The Ultimate Guide to Overcoming your Fear of Flying
Flying with anxiety can be torture! I know this first-hand because I used to be terrified of flying. Thankfully, I was able to beat my fear of flying and go on to become a flight attendant.
As a flight attendant, I'd constantly encounter nervous passengers with flight anxiety. Many felt they had no control over their fear and they were destined to be afraid forever.
What they didn't realize was that it is entirely possible to overcome this phobia. I did it, and countless others have done the same.
In this guide I'm going to teach you the secret to eliminating your fear of flying.
You may be thinking...is it really possible??
Can you conquer your fear of flying??
YES. You can!
Even if you can’t get on an airplane because you’re terrified.
Even if the thought of overcoming your fear seems impossible
And even if you’ve tried everything and failed.
There is a proven system for overcoming your fear of flying. A system that eliminates your fear so that you can fly with peace of mind
That framework is exactly what I’m giving you in this guide.
What's in this Guide?
This guide will teach you the Fly Confidently Framework — an easy-to-follow 4 step approach to beat your fear of flying.
This guide is created by bringing together the wisdom of psychologists, pilots, and other industry experts, as well as my own flight attendant tips!
How much of this guide should you read?
To get the best results, you’ll want to read the whole thing.
Because the steps build upon each other. And each part of the framework provides an essential piece of the puzzle, so it’s important to follow the entire sequence.
Hi, I’m Mary Anne, an ex-fearful flying turned flight attendant with a background in psychology and education. I now work with fearful flyers to help overcome their fear of flying.
Beating my own fear of flying changed my life. I went from being terrified of a two-hour plane ride, to traveling the world as a flight attendant.
But finding help wasn’t easy…
Initially, the first place I looked for help was online. But my search ended up being extremely frustrating! The articles I found lacked explanation or focused on "Mickey Mouse tips and tricks."
But I was looking for a proven substantial approach to eliminating my fear. And so I began consuming all the material (books, videos, courses) I could find on the subject.
Then I got to work - using myself as a guinea pig - testing everything I learned. During this process of self-experimentation (with a lot of trial and error!) I discovered a formula that worked! The panic attacks finally stopped. I was able to get on a plane and actually enjoy the flight!
Read my story >>
The formula is HERE in this guide for you to use. Take charge and beat your fear of flying once and for all!
And do it in days and weeks, instead of the years that it took me!
Don’t have time to read the whole guide right now?
No worries. Let me send you a copy so you can read it when it’s convenient for you. Just let me know where to send it (takes 5 seconds):
The Fly Confidently Framework
What is the secret to beating your fear of flying?
Taking a comprehensive approach.
The Fly Confidently Framework is just that. It covers all the bases to help you crush your fear of flying for good. It’s the same framework that I used to overcome my own fear. And it works.
The Fly Confidently Framework has 4 steps:
To truly break free from your fear of flying you need to follow every step of this framework. Ignoring or skipping any of the steps will set you up for failure, and cause you to feel even further helpless against your fear.
You will need facts and evidence to convince you that flying is safe enough to do. A logic-based understanding allows you to counter irrational beliefs. It helps to resolve doubts as they come up and builds lasting confidence in flying.
Sometimes knowledge alone isn’t enough to battle fear. It can be automatic and unexpected. When we're in a state of alarm our ability to reason is weakened. Having the right tools to cope with our emotional fear response is a must.
Developing the Mindset to Conquer your Fear
Getting over my fear of flying was one of the most empowering experiences I’ve ever had. But as I was going through the process there were moments of doubt. I'd question whether I was wasting my time, and it was very tempting to give up.
So what kept me going? Having the right MINDSET.
Mindset or your mental attitude - It includes the beliefs and assumptions that you hold. It’s the driving force behind every decision that you make.
Why is it necessary to beating your fear?
Because overcoming your flying phobia is a PROCESS. It’s not just a one-time event but a series of steps. And it can feel like a roller-coaster ride at times! If your mindset is off, you’ll never reach your goal of conquering your fear of flying. To keep your determination going strong til the end, you need a mindset aligned for success.
Here are the five mindset elements you will need:
The 5 Mindset Elements for Success
- Develop your Motivation
- Believe that it’s Possible
- Make the Decision
- Keep Dominant Thoughts Positive
- Set Realistic Expectations
1. Establish your Motivation
Fear of flying is not only hard for you, but also for those around you. It can interfere with business trips leaving your colleagues, clients or bosses disappointed. It can ruin holidays causing your loved ones to miss out on amazing experiences.
It can result in arguments, frustration, and feelings of guilt. The bottom line: It can put a massive strain on our relationships and professional lives.
Because of this you might feel pressured by people around you (bosses, family members, etc.) to get rid of your fear.
But the problem is...if you're not doing it for yourself, you’re likely to fail.
It may feel a little selfish at first, but the truth is you can only succeed if you’re doing it to improve the quality of YOUR life. You have to be honest with yourself about WHY you want to beat your fear.
- Why do you want to overcome your fear of flying?
Is it to empower yourself and end your anxiety, or is it to avoid disappointing someone else?
- Whom are you doing it for?
Is it for yourself? Or is it for another person (i.e. spouse, family member, your boss...)?
Think about what you'll Gain...
If you discover you’re doing it for someone else in your life, don’t worry it is possible to change it so that you’re doing it for yourself instead.
First, focus on everything positive that will happen once you beat your fear.
Think about...how amazing it will feel when you can finally enjoy a flight and get on a plane comfortably.
