flight I took was up to Manchester with British Airways, the first time we had flown with them and my husband bought me an online fear of flying course with British Airways. They also do a course that is in person, completing it with a flight but online was enough for me at this stage! One of the main things I took from that course was about noises. The pilot went through from the point of taxi, every noise you’d usually hear on a flight, one being one of my triggers … the moment you have the engines roaring for take off, get into the air and then you hear something that to someone with a noise trigger will hear and think the plane is stalling because you hear the engines slowing down and you’re now going back down. Reality? They use so much power to take off, they don’t need to maintain that power use for flight. Yes to speed up or increase altitude and they roar again but inevitably they’ll cut back again. Until this course, I didn’t understand that and that the sound of the engine slowing was not only normal but very necessary!
Once cabin crew are out of their seats and starting their service, I settle very quickly. My anxiety drops, my heart rate returns to normal and I can breathe again! I usually stay pretty settled unless …
One thing that will unsettle me during a flight is probably one of the most common triggers, turbulence. I have learnt via the fear of flying course and the book, and of course via my husband explaining it to me again and again, there’s various forms of turbulence and non that we will experience pose a danger to the plane. The issue I guess is turbulence comes in all shapes and sizes from a little tremble to a full on shake and anything in between. Sometimes you feel a little judder and that’s it for me, convinced we’re in for a bumpy ride the whole flight! I have been on some night flights in particular where I have just cried and been convinced the plane is going to fall apart … it’s not, I KNOW it’s not, but this is where the fear lays.
I was incredibly lucky to experience a flight in First Class for my 40th birthday last year to New York. I mentioned to the Cabin Crew that I have a fear of flying (and the fact I was sat away from my husband with the seats being so far apart also wasn’t great!!) and they were AMAZING with me. I’ve never told anyone on board about my fear and now wish I had on previous flights. On the outbound flight, the Captain made an announcement saying he believed there were a few passengers on board concerned about the turbulence we were experiencing, explained what it was, that is was totally normal and perfectly safe for the plane, that they’re expecting it and it’s all good. I did get a cheeky smile from the Flight Attendant who had obviously put in a word haha!! He also said if I was worried at any point, look at him, if he doesn’t look worried then I didn’t need to be worried. He had been cabin crew for 25yrs and said if there’s a noise I don’t like, tell him and he would explain it. If he didn’t know something he’d always then find out what it was. Then on the return flight, again, mentioned it to the cabin crew … essentially so they knew if I cry, I am fine and will settle down. (I don’t like a fuss, I like to just deal with it myself) This time part way into the flight, the First Officer actually came out and spoke to me! He brought the flight plan out to show me (and another lady sat behind) the weather map and where they’re expecting turbulence, that they’re aware of it and had already requested to change altitude, where it might be just a little bump, where it will be very bumpy and may last a little while but to rest assured that we were safe and the plane was safe and to try and enjoy the flight. Of course, that’s not something that can or would usually happen and I was amazed it happened at all but was also beyond grateful!
What do I do now to help myself and how has my flight anxiety changed?
The book I mentioned above is something I just take with me all of the time. Even if I don’t feel the need to read any of it, I have it incase I want to refer to something and the advice it gives to think differently. On that New York return flight there was a man in front of me who heard me tell Cabin crew about my fear and he said he is also scared of flying and nobody understands. He usually just drinks loads and is happy when he lands. I did actually have a spare copy of the flying book as I thought I’d lost mine so ordered another, then found mine so knew I had another copy at home. I gave it to him and he was thrilled. To me, alcohol as a way to get through the flight would increase my anxiety anyway!
I don’t fight the nerves. I allow my body to experience the symptoms because eventually it’ll get used to the fact I am safe! I log onto the wifi in the air … keeping a sense of normalcy I think is important for me so going on Facebook, uploading stories to Instagram and so on … helps my mind feel normal.
I watch films, I have snacks, I do try to enjoy the moments that I can enjoy of a flight.
My fear of flying / flight anxiety isn’t cured by any means. I know I’ll cry on take off, I know turbulence triggers my anxiety, but having a little understanding of my triggers such as noises with the engines and so on really does help. Now on take off instead of saying to my husband ‘what was that? that was loud, is its normal? what the hell was that? ‘ … I’ve changed to ‘That’s the engines roaring for takeoff right? That’s the engines slowing now isn’t it? That’s the undercarriage isn’t it? That’s the engines speeding up because we’re increasing altitude right? ‘ , not in a panicked way, just a calm, reassuring myself kind of question … and am getting to the point I don’t need to ask anything at all … I am starting to just tell myself that’s what the noises are … because that is … what the noises are!
I do think understanding little bits about flying helps. I know how a plane stays in the air, that there’s pressure from every angle keeping it in the air and it can’t just fall out of the sky. I know turbulence is a normal factor of flying through air and that planes are designed to withstand much more than we experience. I know the Pilot knows what they are doing and that they are prepared for absolutely anything. I want to travel … and I want to be able to enjoy the journey too so I will not let this stop me! I also know that the car journey to and from the airport is actually the most unsafe part of flying!
If you’ve made it to the end of this post, thank you and I hope you enjoyed the trip! Let me know in the comments how you feel about flying! Are you worried about flying? Does it stop you from flying? Do you love being up in the air? Let me know!!
4 thoughts on “Flight Anxiety and Me”
Rachel this is such a fantastic post! So many interesting things – what the noises are, the BA course for anxious flyers – and how lovely the cabin crew were 🥰❤️
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Thanks so much for reading. Bit of a long post but it’s not something explainable in a paragraph that’s for sure!! A little knowledge is helpful for sure but I wouldn’t want every little detail about the plane. More to worry about 😂 but knowing those noises helps massively xxx
How apt that I came across your blog now whilst sitting in the lounge at Kos airport awaiting my flight home! I am an extremely anxious flier. I only really started flying 10 years ago when I met my husband. Before that I would drive to France every summer for my holiday. I’ve had full blown panic attacks on flights (take off is the worst part for me). I can’t bear the noise and literally everything you’ve mentioned I’ve felt on every flight; the acceleration and wondering if it will take off or just spin off the runway, that horrendous feeling that the plane has stalled on its way up, the noise of the landing gear coming down but thinking it’s the undercarriage of the plane falling out! I used to self medicate with wine and prescription tablets (Valium prescribed just for flying) but that definitely heightened my fear. After one particular bad panic attack on a flight with my young step children at the time I decided enough was enough. I went to hypnotherapy and also bought a book called Soar which sounds very like the book you have. It explained what all the noises are, how turbulence is not something that is dangerous to the plane. Both things helped so much, I now have a tapping system that I go through when I’m anxious on the plane and it keeps my concentration so I’m not focused on the noises etc. since that I travelled to Australia for our honeymoon, a country that was never even on my radar before! I’m far from cured, if there was any other way I could get to the places I want to to go to I would take it. But I do have some level of control over it now. Thanks for sharing your experiences 😊
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Wow that is timing isn’t it!! Oh gosh!! Yeah I think alcohol would just make me feel worse as I find it increases my anxiety. I don’t mind a little baileys after my dinner but that’s different. Alcohol to avoid the anxiety just fuels it for me. I tap too!! Forgot about that one!! I think it’s a distraction thing for me. Well done on Australia though! My best friend moved there 10yrs ago and I’m yet to go! It makes a difference knowing that bit more doesn’t it, as you say, not cured but at least able to fly whereas some people just don’t which is a real shame in life. I hope your flight home is a good and thanks so much for stopping by to read xxxx