04 Jul

7 Ways from Flying Phobiast to Flying Diva

Two years ago, as we set off on our round-the-world trip, I was worried (heck I was terrified) that I wouldn’t be able to hack the flying. I could handle leaving my job, selling my home, putting all our stuff in storage and saying goodbye to friends and family but the thought of spending hour upon hour in a flying sardine can…well, that just about did me in!

I can say that, although it wasn’t always pretty and often I just white-knuckled it, I managed all 19 flights of our trip.

I flew a lot this June. Almost half as many flights as our whole round-the-world trip. Nine flights in three weekends. Yes I count every take-off and landing as a flight…even if I don’t get off the plane before it takes off again. It counts! And I did them all with no anxiety, no heart palpitations, no sweaty palms…and no drugs.

Here are 7 ways that I went from Flying Phobiast to Flying Diva:

  1. My office is at the airport (I know, strange place to have an office…when you work in health care!) so I am at the terminal every day but with no impending flight I am there without any anxiety. Every lunch break I make my way to the terminal and watch planes take off and land and notice that every single one of them is successful, day after day after day. I take note of how smooth they look and imagine all the stress free, relaxed passengers on board.
  2. I don’t watch the news and so don’t hear of any possible airplane mishaps. Unless something big happens I am unlikely to hear about it. No filler news of planes having to turn back because some warning light didn’t work properly or because the pilot was hungry or any reason what-so-ever. I don’t fill my brain with pessimistic outcomes.
  3. I do have Ativan in my flying kit but I haven’t used it since before we returned from our RTW trip. I like having it though; it’s a safety blanket. If, for some reason, I became anxious I know that it is there to help me through it. I wonder if I stopped taking it because there are very few pills left in the container – every one I take is one less for when I might really need it!
  4. I like to get a seat in the front of the plane; rows 4, 5 and 6 are my favorites and I usually have either an aisle or middle seat. The front of the plane (ahead of the wings) is a smoother ride and in the aisle or middle I can stare toward the center of the plane and pretend I’m on a bus if I have to. I did notice these last flights though that I was coveting the window seat…a sign I’m progressing even more?
  5. I have a ‘flying system’ that I have perfected over many flights. First is the seat selection (see point #4). I have a ‘flying kit’ which includes the Ativan, a Sudoku book that I only use for flying, my iPod with my favorite tunes, and a book. The iPod is on as soon as the attendants can’t see me any more. I don’t like to hear the noise changes in the engine so I always either have music on or the TV once we’re at altitude. For taking off and landing I like a good song with a strong beat – preferably some new song that I can totally get lost in (current faves include Black Eyed Peas ‘Dirty Bit’ and ‘Rolling In The Deep’ by Adele). I have the easy Sudoku puzzles at the ready to keep my brain engaged (ie. not thinking about falling from the sky), the Ativan is in the seat pocket just-in-case, the music is pumping in my ears and I rock/move to the music to minimize feeling the plane movement. It’s ritualistic, and it works.
  6. I look down. During a particularly harrowing bus trip alongside cliffs and crevasses in Peru I wrote to my sister and told her how I was so scared that I couldn’t even look down. She replied urging me to look down; that I was missing out on the experience if I didn’t and that looking would not change the inevitable, whatever that might be. She was right. Looking down from an airplane gives an unbeatable view of our world. Watching cities disappear in the distance, seeing entire mountain ranges, viewing meandering rivers, being above the clouds and then reversing it all as we descend; it really would be a shame to never really see it.
  7. I drink; not because I have to but because I would anyway. If I’m on a flight then I must be on a holiday (I generally don’t fly for business) and, if I’m on holiday then it must be time for a drink. Of course it helps relax me and, believe me, I have paid a pretty penny in airport bars getting relaxed! But I don’t feel I have to anymore – in fact a good portion of my flights in June were dry flights and I did just fine.

Are you a Flying Phobiast or a Flying Diva? What do you do to get yourself on a plane? Do you have a system, or just try to get through it? What advice do you have for others?