Think about...how it will feel to travel the world without being restricted to a certain location.
How beating your fear will boost your confidence and empower you!
Don’t forget, the benefits you gain from beating your fear of flying carry over into all areas of your life! Reflect on the positives so that you’re eager to do this for YOU!
How will it feel when you finally beat your fear?
2. Believe that it's Possible
If you’re like me you may start off skeptical about whether beating your fear is even possible.
Initially, I didn’t personally know anyone that had successfully conquered their fear. I hadn't even heard stories of people that had done so.
Not to mention that fear of flying doesn’t get a lot of publicity or media attention so I had very little to go on... It felt like a coin toss. Somehow, despite all my doubts I decided to give it a try...
I started off by reading tons of books and articles on how to overcome a fear of flying. While researching, I kept coming across stories of others who’d gotten over their flying phobia.
There was something confidence boosting about learning of others who had beaten their fear. The more of these success stories I came across, the more my certain I felt that it WAS possible.After all, if others could do it, why couldn’t I?
What’s the take-away?
Witnessing others is incredibly motivating because it makes your goal feel attainable. Remember, motivation is what will get you to the finish line! Give it a try and see how you feel — read about the success stories of others that have conquered their fear of flying!
3. Make the Decision
The next step is to simply DECIDE that you are WILL overcome your fear of flying. No matter what. Understand that living with your flying phobia is optional. You don't have to be a victim to your fear.
The steps to overcoming your fear are here for you to use, so now it’s a simple matter of making the decision that you will fully commit to crushing this fear!
Once you’ve made the decision to take responsibility for your well-being and conquer your fear, you’ll need to be stubborn about your commitment—because during the process there will be moments of uncertainty. As you go through the process watch for the negative inner dialogue that may come up:
My inner dialogue
“It might have worked for other people but my fear is so intense... it probably won’t work for me”
“How do I even know this is going to work?? What if I’m just wasting my time…”
Once you recognize your negative self talk you can choose to ignore it and replace it with encouraging messages instead.
The only thing that saved me from throwing in the towel was that early on, I had created a clear intention in my mind that I would NOT give up during the process.
Make the decision to conquer your fear, ignore your doubts, and stick with it because I promise it will be worth it!
4. Keep Your Dominant Thoughts Positive
To be successful you have to approach overcoming your fear of flying with a positive attitude and see it as an exciting opportunity, rather than a burden.
Tip: Avoid obsessing over the fear itself because fearful thoughts attract more fear and negative feelings. Instead focus on positive outcomes and how your life will improve when you successfully beat your fear.
How will Conquering your Fear of Flying Change your Life?
- Will you get to visit friends/family that you otherwise wouldn't be able to see?
- Which travel destinations you want to visit?
- What cultures/foods/landscapes that you want to see/experience?
- Will you be going somewhere that you'll be able to do fulfilling work?
To stay positive, look at scenic photos of a place you want to travel to. Imagine what you will do once you arrive there, and create a detailed picture in your mind. For me, Thailand was on top of my list so I searched for photos of Thailand.
Seeing the white sandy beaches reminded me why I wanted to overcome my fear of flying in the first place.
The take-away? Focus on the positives to make the process exciting and enjoyable. Think of it as a game - one you intend to win! Keep it light and fun - Remember positive thoughts attract success!!
5. Set Realistic Expectations for Yourself.
Overcoming your fear of flying is 100% possible. Still, you’ll still need to set realistic expectations for yourself. What do I mean by this?
Take a look at “The Panic Scale”:
Think of flight anxiety as being on a scale from 1 to 10, 1 being total calm and 10 being extreme panic. By using the Fly Confidently framework you CAN cure your fear but you can’t expect to go from a 10 to a 1 overnight. Instead, you can expect your anxiety to go down over a few weeks.
Example: You may start off as a 10 on the panic scale at the beginning — but by following the framework consistently you can get down to a 7 or 8 — and after a bit more time — a 5 or 6, and finally 1 or 2.
The more you fly, the faster you’ll get results, so it’s a good idea to try and book a short flight to begin with, and then try to fly as regularly as you can.
Be patient with yourself and give the process time. You WILL see a drastic decrease in your flight anxiety if you continue to make a consistent effort using this framework.
What Causes your Flying Anxiety?
Like many fearful flyers, you may not know exactly what caused your fear of flying or when it exactly began.
Maybe you’ve always been nervous on flights.
Maybe you flew for years without any problem and then one day your fear popped up from “out of the blue.”
This is exactly what happened to me. At the ripe old age of 24, I unexpectedly developed an intense fear of flying. It was as if a switch had been flipped.
I discovered later that a late onset was very common. Statistically, most people develop a flying phobia later in life, usually somewhere between the ages of 18-35 (more on this later).
But regardless of when your fear started, understanding your fear of flying is essential to overcoming it.
Fear of flying: Rational or Irrational?
The first step to understanding your fear is understanding the difference between rational and irrational fear. Fear has a very important role: It is to save our lives. However, not all fear is beneficial - rational fear serves us and irrational fear debilitates us.
Rational fear is our response to dangerous situations that threaten our survival. This fear is normal and helpful as it serves to protect us.
Example: We are afraid of heights because a big fall can kill us. If we’re on the ledge of a tall building and look down, fear makes us want to step away from the ledge. The fear in this scenario is legitimate, it serves the purpose of saving our life - There is a real danger of falling when we’re close to the edge!
