Fear of flying

  • Fear of flying

    Imagine packing a suitcase for an overseas trip to somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Rome. Paris. New York. Berlin. The world. You’ve been saving like mad for the past year. You’ve bought boxes of cheap wine instead of your favourite bottles. You’ve opted for nameless brands of pasta instead of the good stuff imported from Italy. You’ve been using public transport instead of the fuel-guzzling SUV sitting in your driveway. You’ve saved. You’ve sacrificed. And you’re about to depart for one of the greatest adventures of your life.

    And so you get in your car, drive to the airport and park in the ‘long stay’ parking lot, because you’ve even managed to save up for that! Chuffed and excited, you walk up to the counter, check in and get your ticket. You’re way too early, but that’s okay. You get a glass of wine and sit and watch the airplanes take off and land. ‘That’s not so bad,’ you think to yourself as you order another glass of house red. An hour of plane-spotting goes by, and before you know it, you are outside, ticket in hand, approaching the plane. But then you notice the smell of the fuel, the noise of the engines and the enormity of it all. The planes are huge. Surely too big to stay in the sky. Surely. You notice that you’re sweating. Your hands are shaking. Your mouth is drier than a saltpan. And you freeze like a deer caught in the headlights. You realise that every ounce of your being is stopping you in your tracks, and you listen to that voice inside your head, turn around and run back towards the safety of the airport. Except running like a maniac from an airplane isn’t a good idea. It looks suspect. Obviously. Before you know it, you’re in an office with a two-way mirror being questioned by airport security and police with bad moustaches and stale-coffee breath.

    Well, that didn’t go as planned…

    The fear of flying might seem irrational to many, but for some it’s a very real phobia. But according to the experts, it’s a fear that you can overcome, and so here are some tips:

    Before the flight

    First up you need to understand that there are no quick fixes to overcoming your fear. You’re going to have to have loads of determination and patience. It’s going to take guts. The other thing you should know is that even frequent flyers sometimes get nervous, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

    Identify the triggers

    Try to figure out what it is about flying that scares you so much – when you know what it is that sets off your anxiety, you’ll be more in control. Write it down and speak to a friend or a professional counsellor about it.

    Knowledge is power

    Anxiety is usually powered by the worst-case scenarios that you make up in your head. If you keep thinking the worst, your anxiety will not let up. So know the facts about flying to help you better manage your anxiety levels. The more you know about flying – from how the engines work to why turbulence happens – the more you’ll be able to combat your fear with hard, cold facts.

    Start slowly

    Gradually expose yourself to your fear. For example, visit the airport a couple of times and just hang out. Spend enough time there until you can watch planes take off and land without getting sweaty palms.


    Unfortunately, you can’t gradually expose yourself all the way to actually flying, so visualise the next steps. From walking up the stairs into the plane, sitting in your seat and putting on your seatbelt to imagining the feeling you’ll have when the plane takes off.

    Start with a shorter flight

    Get someone close to you to do this with you. Fly a short distance – a two-hour flight to visit family in Joburg or Cape Town for instance. Once you feel comfortable with a short flight, expose yourself to longer ones.

    Know that it will get better

    When you expose yourself to your phobia, chances are that the next time you have to face it, it will be easier. So even if the first flight was gut-wrenching, the second one will be better.

    Try to be logical

    Look at it this way: airplanes are one of the safest ways to travel. Your chances of getting killed when crossing a street or driving are far greater. According to data gathered by some very clever people, there is a 99.99999771 percent chance that your flight will arrive safely. So your chances of not making it to your destination or the plane being faulty are less than 1 percent.

    During the flight

    • Keep the above logic in mind if you’ve managed to actually get on the plane. If you’re flying and there’s a sound you’re not familiar with or it’s gotten a little bumpy, stay calm and press the button above your head to call over the flight attendant, and ask them what’s going on. Chances are that they’ll be able to put your mind at rest. Plus they have a trolley with tiny little bottles of liquor, which will definitely help you to relax.
    • Think about where you’re going and imagine how much fun you’re going to have.
    • Get comfortable, especially if you’re on a long-haul flight. Recline your seat and put on a cosy hat – this is a scientifically proven way of relieving mental insecurity (plus it’s a great way to hide greasy hair if you’ve been flying for a long time).
    • Have something in your hand luggage that will comfort you – anything goes.
    • Make sure you have a pillow or a small blanket, and wear comfortable clothing.
    • Pack an mp3 player or iPod with soothing music or nature sounds loaded onto it. This will block out the noise of the engines and help you relax.
    • In-flight meditation: close your eyes and breathe deeply while listening to said soothing music or nature sounds. Relax your muscles and concentrate on what you’re listening to. Keep breathing deeply and force any negative thoughts out of your mind.
    • By now you should be feeling calmer. Distraction should be your next step to keeping your mind occupied – watching in-flight movies and series, eating, reading or listening to audio books are all good options.
    • Fake it till you make it. That’s right. Smile and fake confidence. Keep yourself busy. And remember, you’re not alone. If you don’t know the passenger next to you, introduce yourself. You never know – you might make an in-flight friend.

    After the flight

    If you get over your fear of flying, the only thing left to worry about is how you’ll be able to afford your newly found wanderlust. Once the travel bug bites, you are doomed for life, so ask yourself this: in the greater scheme of things, is cheap wine really that bad? No. No, it’s not.