Fearless Flyer is a label I’d love to be able to consistently wear. I’m definitely in the second camp of fearful flyers. The “feck we’re all gonna die when the engine falls off”, can’t contain my emotion type.
The first camp is apparently people who worry about showing their emotions and embarrassing themselves in front of others. (Oh yes, I’m way past that).
Although it seems like a simple fear, I think it’s complex in what affects it.
Apparently, fear of flying can be linked with other aspects such as panic attacks, claustrophobia and PTSD. (I don’t say phobia because I don’t think the fear is irrational!)
Someone told me once that I didn’t have a fear of flying, I had a fear of dying. And another said fears like this aren’t about the thing (flying) they’re about a traumatic experience that happened around the same time as a particular flight that you then associate with flying.
And, like Pavlov’s dogs, you relive the emotions when you’re stimulated by the trigger (the flight).
View from a fearless flyer’s seat
Anyway, I’m not an expert on the psychology of it all. But I know that some things make the experience worse for me and some have helped. I’ll share the things that tend to help me and some that I know have helped others. If you have to fly for work (or choose to do so in life) it’s not much fun to do it scared.
(Disclaimer: I have not completely overcome my fear but I definitely have some flights that are better than others. I just had two return trips in March and I managed to stay pretty composed (no tears or out of control panic).
I’ve started wearing a Fitbit with HR monitor and I noticed that while my heart rate did rise, it wasn’t through the roof and I didn’t feel like my head was going to explode).
Avoid pre-flight stress where possible
In addition to the specific techniques and methods below I also find a big difference when I don’t let myself get stressed about anything else in the 12 – 24 hours before the flight. Invariably when I’ve been flying for holidays in the past, the previous day has been hectic.
You know what it’s like, trying to get work to a suitable stopping point while handing over everything you need to before you leave. Then last minute dashing about to get bits and pieces to take with you.
Not to mention feeling the need to clean the house more the day before you leave than you have in the whole of the last three months!
I used to dash to the airport at the last minute so I wasn’t waiting around getting nervous. Same thing waiting at the end of the queue to be the last person on the plane so I didn’t have to smell the mix of jet fuel and coffee and hear the fans doing their thing.
However, what I’ve noticed recently, is that when I give myself plenty of time to get through security and it’s not a mad sprint before the gate closes I can keep from getting to the actual panic stage.
This might sound obvious but there was logic to my other method!
The last time I flew I had a fairly early flight. I stayed at an airport hotel the night before so I didn’t have far to go in the morning. I was able to see planes taking off the afternoon before.
When I’m on the plane it kind of doesn’t help, but to an extent, it helps remind me just how many flights are taking off each day, even from just one airport. I heard something like there can be up to 20,000 planes in the sky at any one time, which does help a bit to keep things in perspective.
Now that I have the privilege of flexibility around when I travel I also aim to avoid flying when I’m premenstrual. (Or the days right at the beginning of my cycle.) That’s the hardest time for me to control my panic and dread. And I’ve found it’s best just to avoid those days.
Anyway, here are some more things you can try to address your fear of flying:
1. Follow the FlyiiingTwins on Tiktok
Check out the FlyiiingTwins. They seem to be on a mission to make us every last one of us a fearless flyer. They (safely!) record from the cockpit and it’s fascinating. Years ago, before 9/11, I landed in the jump seat of a plane on the way to the US.
I was so nervous I think the cabin crew got sick of me and packed me off for the captain to deal with. He spent some time chatting with me and telling me about some of the dials and controls in the flight deck and then invited me to come back for the landing.
When I’m sitting in my seat I feel like I’m just waiting to die. I’ve found that even standing around at the back of the plane makes me feel so much better. But when I sat in the cockpit it was AMAZING!
I truly had the realisation that we were flying through the clouds and how mind-blowing the whole concept was. It was beautiful and being able to see out the windscreen at the panoramic view was a totally difference experience than looking out my tiny seat window.
Anyway, back to the FlyiiingTwins. They explain so many common fears like turbulence, the noises you hear and what happens if an engine fails or catches fire. These are some of my favourite videos they’ve done.
2. Read Allan Carr’s The Easy Way to Enjoy Flying
This book has been the biggest influence on quelling my fears. I’d highly recommend reading it if you panic about flying.
Allen Carr was an accountant turned creator of the world’s most successful quit-smoking method. He later applied the same thought process to flying.
That is, the brain is confused and that’s what’s keeping you in fear. Your rational brain says flying is safe and your irrational brain is telling you that it absolutely is not.
His book is written in a conversational hypnosis style so that it calms you just by reading it. I felt I knew a lot about the technical noises and manoeuvres we experience when flying. However, this helped me re-frame them in a better way.
I dread take-off the most. I always worry about the end of the plane bobbing back down and hitting the runway after takeoff. Carr compares take-off to a brimmed hat taking off in the wind. (Albeit a much more sophisticated, controlled version!)
Somehow it helped me understand the physics of it all. He also talks about turbulence being like driving over cobblestones. It’s uncomfortable but doesn’t make me freak out, and that helped too.
His biggest premise is that he’s teaching you why flying is safe. Many other books and methods give you ways of coping with your anxiety and fear. The intention of Carr’s method is to remove the fear completely. He wants you to become a fearless flyer and not just someone managing their anxiety.