Irrational fear is a response to something that, in reality, poses little or no actual danger. When experiencing irrational fear we may, or may not be aware of it’s irrational nature.
Example: It’s normal for us to want to avoid getting sick. But if you avoid leaving your apartment because you fear being exposed to germs and contracting a virus or disease, you are experiencing an irrational fear— even though there have been cases where people died from exposure to certain viruses, the odds are so statistically low that logically it cannot be considered a real threat.
What about flying? Is flying considered dangerous? Is it a rational fear?
The answer is NO. Flying is by far one of the safest activities you can do.
How do we know this? By looking at the statistics.
Flying is the Safest Mode of Transportation
Compared to other modes of transportation, such as commuting by car, bike, train, bus, or ferry, flying is by far the safest way to get around which makes fear of flying an irrational fear.
Our fear of flying is a false alarm based upon:
Our perception of danger as opposed to actual danger
But I know that embracing this concept is easier said than done... when you feel like the plane is going to drop out of the sky, when your heart is pounding and you can barely breathe, that experience is very real.
But no matter how overwhelming your fear is, it’s important to recognize that:
FEAR does not = DANGER
Even if your mind and body are telling you otherwise! Fully allowing this to sink in is a critical first step to overcoming your fear.
What Causes your Fear?
If flying is not dangerous why are so many of us afraid of it? There are a few elements that contribute to this fear:
1.Hearing about Airplane Crashes in the Media
Imagine if you had never seen a media story about a plane crash. Would you still be quite so afraid?
Most of what we know about flying and airline safety is projected to us by the media. However, in the case of flying this can be problematic for 4 main reasons:
The Media Overexposes us to Airplane Incidents
When there’s a airline incident every single news channel covers for weeks and weeks and you end up seeing the coverage up to 10 - 15 times. For some of us, it’s this overexposure to airplane incident news stories that causes the fear of flying to creep up on us.
I’m not saying that airplane accidents are not dramatic events. What I am saying is the media uses these stories to drive ratings by broadcasting them excessively compared to other stories.
Let me put it in perspective, in the US cancer is the number 2 cause of death. Yet there are 8000 times more news stories about airline crashes than there are about cancer!
Because of this over-coverage, we think that we’re at much, much greater risk of dying in a plane crash that we actually are. The bottom line: More news coverage does NOT mean greater risk!
The Media Feeds into our Negativity Bias
Imagine you had two news stories in front of you. One featuring the safety of modern day aviation, and the other about a recent plane crash. Which one would you want to read first?
Most would read the airplane accident story first. Why?
Because we are designed to gravitate towards the negative story. Paying attention to danger has helped humans survive throughout evolutionary history. We have a built in negativity bias that makes us pay attention to negative, dangerous and disastrous events.
Our fear of flying is strengthened because we’re drawn to negative news stories about plane accidents, yet we rarely feel compelled to read/watch anything that talks about how safe flying is.
We Experience “Vicarious Learning”
After seeing a high profile airplane crash on the news multiple times, the story can echo in your mind. Without realizing it, you start role-playing the scenario in your mind, imagining yourself on that fateful flight. Vicarious learning happens when we hear about another person's experience (in this case an airplane accident) and then imagine going through that same experience ourselves. We might find ourselves imagining what the people on the fateful plane must have felt like as they went through the crisis.
We may think to ourselves - what if it was me? "If it could happen to those passengers, it could happen to my me on my next flight!"
Our mind (and body) registers this thought as if it were happening in reality and it’s then stored in our memory, and resurfaces as terror when we next fly.
Over-coverage of Terrorism
Terrorism like plane crashes, has every element to make a captivating news story. The truth is that hijackings and terrorism related to air travel is drastically rare. In the period of 1999-2009 the odds of being on a plane that has had a terrorist attempt were 1 in 10,408,947 or 0.00001%, majority of which were unsuccessful.
What doesn’t get much coverage is that the airline industry is ultra responsive to terrorism attempts. If an unforeseen attempt is made extreme measures are taken to prevent similar attacks in the future. Do you remember the time there was an attempt to make a bomb using liquids on the plane? The response — now we’re only allowed to take tiny amounts of liquid past the security.
This is just one example, there are new security measures and restrictions such as this being put in place constantly.
2. Flying is Mysterious
Flying is mysterious for a vast majority of us. Unless we know someone in the industry (a pilot, flight attendant etc.) or have done some research, we have little knowledge about aviation. So it’s no surprise that we don’t trust the whole flying thing!
The problem is that this lack of knowledge can lead to catastrophic thinking. Take me for example: I used to be terrified whenever I’d hear the clunking noise that happens right after the plane takes off, Was this a “normal sound?” Or a signal that something was wrong with the plane? Each time I flew, it would trigger panic in me because I didn’t know the answer.
My nervousness only went away after I educated myself on flying and discovered that the clunking sound was just the landing gear being pulled back up — a routine and perfectly normal part of flight!
The bottom line is that to beat your fear you must educate yourself on flying! (more on this later)
3. You Experienced a “Traumatic Flight”
For some of us our fear of flying develops because we experienced a “bad flight”.
Let me explain - years ago a friend of mine had a particularly bumpy flight; She was convinced the turbulence was damaging the plane and that she had narrowly escaped a potential disaster. From then on she avoided flying whenever she could.
This scenario is quite common: a traumatic flying experience such as turbulence or an aborted landing, can create a lasting fear of flying.
The problem is that almost always, these traumatic experiences were not dangerous even one bit. We just perceived them to be a threatening situation.
