I wouldn’t say I’m a bad flyer. In fact, most of the time on an airplane I am just peachy. When there’s turbulence? That’s another story. There’s also those first 5 minutes of takeoff where I feel fairly certain death is imminent. My palms sweat profusely, my body feels braced for impact, and my faith in a higher power has never been more fervent. No matter how many times you’ve flown, those takeoff noises always sound completely unfamiliar and ominous, don’t they? Even the “ding” of the seatbelt light can strike terror into my heart.
You’d never know this by looking at me, though. On the outside, I appear as cool as a cucumber. And once the plane has reached cruising altitude (and provided there are no rough skies), I feel totally fine on the inside as well.
I don’t know how I’d feel if I was genuinely afraid to fly. With travel as one of my life’s greatest passions, I imagine I’d still suffer through the transport woes in order to see the world. But that would certainly be tough. If you have a debilitating fear of flying, I sympathize with you tremendously. I have a lot of ideas on creating the ideal flight experience and making your plane ride more relaxing and pleasant. For the truly frightened, you might want to check out Andrew Johnson’s hypnosis recording for flying. All of his relaxation apps and MP3s are incredible, and this one is especially soothing and comforting. And if all else fails…drink up. Captain Morgan has often been for me a dependable travel companion.
I know my nerves are essentially unfounded. I have flown dozens of times without incident and in fact, some 20,000 flights occur daily in the United States alone. Flying is inherently safer than any other means of transportation, so you’re better off in the air than on the road.
So why is flying so scary for many people? Why do even veteran travelers sometimes experience a jump in anxiety whilst at 30,000 feet?
I think the answer is this: flying makes us vulnerable.
We’re Not in Control
Flying may be so nerve-wracking simply because when you’re a passenger, you have no control. You’re not piloting the aircraft (and you’re probably eyeing the person who is, praying they have years of experience under their belt and panicking inwardly when your pilot looks like a teenager). This lack of control makes a person feel incredibly helpless and vulnerable. You are required to put all of your trust in the hands of the captain and crew, and for a lot of people this is a tough order. Driving, dangerous as it can be, at least has the bonus of providing us total control of our vehicle, or the ability to easily communicate with the driver.
We’re One of Many
Perhaps flying creates vulnerability because of all the people around us. Most of them are complete strangers. Sometimes when I board a plane, I look around at my fellow passengers and think, “I do not want to die with these people.” Morbid, yes, but let’s dissect. Alongside that lack of control one feels on a plane, there is that sense of being part of a nameless crowd. Something about air travel can strip away a piece of your identity. Do you feel special on a plane? I do not. This could be because I’ve never flown first class, but more than that, I think it’s because, it doesn’t matter who you are: if this metal tank goes down, we’re all goin’ with it.
Flying is Insane
Comedian Louis C.K. has an amazingly funny bit in his stand up where he talks about how mind-boggling flying is. He discusses how people complain over the most meaningless minutiae when they should really be appreciating the miracle of flight.
” ‘I had to sit on the runway for 40 minutes.’ Oh my god, really? What happened then, did you fly through the air like a bird, incredibly? Did you soar into the clouds, impossibly? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight and then land softly on giant tires that you couldn’t even conceive how they f**king put air in them?!…You’re sitting in a chair in the sky! You’re like a Greek myth right now!”
(If you have two minutes, you should really hear this in Louis’ voice.)
I am definitely with Louis on this. What a wonder is the power of flight! How can we board this vessel and arrive in a different part of the world in only a few hours’ time? It’s undeniably incredible. I think my awareness of this marvel adds to my in-flight moments of terror. Looking out the airline window is both mesmerizing and trippy. Are those clouds or the ocean? Is that a bird? What is happening here?!!? It is honestly insane to realize you’re FLYING through the AIR at 500+ MPH.
I’d like to report that I am writing this blog post from my seat on a plane. We’ve just started experiencing some turbulence. I can feel the dampness returning to my palms and the tightness to my jaw. And yet, I know under this surface anxiety that it’s all going to be okay. Here’s how I keep myself calm and rational:
Remember that Turbulence is Like Jello
Turbulence can be, pardon the language, pants-shittingly scary. So how can you self-soothe in times of rough flying? Think of the air as a gigantic jello mold. Turbulence feels like wind is punching the plane, knocking it violently off course, but this is not the case. Instead, remember the image of the jello mold. Your airplane is flying inside of a giant jello mold, and when turbulence happens, it simply means the plane is being “cushioned” on all 4 sides, helping it to stay safely within the mold. The unpleasant jarring sensation you’re white-knuckling through is really just keeping your little ol’ plane on its course. That’s a soft and squishy thought, no? I feel better already.
Look at Your Crew
Oh, those blessed flight attendants. They always appear so calm. To me, this is the ultimate comfort. There’s no reason to worry if the experienced crew members seem unfazed. This sets my mind at ease and helps me remember that turbulence happens all the time. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about it, and I’m in no danger. It’s even better if they’re chatting casually amongst themselves. Sigh.
Listen to Johnny Cash
Headphones are your friend. If you’re not listening to a calming meditation app, consider distracting yourself with some fun tunes. Johnny Cash can certainly take your mind off the dramatic crash landings you’re likely envisioning. No one seems as carefree and badass as Mr. Cash. If the flight starts giving you the blues….get rhythm! (See what I did there?)
If you’re a spiritual person, look to your faith to calm yourself in these situations. This can be really helpful, whether you choose to pray, chant, or simply focus on a source of strength and comfort. This approach is a great way to give you a feeling of protection and serenity. As well, have faith in your pilot and crew. They are there for your safety and are working their hardest to ensure it. And, to put it bluntly, they don’t want to die either, so you know they’re doing everything in their power to have a smooth, successful flight.
This current flight I’m on to North Carolina is still turbulent, and yet, I feel strikingly calm. Considering the points above has balanced me and reminded me to see reason and to have faith in positivity. No matter what, my sometimes fear of flying is NOT going to ever stop me from traveling and exploring this beautiful planet. Because, in the immortal words of Barbra Streisand:
The things you can’t imagine, if you’ve never flown at all. Though it’s safer to stay on the ground, sometimes where danger lies, there the sweetest of pleasures are found.
Take to the skies my friends. You won’t regret it.