Travel Series: 3 Ways to Cope with Flying Anxiety
The feedback from my first travel series post was so good I figured I'd share more tips with all of you in the hope that perhaps I can help out someone who will soon be taking a job that requires a lot of traveling or if you'll be flying somewhere far away and exotic soon. Also, with Thanksgiving coming up on Thursday and the holidays coming up - you may be doing some major traveling too!
Now, you may find this hard to believe given how much traveling I've done over the past dozen years, but flying has always been a terrifying experience for me. I didn't even realize it until the last year or so just how bad it had become - I love traveling, but I hated flying.
Takeoffs and landings never really gave me trouble in the past, but on my most recent voyage to Europe that all changed. My heart was racing, I was sweating and crying and there weren't even any turbulence involved. What happened to me?
I was once on a flight from Tokyo, Japan to Washington, DC where mid-meal service the plane hit such a rough patch of turbulence that the flight attendants had to get down on the floor and hold onto the food cart so it didn't go flying and hit the ceiling. Yet I remained calm and was totally fine. I also rode a "puddle-jumper" from Vermont to Boston that only seated eight people, the pilot was younger than me, and they used my carry-on as a weight balance in one of the wings. I lived through this too. I've also been aboard a plane from Vienna, Austria to New York City that circled in the air for about 40 minutes waiting to land before the captain stated that we were going to run out of fuel and needed to reroute for a fill-up. I've taken off in snowstorms, thunderstorms, strong winds, and dense fog - what kind of wuss had I become?
I guess this is a lesson that at any point in your life you can suddenly feel anxious and stressed out about getting on planes. With all the news out these days about planes getting shot down in different parts of the world, shows on The Weather Channel like "Why Planes Crash?" and flights completely disappearing without a trace (i.e. Malaysia), it's easy to feel a little fear.
Here are three helpful tips that recently helped me get over my flying anxiety and please feel free to share your own tips in the comments below.
1) Watch Planes Take Off and Land
If you happen to live anywhere remotely close to an airport, I highly suggest that you go to a nearby location and do this, but if you don't, make sure you do this while waiting for your flight or even look up videos online.
We happen to not live very far from Newark International Airport so this was pretty easy. The New Jersey Turnpike runs parallel to the runway and on the other side of the road is an IKEA with large windows in the cafeteria that overlook the runway. I love watching planes take off and land anyway - I could watch that forever! But since my anxiety came back, I found it immensely helpful to not just look at the planes that were taking off and landing, but to really WATCH them. Notice how soon after takeoff the landing gear is retracted, the way the wings move and the plane body shifts due to the winds, how soon a plane turns in the air shortly after taking off. If you really watch the subtleties of taking off and landing you'll see that plenty of these movements are common and not a big deal at all.
2) Observe Planes on a Flight Tracker App
Carsten recently introduced to the Flight Aware Flight Tracker App for the iPhone - which you can download here - and it's absolutely awesome. Based on your current location, you can see which flights are currently in the sky above you, where they came from, where they're going, and you can also see a record of the plane's changes in speed and altitude over the duration of a flight.
From where we live in the New York metro area, there are dozens of planes taking off and landing at Newark, LaGuardia, and JFK - so this is what a typical evening sky looks like from our apartment.
I found this app helpful in coping with my anxiety because if you zoom further back you really get to see that at any given moment there are THOUSANDS of flights going on all over the world. This means there are millions of people in the air at this very moment and 99.9% of all those people are going to be fine. Millions of people are in cars right now, and a much smaller percentage of them will have a safer journey. Using this app has really helped me put things into perspective.
3) Imagine That You're Not on a Plane
I read an article recently that said if turbuence get really bad on a flight to imagine that you are actually in a submarine and not in an airplane, because the concept is more or less the same since from a physics standpoint, air and water produce similar movements.
If you were in a submarine, you would get jostled around by current shifts in the water, but you would never be concerned about plummeting. The only way an airplane would plummet would be in a very serious situation, otherwise turbulence are as common as bumps in the road. Also, the engines are only really in use for takeoff and for stopping after landing - the rest of the time an airplane acts as a glider and gently rides air vents downward - no plummeting. Most planes built in the last decade or so are able to land themselves through computer programs.
What tips have helped you during a difficult flight? Share them in the comments below!