Turbulence for example, as unsettling as it may be — isn’t dangerous to the plane(during flight attendant training this was one of the first things we learned.) Planes are designed to withstand an enormous amount of turbulence, much more than the greatest turbulence that’s ever been recorded. So if you’re nervous about the wing breaking off, rest assured the wing isn’t going anywhere!
Even less dramatic events can bring about fear such as flight delays. For example, sometimes you’ll hear airline staff tell passengers a flight delay is caused by an “mechanical issue”. Naturally, this can set off our anxiety. What they usually don’t tell you is that “mechanical” or “operational” issue is a general term used for a variety of things, such as a clogged toilet or even a burnt out lightbulb!
4. Compounding Anxiety
Does it feel like your flying phobia popped up from out “out of the blue”?
You may have traveled for years and bam! - your fear of flying hits you. You’re not sure how or why it started, but all of a sudden you’re “white knuckling” your flights. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Developing a flying phobia later in life is actually incredibly common. In fact, the average age that people develop a fear of flying is 27 years old..
Why is this?
Anxiety starts creeping up in our mid to late twenties as most of us go through significant life changes and are exposed to more stress. Around this age its common to lose personal time as we take on more responsibilities which can make us feel that we’ve lost some control over our life.
Have you heard the expression, “the straw that broke the camel’s back?” When you fly during a stressful period in our life, your underlying, bottled up anxiety can surface and manifest into a fear of flying.
The flight anxiety can be subtle at first for example, a slight feeling of edginess which can slowly escalate to downright terror — with you potentially experiencing your first panic attack onboard a flight. Unfortunately, once a fear of flying emerges, it will likely continue and only get worse.
Life Changes can Cause Anxiety
We can also develop a fear of flying when traveling during a particularly difficult time in our life. Or if we fly while feeling sad, angry, frustrated, or anxious.
I know someone who's flying phobia materialized after experiencing a day of long flight delays. She had been waiting around for hours and was intensely frustrated.All the negative emotions she was feeling toward the airline snowballed, and when her plane finally departed, she found that she was suddenly terrified of flying. Before this incident she had never been a nervous flyer but now she found herself scared of flying.
Fear can also emerge if you’ve gone through some type of loss in the weeks or months leading up to a flight. For example:
Positive Life Changes and Anxiety
It's not only the negative events in our lives that can bring about anxiety. Positive life changes can also bring up our stress levels.
Take marriage for example, a wonderful event in people’s lives, but it comes along with unexpected stressors: Planning a wedding can be extremely stressful and once you move in with your new spouse conflict can arise from different living habits, marital roles, household duties, etc. Many surveys have indicated that first year of marriage is the most challenging year for many couples.
If you’re a new parent the responsibility and amount of work involved in taking care of a newborn baby can be overwhelming. New parents may also worry about their children if anything were to happen to them.
The take-away: you may have high anxiety levels and not even realize it because things are going relatively well in your life.
5. Other Contributing Factors
For many fearful flyers it’s the “fear of crashing” that is the main reason we’re so afraid. However for some, the flight anxiety actually stems from another source such as a fear of heights, claustrophobia, or the fear of having a panic attack on a flight. It’s not uncommon for a person to have a combination of several different fears (i.e. having a “fear of crashing” and also a “fear of heights”).
Claustrophobia is the fear of being restricted, confined, or unable to escape.
If you feel afraid or trapped/suffocated when in an enclosed or crowded space you could be suffering from claustrophobia.
If you start panicking when the plane doors close because you feel trapped, your fear of flying may have to do with claustrophobia. It’s common for claustrophobia to surface after a day of long delays and uncomfortable waits onboard the plane prior to taking off.
Acrophobia is the fear of heights, or more specifically, the fear of “falling”.
Note, not everyone who has a general fear of heights will experience acrophobia while flying in an airplane. For example, some pilots have reported that they are nervous standing on top of high buildings but have no problem flying an airplane!
The Mysterious World of Flying
To this day, how planes fly is still quite an unknown to most of us.
Compare our knowledge of airplanes to cars: Most of us have general knowledge of how cars work. We can identify the main elements of a car (brakes, engine, steering wheel, transmission, etc.) and we generally know what they do.
We know that if there’s a problem with our car, the warning lights inside the dashboard turn on, and we know to take our car to the mechanic to get the problem fixed before it gets worse.
Plus, we’re exposed to cars pretty much every day, so we feel pretty safe in inside a car.
But when it comes to airplanes most of us have a limited understanding. Unlike cars, we don’t know the protocols in place for preventing and dealing with potential problems.
On top of that, it is completely unnatural for humans to fly in the air, so it’s not surprising that we don’t feel particularly safe when we’re on a plane.
There are many unanswered questions when it comes to flying such as:
- How does a plane that weighs so many tons, with all the people and cargo, lift up into the air?
- What happens if we run out of fuel, get a flat tire, or run into a storm?
- What do all the different sounds mean?
Why is Aviation Education so Important?
With so many unknowns, we have to rely on blind trust that we’re not in danger and everything is going to be okay. This is a big part of why it’s so difficult to feel safe and confident when we fly. Blind trust creates the perfect conditions for irrational and fear driven thoughts to come up.
Without a valid information base, our over-active imaginations tend to kick-in. Which can easily lead to catastrophic thoughts. But these fear-based thoughts are not based on reality because we know that flying is the safest mode of transportation.
How do you internalize that flying is safe enough to do?
By educating yourself on flying and getting the facts.