For the cost of the kindle book to keep on your phone, I’d recommend giving it a try. I still go back to it and start reading the beginning again before I fly. It calms me without having to read the whole thing each time.
3. Use Essential Oils to Manage Your Emotions
If you’re not familiar with using essential oils for mood management, this might seem like a random one. But, as a qualified holistic massage therapist, I always like to reach for natural solutions first. And, I can tell you, I have a blend that absolutely helps me stay much calmer.
I start using it the day before when my tummy starts feeling anxious. It helps me get a good night’s sleep. Then I reapply as needed before take-off and then during the flight. I love it because it’s pre-blended and comes in a rollerball bottle.
No faffing about needed to mix it or use it. However other oils that are good for anxious feelings are listed below. You can create your own blend or buy good quality pre-made ones from brands like doTERRA, Tisserand or Aromatherapy Associates.
- Clary Sage
You might need to experiment a bit to find the best oils for you. They can be quite nuanced and work a bit differently for everyone. Certain blends work synergistically so they are more powerful combined than as individual oils.
(Please make sure you’re only using good-quality oils. Cheap oils with fillers are less safe and less potent meaning you won’t get the benefits. Always use according to the instructions on the labels.)
4. Try Hypnotherapy or NLP
Some people believe that the fear of flying comes from a traumatic experience around the same time as a flight. Because this is embedded in the subconscious part of your mind, you’re programmed to react as if you’re reliving this every time you get on a flight.
I tried hypnotherapy once for my fear of flying. And I’ve since heard of NLP practitioners using basically the same technique. My understanding is that these therapies work by suggesting a new story for your subconscious. They reprogramme how you feel about flying.
I found the session difficult to follow. I had to picture certain things and sequences of events in my mind. Then I had to do things like speed them up and watch them backwards which didn’t come easily to me.
I can think in pictures. But it’s usually more based on a memory than a made-up visualisation. So if it hasn’t happened backwards, I find it difficult to imagine it happening backwards.
This isn’t something that I personally have found useful on my journey to become a fearless flyer. But I know other people really have had success with hypnotherapy or NLP.
I’m putting it in here as an avenue to explore if it appeals to you. Use Google to have a watch of some videos to get an idea of how a session might run.
5. Try a Fearless Flyer App
There are a variety of apps available that might be worth checking out. If you click the link in the heading above you can see a few different ones. The ones listed have different approaches.
Some are hypnotherapy apps and others give detailed information about what to expect on the actual flight. Some give details about e.g the flying conditions at the airport you’re taking off from. You might find one that works in conjunction for you alongside one of the other methods listed above.
BONUS: Attend a Fearless Flyer Course
This isn’t something I have done but I know they can have a good success rate. My main reason for not doing one has always been because it doesn’t matter how good I feel about the flight if the wing falls off. A fear of flying course ain’t gonna stop that from happening, so what’s the point?
However, that’s not very helpful so I urge you to ignore my twisted logic. Statistically, I know the chances of anything catastrophic happening are low. I get that you might as well stop panicking about it all.
I think for me, I’ve flown so many times in my life that I’m fairly familiar with all the noises and bumps that occur. So I wonder a bit about what value there is in one of these types of courses.
Also, as mentioned above, my interpretation is that these courses tend to help with the anxiety of flying, rather than shifting your perception to the idea that flying is actually safe. Having said that, the courses purport good levels of success. Again I’ve included them here for you to investigate for yourself.
As I say, these aren’t personal recommendations. I personally don’t know anyone who’s been on a course like this, but some I would consider are:
VIRTUAL JET CENTRE COURSE
This is a 3-hour, 1-1 fear of flying course run in a jet simulator and the tutor is a flight Captain. The course cost £770 and is held at Gatwick Airport.
EASYJET FEARLESS FLYER COURSE
Apparently, over 10,000 people have taken the Experience Flight and become fearless flyers. However, this course looks as though it’s now available exclusively online. The course used to run in person too, at various different airports. It was a 2-part course with a 3-hour ground course and then a one-hour flight.
Perhaps the in-person option will return in the future. But for now you can choose a basic or premium online experience. I notice the course also covers not just the technical aspects but how to deal with the panic. Tapping (EFT) and breathing techniques look to be taught during the sessions.
VIRGIN ATLANTIC FLYING WITHOUT FEAR COURSE
This course runs over 20 times per year with 2000 – 3000 going through it annually. This course advertises having a 98% success rate. This runs as a full day course and you can sign up for alerts on course dates and information.
Since COVID it looks like all the support is online. They have various different options here but also say in-person courses are coming soon. So check back if you’re interested.
BRITISH AIRWAYS FLYING WITH CONFIDENCE COURSE
Another course with a 98% success rate has helped over 45,000 people over the last 45 years. The course is run by British Airways pilots and crew. Similar to the EasyJet course, and is supported by a clinical psychologist.
Your journey to become a fearless flyer
What has been your experience with solutions to help you become a fearless flyer? Have you tried any of these things in the past? I’d love to hear if you’ve been on a fearless flying course and what your experience was. If not, perhaps give one or two of these ideas a go and let me know how you get on.
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