How to combat the fear of flying...

Almost a quarter of people experience anxiety whilst flying, and around 10% of us suffer a more terrifying fear of flight called Aviaphobia. And with a record 3.6billion passengers forecast to fly this year, it’s a problem that affects a huge and growing number of people, so here is our guide to minimising the nerves and overcoming the fear.  

Get a little knowledge

If you do feel nervous about flying, then learning a little about the process of flight before your next flight can help. Phobia fighting expert Lawrence Leyton – who participates on ‘Fearless Flying’ courses run by easyJet – says that “our brain is designed to fill in the gaps, so when you are on the plane and you hear those funny noises and see wings flapping up and down, your brain fills in those gaps and will crate brilliant misconceptions”.

Some research will plug the misconceptions with facts. Even speaking to someone who flies a lot, or someone who works as cabin crew is a good idea. You’ll see how calm they are about flying, and specifically you can ask about the cause of some thuds and thumps that you’ll hear on-board a plane. A thud from the aircraft’s underbelly before taxiing is the cargo doors closing; the whirring sound after take off is the flaps retracting to become flush with the wing again; and the bang you may hear and feel on final approach is the undercarriage locking into position, for example.

Choose a suitable seat

A plane’s centre of gravity is just behind the front of the wing, so if you sit in the over-wing area you’ll experience less movement during turbulence, because the fuselage pivots on this point. The rear of the plane is the worst place for movement during turbulence – especially on a large aircraft – where seats are a long way from the centre of gravity and yawing (side to side movement) and pitching (up and down) are magnified.

If you feel that the vertigo aspect of sitting near a window plays a part in your case, then chose an aisle seat, or in a double aisled aircraft sit in the middle bank of seats. You might also want to avoid sitting by an emergency exit or close to the galley (where small bangs and whollops from crew preparing the food and drinks trolleys are inevitable).

Distract yourself

Being mindful of your breathing will help you feel calm. Take a deep breath through your nose and exhale through you mouth while counting to 10 slowly. Repeat this four or five times.

Think about good or exciting things that are happening in your life beyond the flight. Listen to your favourite music, play a video game, watch a favourite TV series or film, and bring along a book and magazines. Use headphones too, as they block out more extraneous noise than earplugs, or buy some noise-cancelling headphones.   

Declare your fear to the crew when you board as they are trained to help. Get support when travelling with a loved one by telling them what triggers your fear most and getting them to distract you where possible. It may help to declare you are frightened about flying to the stranger sitting next to you too. Their conversation might help. Taking off from the Cayman Islands an extremely nervous flyer declared her fear to me and we chatted enough to reach a point where she suddenly noticed that she’d forgot she was actually in the air.

Take a course

When a British Airways 747 pilot says that ‘The wings enable aircraft to fly, not the engines’, and that ‘A commercial aircraft flying at 30,000ft can glide for 100 miles even if all the engines fail’, we listen. When he’s Steve Allright giving a talk on BA’s Flying with Confidence course, it could well change the way feel about flying altogether.

BA has been running its Flying with Confidence courses for 30 years, with a 98% success rate. It’s made up of classroom sessions and culminates in a 45-minute familiarisation flight on a BA aircraft. The one-day course costs from £215pp from Heathrow, Gatwick, Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Alternatively, easyJet offers a two-day Fearless Flyer course that includes a talk from Lawrence Leyton and a flight on the second day from £189pp, available from 10 UK airports. Or Virgin has its Flying without Fear Flying Without Fear.  

Booking your next flight

To minimise the fear factor you should choose an airline that flies to your destination nonstop. Avoid night flights (which are even more removed from the everyday), and arrive at the airport in good time to avoid last-minute rushing. You may even want to visit the airport ahead of time to familiarise yourself with the atmosphere and layout.