Let’s get one thing straight: flying is my biggest fear. I’m so scared of flying that even the thought of sitting in an airplane seat gives me that sudden lump in the throat and adrenaline belly. I’m so scared of flying that I cry during every flight, and sometimes I have panic attacks. I’m so scared of flying that I give myself a bad stomach to the point where I literally can’t go to the toilet for a few days afterwards (sorry for the unwarned TMI but it’s the truth). Flying is my biggest fear, but I don’t let it stop me (I wish that was a humble brag but it’s more like a stubborn, teeth clenching affirmation that I repeat angrily at myself).
Why do you have a fear of flying though, it’s the safest mode of transport?
Honestly, the next person who says this to me…
I get that my fear of flying seems irrational – over 100,000 flights take to the skies on the daily, and how often do we hear about crashes? Hardly ever. The chances of you being involved in a plane crash are 1 in 11,000,000. You’d think that those statistics would make me feel fantastic wouldn’t you, but they just don’t. That’s like, the definition of an irrational fear I guess.
And yes, I understand that the chances of you being involved in a car accident are significantly higher, and yes I get into a car almost every day – but in a car I am in control. I am on the ground. I am not about to fall 36,000ft out of the sky (which takes around 4 minutes for your information) should anything go very badly wrong.
So you stay away from TV shows like Air Crash Investigation right?
Not quite. I’ve been known to binge-watch ACI. I find the episodes incredibly interesting, and knowing that problems that have caused crashes in the past have been fixed does help me freak out a little less intensely.
What are you scared of?
My irrational fears are, but not limited to, the following:
- Crashing into another plane as we fly through the clouds (this is the thought that gives me the most anxiety)
- The wings snapping off
- The engines failing
- Suddenly falling from the sky
- Crashing into another plane that we didn’t see somehow
- Hitting an air pocket
- Hitting ultra-severe turbulence
- Crashing into water and everyone inflating their life vests before they’ve left the cabin
- The pilot going rogue
- Hitting a thunderstorm
Yeah maybe it’s irrational to hate flying, but I’ve definitely been on a few flights that would make even the most frequent flyer nervous.
My least favourite experience was in Vietnam, and it’s the main reason I’m scared of both clouds and thunder storms.
We were ¾ of the way through our adventure through Vietnam, and we had to take a flight from Da Nang back to Ho Chi Minh. Our flight was delayed to begin with, which isn’t good for my nerves, but ok, an ice cream filled waffle fish definitely took the edge off. A gate change and a few hours of waiting later, we boarded our VietJet plane.
Well, I had an inkling that something might be awry as soon as we made our way to our seats. One of the overhead baggage compartments was literally holding on for dear life with the help of copious amounts of duct tape. Maybe I’ve just watched too many Final Destination movies but I just didn’t get the best feeling.
We took off, and headed to Ho Chi Minh. It was fine. The flight was fine.
Until we got to Ho Chi Minh.
It was pitch black outside, because it was late. We could only see the intermittent flashing of the wing tip light. But I mean, it was pretty bright. Brighter than any wing tip light I’d ever noticed in the past.
‘Cabin crew, prepare for landing’. Oh my gosh, my favourite, FAVOURITE words spoken on an aircraft – no exceptions. We were landing! Happiness flooded my anxiety ridden body and I began to fantasise about leaving the aircraft and touching the cold hard concrete with my feet.
For some reason, the plane circled a few times, and it began to get bumpier. I am well aware that turbulence has never caused fatalities by the way. I was hardly paying attention, but I noticed that that wing tip light was getting super bright. We were in the middle of a cloud. I bent my neck to get a better look at the cloud. I’m always trying to find the city lights below for a bit of confirmation. Nope, just flashes.
It wasn’t the wing tip light that I could see. It was lightning. We were circling in a cloud full of lightning.
The realisation sparked something in me that filled my body with the anxiety I had just about gotten rid of plus a little bit more just for laughs. This was my absolute worst nightmare.
The cabin became quite, with hushed whispers floating through the air from nervous passengers. I wasn’t the only one feeling the anxiety. My flight buddies were also feeling the heat; R, W, and T’s eyes were saucer-like with nerves.