Learning about flying is a powerful weapon in overcoming your fear because it bridges the gap between imagination and reality. It debunks our misconceptions around flying and intellectually satisfies our need to know.
After this, we can then build a new mental model of flying — one that’s based on evidence, not fear-based assumptions.
Where do you start?
Learning about Flying may seem a little daunting, where do you begin? But don’t worry I’ve got you covered.
In this section I’ve outlined important aviation topics, as well as the questions that you should get the answers to. Flying is a broad topic and it can’t be easily summed up into one section but the topics and questions presented here will get you started off, so that you’re well on your way.
Relevant topics to fearful flyer:
- The aircraft
- Safety Measures
- Different Stages of a Standard Flight
- Flight Planning
- Rules and Regulations of Airlines
- Airport Security
I will be going into these topics and the questions below in detail in future blog posts. Be sure to sign up to get the latest information as soon as it comes out.
Let’s start your journey to becoming a mini flying expert!
Pilots hold massive responsibility. After all they are the ones who control the planes.
How do we know that we can put our trust in them? These days we want references for just about everything. Often we won’t even try a new restaurant without checking it’s reviews first! So why is it that we know so little about the people with whom we entrust our lives?
Pilots are one of the most rigorously trained group of professionals in the world. Airlines understand the huge responsibility that pilots hold, and the standards to which they are held are like no other.
But if you’re a fearful flyer, in order to give up control and build your trust in pilots, you need to learn how they are selected, what they do, and the processes in place which keep them performing up to such exceptionally high standards.
To get started here are a few things to find out about pilots:
- How many hours of experience do they need to have before they can fly?
- How are pilots selected and hired? What is their training process like?
- What is the role of the pilot vs. co-pilot?
- Are they regularly tested for drugs/alcohol?
- Do pilots get to sleep during long flights?
- What if the pilots become ill?
I'll be answering these questions and more on the blog so don't forget to subscribe.
Additionally, you can also learn about the following flight related professionals:
- Airplane technicians
- Flight Attendants
- Air traffic Control
Modern aircrafts are amazing technological machines engineered with safety as the first and utmost goal in mind.
One key reason why air travel safety has continually gone up in the past 40 years is because of the advancement of sophisticated technology on the planes.
Commercial Aircrafts are monuments to safety. They are subject to extremely strict maintenance schedules and the parts that are subject to wear and tear are constantly being measured and replaced.
To get you started here are a few example of things to find out about the aircraft:
- How does a plane that weighs so much take off in the air? Can it just drop out of the sky?
- What happens if one of the engines die during the flight?
- Can a wing break off the plane?
- What happens if one of the flight systems fail?
- How can planes that are 20-30 years old be safe?
- How much regulation are plane manufacturers subject to?
"How is it that with all the violent shaking nothing goes wrong?” For many fearful fliers turbulence is hands down, the scariest part of flying.
It’s normal to be afraid of turbulence because when we experience intense shakes in a car or train, it means something has gone horribly wrong. It’s even scarier when this happens when we’re all the way up in the sky.
We panic because it feels like the plane is “out of control”.
However, as uncomfortable as it is, turbulence is not dangerous to the aircraft. Pilots are constantly bewildered by passengers’ fear of turbulence, because they know and live this fact every day.
But from my own experience, I can personally vouch in that just hearing someone say “turbulence is safe” is not enough to stop the fear. To truly believe and internalize it on a cellular level, I needed to learn about the fundamentals of turbulence. Only then did my anxiety level drop during those dreaded bumps.
To get you started here are a few example of things to find out about turbulence:
- What causes turbulence?
- How much does the plane move during turbulence?
- How much turbulence can a plane withstand?
- Can turbulence damage the airplane?
Not knowing how weather affects our flight, can be another major cause of anxiety. Especially when we hear that weather conditions are “bad”.
Without the facts, we might assume that bad weather means dangerous conditions, and good weather means it’s safe to fly... but this is a huge oversimplification.
There are various policies in place so that airplanes can operate safely in all the different weather scenarios. Having a more comprehensive understanding of weather and these regulations will help reassure you.
To get you started here are a few example of things to find out about weather and flight safety:
- How does “bad weather” affect your flight?
- What happens if there is choppy weather at the destination airport?
- What happens if there is a storm on the flight path?
- What happens if lightning strikes the airplane?
Because of the huge responsibility that the aviation industry is subject to, airline companies do not mess around when it comes to safety. The stakes are just too high. Knowing what precautions airlines take to ensure maximum safety is one of the most reassuring things you can learn about.
For example did you know that for every critical system on a commercial plane there are 3 backup systems?
So in the incredibly unlikely scenario that the first, second and even third engine (or any other critical system) fails, the plane can still operate and get to it’s destination safely.
Also consider this, every time an airplane incident is reported the following protocol follows:
- The root cause of that accident is investigated and determined
- New regulations are then created to keep that specific accident from happening again.
This means that for an commercial airline accident to occur now, in pretty much all cases, it would be caused by something that has not happened even once in the last 100 years.
This preventative measure is one of the main reasons air travel safety has been increasing year after year.
Some Questions to get you Started...
- How are aviation safety standards regulated?
- What specialized safety equipments do planes have?
- What is the protocol in the event of an emergency?
- Are some airlines safer than others?
The education topics we covered above are some of the fundamentals of flying that will provide reassurance and create trust for you if you’re a fearful flyer. But by no means an extensive list of topics!