34 thoughts on “7 Ways from Flying Phobiast to Flying Diva

  1. The drinking is the best part.
    I had a nightmarish flight a few months back, where we were massively delayed and the plane was full to capacity. Luckily I had an amazing flight attendant who kept bringing me double G&Ts until I fell asleep with a huge smile on my face. Good times.

  2. I’ve never had a fear of flying (thankfully) but I do have some rituals. I almost always have apple juice on my flight. I rarely drink juice, but for some reason apple juice calms me down when I’m flying.

    • I also always like to have candy or other snack food that I would almost never have at home. Like a reward for being a good girl or something. Weird.

  3. I’m a flying phobiast. I’ve never really enjoyed flying with the exception of the last time we flew to Indonesia in business class. I hate the feeling as the plane lifts off the most. Once we are airborne I’m usually fine (barring any major turbulence) and I think it’s because there is nothing I can do at that point so I just let go.

    Besides using ativan if I know I will be flying I go through this free online course put together by a pilot and flight instructor. http://www.fearofflyinghelp.com/intro.shtml This course has done more to help with my fear of flying than anything else.

    • Thanks for the link Matt – any info that helps calm the nerves is good. And I’m pretty sure that business class would help me feel better too!

  4. These are great tips – I can especially see how working at the airport must make you so much more relaxed about flying.

    I started my RTW trip terrified of flying – although I’ve flown a lot for work the past few years, I would get more and more fearful with each flight after flying through some particularly bad storms. I would burst into tears as soon as I felt us leave the ground and unless it was a flight longer than 4 hours I wouldn’t relax at all.

    Sometime during my RTW travels though, it (mostly) went away, because I’d created my own flying rituals (I also put music on as soon as possible). Now my fear is (almost) gone again.

    • I find the ritual definitely helps. And I tell myself that there is no need to be fearful until something fearful happens (good advice always I think!) – no point wasting time being scared for no reason!

  5. Interestingly enough stuff like flying, jumping out helicopters, or being suspended over a 600 meter canyon by a 11mm rope never scare me….but embarking on an extended trip through unfamiliar (to me) territory….oh geez! I’m getting better though….til the next country!

    • Just goes to show, Eric, that we all Step Out in different ways. Your latest pics look like you’re enjoying yourself just fine!! Keep it up!

  6. I don’t have a fear of flying but can see that your list will be of great help to those who do!

    For some strange reason I crave tomato juice when I’m flying! Unless it is in a Bloody Mary I don’t drink tomato juice on land.

    Love your thought about being on a holiday and if you’re on holiday you are enjoying a cocktail! Makes perfect sense to me :)

  7. I am not exactly a Flying Phobiast. I mean, I’m not scared; I just don’t like the fact that I have to stay on a plane for a really long time. Also, I lose my appetite with plane food. Not that I’m saying they taste bad; I just don’t like the smell of it when they are being served. So, what do I do to get over my dilemma? I sleep… for the whole duration! And I especially hate it when my mom wakes me up to force something down my throat, so I won’t starve or dehydrate to death (yes, I know, she’s just being my mother). Not that I can’t go back to sleep after that. I can immediately go to sleep after she wakes me up.

  8. Congrats for getting over your phobia Gillian! I used to be scared and then I learned the “look down” trick. Also, reminding myself that whatever happens is out of my control helps too.

    • The story of your last flight has me a bit nervous Kim!! I wouldn’t say I’m over it…yet. Kind of like a recovering-flying-phobiast.