The turbulence became pretty heavy, and the cabin lights were dimmed, which I’m not being funny, but kinda exacerbated the whole, flying through lightning clouds adventure we found ourselves in. The flashes lit up the cabin every so often and I swear I looked outside and saw a fork fly past the glass.
The hushed whispers were becoming louder as the plane jolted, were we in trouble?
Suddenly the plane hit an air pocket and we bobbed dramatically. A few of the passengers let out a half-scream in shock, but seemed to steady themselves quickly so as not to scare the rest of us.
Sorry, I really don’t know if I’m describing this in as much detail as I could be but it was terrifying.
We circled for longer than 30 minutes, which correct me if I’m wrong, feels more than double that when you’re anxious. The flashes and bumps were non-stop, and I know we were all wondering what lay ahead (apart from that cold hard concrete I was so excited to step foot on (in one piece I might add)). There were no more messages from the cockpit, and even the air hostesses were quiet, and strapped into their own seats, which I guess in hindsight at least meant we weren’t about to crash.
The cabin switched frequently between hushed whispers and eerie quiet. I’m not sure which I preferred.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, the captain came back on the speaker and told us to prepare for landing. I’ve never felt anxiety rush out from my body quite so fast, and the fact of the matter is that as I type this, it brings tears of relief to my dumbass eyes to remember hearing ‘prepare for landing’ instead of ‘prepare to brace for impact’.
Thankfully, we landed safe and sound. But I later Googled how dangerous flying through a thunderstorm can be and actually, the results were quite plain in saying that you should definitely try to avoid them at all costs, because a lightning strike can cause damage to the nose (where it could damage important instruments needed for actually flying), the wings (which is obviously a bad thing), or it could cut power to the plane off altogether, and that my friends, never ends well.
Back on solid ground
Once my feet were on that cold hard concrete, I rejoiced. We piled into the bus on the tarmac, ready to be transported back to arrivals, whilst another apparent nervous flyer began to retch loudly into a plastic bag. Heading back to our hotel that night and getting into a hot shower is one of my favourite feelings that I can still remember vividly now.
Within 4 days, we would have to make the return trip to the Netherlands, and let me tell you, that was no slice of cherry pie.
My best tip for anyone with a fear of flying
Look, I’ve tried tranquilisers, I’ve tried meditation, I’ve tried giving my mind something else to think about, and I’ve tried alcohol. None of these appease my raging horror at flying through the open air.
My one and only tried and tested tool for actually dealing with in-flight distress is: telling the air steward(esses) that I’m a nervous flyer.
Each time that I’ve told one of the flight attendants that I don’t deal well with flying I’ve been given the kindest support ever. That’s not to say that my flight buddies don’t support me or do a good job – but sometimes you can only take the advice from a professional source right?
On our last flight from Japan for instance, I told the stewardess as we were taking our seats, that I suffer from flight anxiety. She asked me why, when in particular it happened, and told me that she’d keep an eye on me. She then told her co-workers about me (oh the fame) and the head stewardess came over and literally offered me a glass of whiskey. I declined, much to the horror of R.
I’m glad I told her, because the flight out of Tokyo was hella bumpy (apparently that’s just Japan’s way). As we were seated right at the back of the plane, I was able to get plenty of reassurance that the plane was totally supposed to be like bobbing around like this and it was totally safe. That air stewardess kept me feeling safe, and gave me an element of control, which is what I need.
If you’re ever feeling nervous on a plane, I’d 100% suggest letting one of the air stewards or stewardesses know – I found it embarrassing the first time I did it sure, but the way they’ll put you at ease from that first moment will have you wanting to tell them every time.
Since Covid-19 hit our shores back in early 2020, I’ve not set foot on a plane. While I’m grateful in some ways, I’m definitely a little nervous to think of my next flight and how my anxiety might be worse at first.
The thing is, I won’t let my fear of flying stop me. This world is too beautiful not to explore, and I’m proud that I can still step on a plane (despite the way it makes me feel) and know that it leads to something beautiful.
Facing your fears can be terrifying, but it can also teach you a lot. I’d love to know what your greatest fears are, and how you try and combat them, and of course, if any of you have any other tried and tested techniques for flying without anxiety, feel free to drop them off in my comment box.
Until next time,