How to Deal when Fear Strikes
Steps 2 and 3 of the Fly Confidently Framework focus on beating your fear of flying through challenging your fear intellectually. But flying education alone may not be enough, we may need that extra help.
How do you deal with the fear on an emotional level?
When I say emotional, I’m talking about the times when you’re overcome by fear. When you feel totally powerless, as though your logical brain has no control over. When you feel the symptoms of fear like a racing heart, shortness of breath, sweating, and terror in your mind and your body — you feel as though your body is electrified — but not in a good way.
This automatic emotional response to fear short circuits our intellectual reasoning skills. The lack of control we experience during moments of panic can deceive us into thinking there’s no way to free ourselves from it, and that we are destined to live with the fear forever.
But you don’t have to live with this fear - you can beat it!
By using these two steps:
Step 1: Identify your fear symptoms
To put an end to your distress when you’re feeling afraid or anxious, you’ll first need to identify what triggers your fear and explore the origin of your fear.
Remember - no two fearful flyers are the same. What triggers fear in one person doesn’t necessarily scare another. We all have different personalities, backgrounds and flying experiences which means we all fear different aspects of flying. We also each react differently when we’re afraid. So the first step is to understand what triggers your fear and the symptoms you experience.
Everything can seem like a blur when you’re experiencing flight anxiety. So how can you identify your symptoms?
In this section, I’ve included a set of Self-Assessment Questionnaires below, so that you can determine what type of fear you have, and what your unique symptoms are. The questionnaires will allow you to see which of the following categories your fear falls under:
- Anticipatory or “Pre-Flight” Anxiety
- Fearful Thoughts During the Flight
- Contributing Fears (Claustrophobia, Fear of Heights, Panic Attacks)
- Compounding General Anxiety
* You may find that you fit into one or more of these categories.
Step 2: Use Fear-Stopping Strategies
Once you’ve completed each Self Assessment and identified your symptoms, you’ll need to use a corresponding fear-stopping strategy to address your individual needs.
Fear-stopping strategies are psychology-based, techniques that effectively treat flight anxiety. They’re self-guided so you can use them on your own, anytime.
After completing each Self-Assessment you’ll find an example of a relevant fear-stopping strategy that’s designed to treat the associated flight anxiety symptoms.
I will give away more of these strategies on my blog, make sure to subscribe to be the first to get them!
Self-Assessment: Identify and Treat your Fear
Anticipatory or “Pre-Flight” Anxiety
It is common for fearful flyers to feel anxious and fearful about an upcoming flight in the days, weeks and even months prior to a flight. This is what is referred to as "pre-flight or anticipatory anxiety".
If you answer "yes" to any of the following questions, or experience any of the mentioned symptoms, you have anticipatory flight anxiety:
Self Assessment - Pre-Flight Anxiety
- Do you avoid flying?
- Does the thought of an upcoming flight make you feel worried, afraid, anxious?
- Before an upcoming flight do you imagine your plane crashing, or having other flight related disasters? Are these thoughts obsessive?
- Before an upcoming flight do you experience any unpleasant physical symptoms? (ie. headaches, muscle tension,inability to concentrate, stomach issues, back pain, etc.)
- Have you ever booked a flight, and then cancelled it because of flight anxiety related issues?
- Do you have nightmares about an upcoming flight, or experience insomnia or restless sleep leading up to a flight?
- Do you often have emotional outbursts right before a flight?
- Do you ever engage in superstitious rituals before a flight?
- When you’re on vacation do you constantly worry about the return flight home, and even look for alternate ways to get home?
Here is one strategy that targets “Pre-Flight Anxiety” symptoms:
Fear-Stopping Strategy - Pre-Flight Anxiety
Fearful flyers with anticipatory anxiety tend to have overactive imaginations. We catastrophize about our upcoming flight crashing. One way to bridge the gap between reality and imagination is by using a strategy called “Flight Tracking”.
- A few weeks/months before your flight go on to the flight tracking website flightview.com.
- Enter in your flight information: flight number, departure/destination cities but instead of your actual departure date, punch in today’s date instead. (Note: Most airline carriers will keep their flight numbers the same for their regular routes)
- Watch the same flight you’ll be taking in real-time, as it’s in the sky, right now en-route.
- Imagine the flight you’ll soon be on, being just as smooth. As this flight takes-off, cruises and lands safely, feel reassured that your flight will go well too.
- Continue doing this as often as necessary in the weeks leading up to your flight. Make sure you do this everyday in the week before your flight.
2. Fearful Thoughts During the Flight
For many fearful flyers the anxiety that comes on during the actual flight is the most difficult part of all. With nowhere to escape, we feel helpless when fear and anxiety come up during the flight. It’s common to visualize horrible images and imagine all the things that could go wrong on the flight. Some of us experience these symptoms as mild anxiety while others of us suffer from extreme panic.
If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, or experience any of the symptoms mentioned you struggle with anxiety during flight:
Self Assessment - In-Flight Anxiety
- Do you feel tense, anxious, worried, frightened, angry, sad, strange, or unsettled during flights?
- Do you imagine catastrophic “worst case scenarios” during a flight? Are these thoughts obsessive?
- Do you have any unpleasant body reactions during the flight? (ie.sweating, shortness of breath, pounding heart, dizziness, nausea, muscle tension, etc.)
- Do you rely on alcohol or other medications to “take the edge off” during a flight?
- Do you find yourself overly aware of physical sensations? (ie. listening intently to every sound)
- Do you clutch the armrest to feel safer?