  9. Your sister is very wise. Keep looking down there’s so much out there to see. I can’t see it from my armchair and I need you to look for me. Also cheers to the drinking, you should do it just because you can.
    Bottoms up, love ya’

  10. So glad you have conquered this…. so proud of you. You know me and flights… love every one of them. Similar rituals – book, ipod and (sometimes) a drink… depends on how much they are. ;)

  11. Sounds like you’ve developed the perfect system! I’m a bit of a nervous flier so I like to have a companion sitting next to me I can squeeze during turbulence :)

  12. I’m scared of everything, but flying is one thing I actually have a grip on. My technique is simply this: as soon as I find my body going rigid as it attempts to hold the plane up with stiffened muscles, I say to myself, “What the hell are you going to do even if the plane is going to crash? You’re utterly helpless! You may as well treat it like a roller coaster, sit back, surrender, and enjoy the ride whether it stays up, or goes down.”

    After all, going down in a plane is a pretty spectacular way to die — your chances of winning that lottery are indeed rare.

  13. ‘Hold the plane up with stiffened muscles’…that’s like trying to stop the car by jamming my foot into the floor boards!! I always like to tell myself that at least I would be dying doing what I love (travel, not flying!). If I die in some completely normal, boring way I am going to be some disappointed!!

  14. Yeah, the fear of flying thing is definitely a struggle that I still fight. Despite 6 flights in 3 weeks this June, I am terrified of flying still. I am planning a Germany to New Zealand journey this winter and although I look forward to the travel, the idea of being on the flights is still awful.

    I like your ritual. I know from enough friends that having my ipod on during takeoff won’t cause the plane to fall; but my anxiety still screams to follow all the rules. I got really upset at some seat mates that were playing with their phones on landing. I didn’t say anything, but it bugged me.
    I totally love the seatback TVs. Those should be mandatory on all planes. I have been able to watch bad latenight comedy and movies all the way to landing on a bunch of the flights, which helps a lot. Like you say, keep the brain occupied.
    Valium is my drug of choice and it helps. I do still take it. Flying home we flew through a thunderstorm. Lighting outside and enough rocking that the flight attendants didn’t even come through. I could have used a drink. I just kept talking myself ok, praying and watching whatever TV shows the seatback would show me. Thankfully I didn’t freak out and even remembering back I don’t get that seed of panic in memory either.
    I have found it very helpful to have someone around that looks bored. Flight attendants are helpful. When they are strapped in for takeoff and landing, when I am freaking out to noises and bumps, they are bored. Seeing an “flight expert” be unconcerned helps. When Ali and I fly together she helps me in that way too. By not reacting to the bumps at all I know that all is normal. I am so sensitive to bumps and pressure changes that I get jumpy at the slightest change that she literally doesn’t even notice.

    I will keep flying because I have to and because I want to see the things on the other end. Fear or not. Thanks for your list. I am sure I’ll remember a few of them next time I strap into the sardine can.

  15. I’ve never been afraid of flying but I do get anxious when I meet delay after delay but that is more restlessness than anything else. The working at the airport aspect I’m sure has to help a lot…although I would think makes your morning commute interesting. Do you ever just sit and people watch on your break?
    Cornelius Aesop recently posted..The Busy Little Monkey

    • Besides watching the planes come and go, my other favorite activity is to go to the arrivals lounge and watch people be reunited. I have to admit though that I sometimes get weepy and I have no idea why – just something about people greeting each other especially if I know the flight has come from overseas and the people haven’t seen each other in a long time!
      Gillian recently posted..Navigating Around The World

  16. We are often afraid of the unknown, so I love your ritual idea and think it will help lots of people. Just one note about the IPOD that I thought would be helpfuL:

    The reason the FAA makes you put up your electronics for takeoff and landing is because they are the most dangerous segments of the flight (statistically), and they want passenger attention should emergency evacuation. It’s not really about interfering with navigational systems of the plane, but more about making sure you could react QUICKLY to escape a burning plane.

    So, if you are a nervous flyer, it would help you prepare for an emergency MORE if you took the ipod off below 10,000 feet.

    Just a tip- do with it what you will! Thanks for the other tips!

  17. I like the first point- what a great idea. I need to hang out at airports more often! I think I might start putting the music on to drown out the noises as that always freaks me out. I also find looking out the window has a calming effect on me as I feel like I am a bird and I feel a lot of awe

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