Sharing tips for my friends who are scared of flying, nervous, and anxious about air travel.. just like yours truly. I reached out to the Pilot to write a guest post, and am also sharing some of the tips I’ve picked up!
*Update: 10/6/22: Thank you so much for your overwhelming feedback on this post! So many of you have shared it with friends, too. I asked the Pilot if he’d help me turn it into a podcast episode and we recorded this episode with his tips and advice. It can be reassuring to hear a pilot’s voice telling you it will be ok, especially if you’re currently on an airplane or about to travel. 🙂
You can check out the full episode here:
Friends out there know I hate to fly. They also find it ironic and hilarious that my husband is a pilot who loves to fly. All of these years later, he still gets disappointed when a flight is canceled. He still recaps his best flights to me (even when I zone out at the acronyms and hand signals #adhd). When we fly together, I feel so much less stressed. I know he could handle things if something went awry, and I can nudge him when I hear a sound and he tells me what it is. However, when I fly alone, I spend pretty much the entire time clutching the armrest, sweating profusely, and saying Hail, Mary over and over in my brain. (Unless there’s zero turbulence and I can read a book.)
On my last flight with the girls to Hawaii – it was just me solo- I was feeling particularly scared about flying over the ocean. The worst part is that I have to play it cool for them because I don’t want them to be nervous, too. The kids are traveling professionals; they watch a movie or play the Nintendo Switch and eat lots of snacks while we fly.
A couple of things helped me on this flight:
– Before boarding, I checked out the radar to see how many planes were in the air at that moment. It made me realize that my flight was so insignificant to the thousands that take off and land each day.
– Got this tip from the fear of flying Reddit page: pretend like you’re on a bus traveling safely from point A to point B. This helped so much!!
– I made sure I had lots of things to keep me distracted. I read an entire book on the way to Hawaii and it kept me engaged so I didn’t have time to think about the fact that I was in a metal box in the sky.
– Good ol’ CBD. I have it with me, and even if I don’t need to take it, it’s comforting to have on hand. (This is the one I use. Full transparency, I used to partner with them and am still an affiliate. My code FITNESSISTA still works for a discount!)
I asked the Pilot if he would help me with a guest post about tips for my fellow nervous flyers, and here’s what he wrote!
My real-life Top Gun 😉
Tips for anxious flyers (from a Pilot)
Good morning, friends. The Fitnessista has her hands full this morning, so the Pilot’s here with some tidbits to help anxious flyers. Let me begin by saying that these aren’t tips on how to be more zen during air travel. Suggestions for the best soothing music to listen to and which decaf herbal tea will best calm your nerves is a bit out of my lane. However, I’m happy to share a little peek behind the curtain of what’s happening during your flight to make you feel a little more at ease. If you’ve got nerves of steel and turbulence doesn’t bother you, then at least you can share this with your terrified seatmate who is white-knuckling the armrest on the wild ride that is the final approach into Vegas in the summer.
Emergency preparedness and simulations
I’ve flown small, maneuverable aircraft for the military and large, heavily-automated aircraft for a major airline. I’ve seen a lot over the past 19 years of professional aviation, and while there have been times when something unusual occurred that I hadn’t previously experienced, nothing surprised me. That’s because the training is just that good. Simulator events that train us to execute emergency procedures, on both the mil and legacy airline side, are nothing but a series of calamities, one after another, often compounded upon each other.
The conditions such as weather and performance factors are often worst case scenarios. However, the expectation for the behavioral response in managing these disasters is calm and methodical. Pilots are faced with a countless variety of emergency situations until working the problem(s) becomes second nature. By the time I lost an engine in combat in 2009, it almost felt too easy because nothing else was going wrong. Fortunately, most of the time, we’re up there just monitoring the ride, sipping coffee, and planning the next phase of the flight (while enjoying the view, of course).
The real deal with turbulence and weird noises
So that’s the human factors side. Let’s talk about the aircraft themselves. What’s up with all those noises and bumps along the way? First of all, turbulence, those bumps you feel, are fine. They’re not going to hurt the plane. Pilots are constantly talking to air traffic control about what kind of “ride” the flight in front of it is having, and if another altitude is better, but that’s typically just for passenger comfort. The aircraft itself can take quite a beating. It’ll fly just fine through heavy rain/snow. It can be struck by lightning. It can fly on one engine to a suitable airport for a safe landing. She’s an engineering masterpiece.
So, let’s talk about the weird noises. Chances are, if you’re an anxious flyer, you’re hyper aware and pick up on everything little sound. I’m here to tell you, it’s okay. Engine spool up and deceleration are normal for all flight regimes, including immediately after takeoff. When you hear a sound like the wind is getting slightly louder and the airplane shakes a little bit, that’s just the speed brakes coming out.
Speed brakes are generally used to meet speed restrictions on approach when the flight computer didn’t quite perfectly calculate the descent point or when you need to slow down to put the flaps and gear out. I’ve used them on virtually every flight. Obviously, the landing gear coming down can be fairly loud. The loud clunk you hear afterwards is the gear doors closing. All the other weird sounds are likely just flight control surfaces like flaps, slats, and trim. No biggie.
There are some things outside of a normal flight that can seem concerning on the surface, so let’s talk about those. Go-arounds. When the airplane appears to be ready to land, but at the last minute, the engines power up, and you’re pushed back in your seat as the aircraft begins to climb away. Yikes – that’s got to be bad right? Nope. Someone just made a very smart decision.
A go-around can occur for a myriad of reasons: previous landing aircraft too slow to clear the runway (or ATC didn’t provide proper spacing), the crosswinds exceeded their limitation, the aircraft wasn’t properly setup to land by a certain point, the pilots didn’t see required visual references to land due to weather, etc. The point is, someone checked their ego and made the difficult (but correct) decision to go around and that’s the kind of judgement you want on the flight deck.
It’s better to do that 5 times in a row than push a landing that doesn’t need to happen there. Pilots plan the fuel so that after a certain point, if they couldn’t land, they have enough fuel to get to their alternate destination which will have better conditions for landing. This may require the pilots to hold or orbit in one place for weather to clear and coordination to be completed, so don’t let that “idle” time worry you either.
Anyway, that’s the short list for now. I hope it gave you some reassurance about what’s happening the next time you fly. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments or message Gina, and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Until next time.
– The Pilot
Resources from this episode:
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