Fighting the Fear of Flying

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“I don’t like heights because it makes my stomach hurt and I’m afraid something might go wrong with the plane,” said Sai, an 8-year old struggling with his fear of flying.

Sai is not alone.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that nearly 20.7 million people across the United States have a fear of flying. While this figure only represents 6.5% of the American population, research studies find that as much as 40% of people have some degree of anxiety about flying.

Why is that?

In many cases, doctors find that it boils down to the human psyche. If we allow our feelings to convince our mind that something is true, it becomes truth regardless of what the hard core facts may tell us. Unfortunately, this thought process - also known as emotional reasoning - can eventually develop into a self-fulfilling prophecy affecting our education, our family relationships, and even our ability to experience culture around the world.

The invention of the airplane and later addition of commercial airplanes changed the landscape of world travel. This leap in technology expanded opportunities and drastically cut travel time for those seeking to explore new places. What was once only reached by cross-country train or an ocean liner could now be accessed by passenger plane.

As with virtually all forms of travel, every vehicle - car, train, steamship, plane, etc. - comes pre-packaged with the possibility of something going wrong. No matter how hard we try, technology will never be perfect.

But should we allow this chance to completely steer us away from these modes of transportation?

Of course not!

Rather, we should acknowledge the potential hazards, observe all safety precautions, confront any of our associated fears, and take practical steps to overcome them. With such a process, we can better prevent our feelings from governing our reality.

In WellTraveled’s work of empowering young people to explore the world, we recognize that many have never set foot on an airplane and this alone can sow the seeds of a child’s fear to fly.

However, we would never want this fear to deter a young person from traveling to new places.

Our goal is to equip those just like 8-year old Sai with the knowledge and resources to overcome their fear and embrace the world of opportunities that are often just a plane ride away.

Fight with the Facts

Airplanes are incredible machines resulting from the best of modern technology and precise engineering. Researching about airplanes, their advanced navigation systems and the amount of time invested in training pilots will not only fascinate your mind, but it may also ease anxiety about traveling aboard a flying aircraft.

Studies by Professor Arnold Barnett at M.I.T. concluded that airline travel is today’s safest method of transportation. Since the Wright brothers first invented the controlled airplane in the early 1900s, airplane technology has only become more advanced - leading to safer flights for crew members and passengers around the world. In addition, air traffic control centers help pilots by coordinating the movement of air traffic and helping planes fly at safe distances apart.

Knowing these facts and more about the airline industry can help quell the fear of flying. Many fears - especially those associated with flying - stem from uncertainty of the unknown. Therefore, it is important to fight this battle by starting with the facts.

Gather Your Allies

If you are fearful of traveling on a plane for the first time, make every effort to go with someone who has traveled before. Confide in your travel partner about your anxiety with flying and ask them to walk you through what happens during a normal flight.

Develop a community of support! Even if you are not planning on traveling soon, ask a friend or family member about their experience so that you can be better prepared for your flight when it comes.

Commercial pilots and flight attendants are specially trained to assist passengers with enjoying their travel experience. As you board the airplane, explain your concerns to the cabin crew and they will gladly help you become as comfortable as possible on the aircraft. Some may even be generous enough to offer you a quick peek at the cockpit (where the pilots sit) to see all of the gadgets that help them safely operate the plane.

Create a Plan of Attack

Flying to Asia was without a doubt my lengthiest plane trip ever. Traveling non stop for such long periods demanded that I have a travel plan to keep my mind occupied aboard the plane.

An idle mind can be your worst enemy if you are traveling with a fear of flying. Thus, to prevent your mind from imagining everything that could go wrong minute-by-minute during your flight, set aside time beforehand to outline a plan for your time in the air.

  • Want to get some reading done? Pack your favorite book.
  • Does writing help you relieve stress? Bring along a journal!
  • Or, maybe you want to pass the time with a good documentary? Don’t forget your best set of headphones.

Approaching your flight with a plan of action - even if it is only a much needed nap - can bring tremendous relief to a mind fighting with the fear of flying.

Last, but not least, know that you are not alone in your fear!

There are various resources online and in your local community to help confront your fear. We look forward to hearing your story and we are confident that in due time you, too, can become WellTraveled.

Educators/Parents - Are any of your children or students struggling with a fear of flying? Encourage them to talk with a trusted counselor about their fear and walk them through the needed steps to overcome this fear, so that they can eventually embrace travel by airplane.

Students - Are you or any of your friends fighting a fear flying? What have you learned today that you can implement or share with someone else?

Stay Educated. Stay Empowered. Stay WellTraveled.