- Do you lack trust that the pilot and other airline staff are doing their jobs correctly?
- During the flight do you look at the facial expressions and body language of other people (flight attendants, passengers) to ensure there is no sign of anxiety?
- During a flight do you frequently look out the window to check that everything is okay (ie. the engines are working, the wings are still attached, the weather is okay)
Here is one strategy that targets “In-flight Anxiety” Symptoms:
Fear-Stopping Strategy - During Fight Anxiety
Disputing Irrational Beliefs is a strategy to help with anxiety causing thoughts during your flight. It works by teaching your brain new responses to thoughts that previously caused fear.
- Write a list of all of your specific fears about flying on a piece of paper in detail.
- Now go through each of the fears you wrote down and “fact-check” each one, by using a trusted information source to get the facts about what is actually happening during each of your feared scenarios. This is so that you’re not relying on what you think is happening.
- Once you have researched each of your fears, write the *rational* response to each fear using factual data to dispute every irrational belief. Hint: To counteract the emotional effect that your fears have on you, tie humor and anger into your responses.
- Bring this paper with you when you fly - you can use it to soothe and calm your fears during the flight. Refer to this list any time your fears pop up. (Consider it a running list: be sure to write down any new fears that come up during flights, so that you can add them to the list, looking up the rational responses after your flight).
Almost all of our fears about flying are irrational — they’re grounded in our misconceptions, instead of fact-based evidence. By doing this exercise, you’re disputing your irrational beliefs about flying one by one.
Your Fear: "I’m worried that if there’s a mechanical issue with the plane, it won’t be able to operate properly which will cause it to crash."
Fact: For every critical system on a commercial plane there are at least 3 back up systems. So in the terribly unlikely scenario that the first, second and even third systems fail the plane can still operate and get to its destination safely.
Your Fear: “What if the pilot gets sick on the flight and is unable to fly the plane?”
Fact: On every commercial flight there are a minimum of two pilots. So if one of the pilots was unable to perform their job, the other pilot would take over. To ensure both pilots do not get food poisoning, airlines are mandated to serve two different meals to each one of the pilots.
3. Contributing Fears
As mentioned earlier in the “Understanding your Fear” section of this guide, for some fear of flying is attributed to other phobias such as Fear of Heights, Claustrophobia, or Fear of a Panic Attacks.
Is your flight anxiety due to an “associated phobia?” Take the Self-Assessments below to find out:
- Do you feel caved in and confined when you step inside of a plane?
- Are you less anxious and more comfortable in larger planes than in smaller planes?
- Does the thought of, or being in a small space trigger fear of not being able to breathe properly, running out of oxygen?
- Do you try to avoid small, crowded spaces such as elevators, the subway, etc.?
- Do you feel nervous or panic when the plane doors close?
- Do you find yourself looking for possible escape routes on the plane? Do you keep checking the exits?
- Do you try to sit as close to the exit doors as possible so that you have an “easy way out?”
Acrophobia or “Fear of Heights”
- Are you worried that the plane may “fall out of the sky?”
- Do you imagine the plane being held up by an invisible string that can snap any time resulting in the plane falling and crashing?
- Do your nerves spiral out of control thinking about how high you are off the ground?
- Do you get nervous when looking out the window, and often keep the window shade closed to avoid looking out?
Here is one strategy that targets the symptoms of both "Claustrophobia" and "Fear of Heights":
Fear-Stopping Strategy - "Claustrophobia" and "Fear of Heights"
For those of us with claustrophobia or a fear of heights, the following desensitization technique can really help. While you’re feeling relaxed, you gradually expose yourself to the feared situation in a controlled way. This “desensitization” not only establishes comfort, but allows you to quit avoiding feared situations.
First identify what situations/environments are scary for you. As an example, if you suffer from claustrophobia then list the places that trigger your fear (ie. elevators, airplanes, subways, crowded rooms, etc.)
Select one one of the places you listed, say “elevators” and create an Exposure Hierarchy — which is a ranking of situations from least scary to most scary.
- Start with the low anxiety-provoking item first and begin to expose yourself to the situation. Make sure you’re practicing controlled breathing, and use relaxation techniques while you’re performing the exercise (I’ll be talking more about relaxation strategies on the blog — don’t forget to subscribe)
- Once you’ve gained enough confidence and have mastered the first item (riding a glass elevator up one story) — you can move on to the next step (riding a newer elevator up five floors).
- If you experience a setback at any point, and get extremely anxious, try taking a friend you until you’re ready to try it on your own again.
Exposure Hierarchy Example - Elevator
Following is an example list of situations that can scare you if you experience Claustrophobia
- Glass (see through) elevator inside a shopping mall which only goes up and down one floor
- Newer elevators that go up no more than five floors.
- Newer elevators without phones inside
- Older elevators that only go up one to two floors
- Older elevators which “drop” right before going up (by drop, I mean that the elevator seems to give off that sinking sensation)
You can modify the above exposure hierarchy for “fear of heights”.
Some of us who’ve previously had a panic attack, may fear experiencing one on the plane. The anticipation of losing our composure and “making a scene” on a plane can be a phobia in and of itself. With nowhere to go 35,000 up in the sky, you worry about feeling “trapped”.
Fear of Panic Attack
- Do you worry that you will “lose control” and make a fool of yourself, or create a scene on the plane, because of your anxiety?
- Is it the anticipation of a panic attack that makes you anxious? Are you more worried about the possibility of having a panic attack than of the plane crashing?
- Do you worry that you’ll have unpleasant physical symptoms such as nausea, shortness of breath, pounding heart, dizziness, shortness of breath?
- Do you worry that your panic attack might induce a heart attack on your flight, and that you could die if there are no medical aids to help you?
Here is one strategy that targets “Fear of Panic Attacks”:
Fear-Stopping Strategy - "Fear of Panic Attacks"
If you’ve had a panic attack before, you might live in fear of additional attacks and you start to avoid things that may trigger panic attacks, such as flying. But in reality panic attacks are fairly common and they are not dangerous.
If your flight anxiety stems from the fear of having a panic attack onboard a flight, the following technique will help you. It involves learning to identify scary thoughts that can trigger and fuel physical feelings of panic.
First, ask yourself what you are afraid will happen during a panic attack. Examples include:
- “I will faint”
- “It will go on forever”
- “I’ll embarrass myself”
- “I’ll have a heart attack”
- “I’ll die”
This technique is also effective because it allows you to challenge your worrisome thoughts and helps you to realize that there are things you can do to cope with the situation.
Here’s an example of how to challenge your worrisome thoughts:
- What am I afraid will happen? I will have a panic attack on the airplane, and I won’t be able to breathe, or that I’ll die.
- How many times have I had this thought when I am having a panic attack? A lot!
- How many times has it actually happened? Never. Even when it feels like I am going to die, nothing bad has happened. However, what if THIS is the time it happens?
- How many times have I had that thought? Many times.
- How many times has it actually happened? Never.
- How likely is it that it will really happen? The chances of something bad happen are extremely small. It’s important to remind myself of that when I am having a panic attack!
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4. Compounding General Anxiety
“Background anxiety” or the general level of anxiety that we carry around 24/7 is a result of the stressors of everyday life. If your background anxiety level is high, that stress will carry over to when you’re on a plane and make your fear of flying much worse.
Reflect on the following questions:
Self Assessment - Compounding General Anxiety
- How often do you feel anxious? (often, rarely, sometimes, never)
- What kind of situations are most likely to make you feel anxious? How long does the anxiety last? (weeks, days, hours, minutes)
- At the time you first experienced a fear of flying, was there was there anything else happening in your life that may have caused you to be stressed out? (i.e. work or relationship problem, etc)
- In the last few months/years have you gone through any major changes in your circumstances?
- Do you experience physical tension/soreness in your body?
- Do you tend to overthink, obsess about, and and over-analyze situations?
- Are you getting enough sleep each night? (at least 7-8 hours)
- Do you give yourself “downtime” each day to rest and recharge?
- Do you have healthy coping mechanisms for handling stress? (exercise, speaking to a friend, mediation, etc)
Here are some strategies for reducing your General Anxiety:
Fear-Stopping Strategy - Compounding General Anxiety
Incorporating the following things into your life can greatly lower overall anxiety:
- Exercise Regularly
- Practice Meditation and Mindfulness
- Get adequate sleep (at least 7-8 hours minimum)
- Cut down or eliminate stimulants (caffeine, energy drinks, etc)
- Consult a professional
- Give yourself time to “unplug” from technology devices each day
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If you’ve followed this guide to this point I want to congratulate you on taking the first step to conquer your Fear of Flying. Let's recap what we’ve covered.
The main goal of this guide is to:
- Show you that it’s possible to overcome your fear of flying despite how intense, difficult or impossible it may seem right now.
- Introduce you to the most effective framework to beat your fear of flying.
Let's review the framework.
Step 1: Developing the Mindset
Your mindset is what ultimately determines your success in conquering your fear. There are 5 essential mindset elements that you’ll need:
- Set your motivation for beating your fear. You must be doing it for yourself, not anyone else.
- Embrace that it is possible to beat fear of flying.
- Commit that you will not stop until you overcome your fear no matter what. Make the decision to see the process through to the end.
- Stay positive. Focus on the outcome and what you’ll gain, rather than obsess over the fear itself.
- Maintain realistic expectations on your progress. Do not expect to go from 0 to 10 overnight.
Step 2: Understand the Fear
Understanding your fear of flying gives you the insight and perspective to recognize your fear of flying for what it truly is — an irrational fear.
- Fear of flying is based on our perception of danger vs. actual danger.
- Environmental factors contribute to our fear such as: the media, compounding anxiety, other contributing phobias (claustrophobia, fear of heights, etc)
Step 3: Learn About Flying
Learning about flying calms your nerves by intellectually reassuring you that flying is safe.
- Getting the facts can greatly reduce your fear by debunking any misconceptions you have about flying.
- Educating yourself on flying builds trust in the aviation industry that you’ll need to get over your fear.
- There are “must know” flying topics that every fearful flyer needs to learn about: Pilots, Aircraft, Turbulence, Weather, Safety measures.
Step 4: Address your Symptoms
The last step of the framework helps you overcome fear on an emotional level. It eliminates your fear symptoms that come up automatically, and short circuit your intellectual mind. You’ll need to take 2 steps:
- Identify your symptoms so you can address the underlying causes
- Use effective fear-stopping strategies to eliminate your individual symptoms
You’ve learned the framework to beat your fear of flying!
Now it’s time to put this knowledge into action.Start using the Fly Confidently Framework and I’m here to support you the entire way with quality materials to complement each step.
Make sure to:
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If there are any topics or questions about fear of flying that you would you like to know more about, please write me and I’ll do my best to include them in future blog posts!
One last thing...