I fly a lot for work (five flights in the last week) yet I’m still really affected by changes in altitude especially during takeoff and landing, it’s much like the feeling you get on an elevator or rollercoaster. When I get this feeling I react with an uncontrollable jerk which often makes me seem rather unhinged to nearby passengers and I rarely see anyone else who has this response. I found this explanation online as to what the physical feeling is:
*On Earth, gravity pulls us towards the ground. However, the force you notice isn’t the downward pull of gravity, but the upward force of the ground beneath you. The ground pushes up on your feet, pushing up on your bones and organs. The sinking feeling in your stomach when on a rollercoaster or driving over a hill is caused by a change in force experienced by your organs.
When in freefall, every part of you is accelerating at the same rate, which gives you a similar feeling to weightlessness. There is no upwards force from the ground to cause your organs to be compressed, so they are floating inside of you, even though you are falling. Our bodies aren’t used to this change in force on our organs, which causes messages to be sent in the brain that something is amiss.
I have three questions:
Is there a medical/scientific name for this feeling?
Why would I be more susceptible to this (or is everyone else just better at hiding it)?
How can I lessen or halt my automatic response to these feelings?
I’ve seen it called dropsickness, though I’ve mostly only seen that in science fiction books, so I don’t know if it’s caught on in the science fact world. It’s also sometimes called spacesickness, though it isn’t restricted to just space, and that word is also sometimes used as a name for a psychological condition like cabin fever but much worse.
I get the feeling, and I expect it. I’ve never exhibited a jerking motion, as that would indicate startlement. If the guy next to me jerked every time the plane changed altitude, I probably would wonder if something was wrong with him. Maybe you’re a lot more tense about flying than you think. Maybe half a xanax or something like that would help.
I suspect what you’re sensitive to is not changes in altitude, but - as your quoted explanation describes - acceleration (changes in speed). Your eyeballs might notice a constant vertical speed if the cabin floor happens to be pitched steeply up or steeply down (corresponding to a very high vertical speed), but your stomach won’t; it’ll feel just like sitting in a stationary room. It’s the acceleration when you change speed that your organs are sensitive to. I usually notice this at the beginning of the flight: the pilot gently lifts the plane off of the runway, and the plane is climbing very gently, then after a couple of seconds he pitches the plane up more steeply, accelerating upward to establish a higher (but then constant) climb rate. That pitch-up maneuver settles your stomach and butt down into your seat; it can be subtle, but most of the time it’s very noticeable.
The opposite sensation happens when the plane suddenly pitches downward (or suddenly levels off after an ascent): the plane is accelerating in a downward direction, and you feel a sensation approaching weightlessness. On a commercial flight you rarely see a reduction of more than a fraction of a g; if you do it freaks most people out because it feels like falling.
Not sure how to reduce your response to it, other than pharmaceuticals. I enjoy big accelerations when I know what’s going on (e.g. in a car or small plane), but on a commercial flight I have no idea what’s happening in the cockpit, so I find it rather unsettling; if we’re in the final descent and the captain suddenly firewalls the throttles and pitches up, I get a little edgy. I don’t know of a drug-free way to get around that.
Because different people are different. Just as some are more prone to motion sickness than others (poor things) some people are more sensitive to changes in acceleration of that sort.
I have some issues with it, too, and it did slow down part of my training to get a pilot’s license so I have some sympathy for you. I also really don’t like elevators because of that sensation, especially while going down. This was not fun when I worked in downtown Chicago on things like the 12th or 33rd or higher floor of a building.
Well, I took flight lessons. I wound up struggling with stall recovery because you get a LOT of that sensation. After enough exposure the more primitive parts of my brain stopped trying to sound the alarm every time it happened. It’s easier to deal with when you’re the one in control of the airplane, when someone else is flying can it can still bother me.
Well… as I said, continued exposure helped me, although flight lessons are an expensive way to go about it.
As far as I’m concerned, as long as you’re not the actual pilot there is nothing wrong with using pharmaceuticals to get over flight anxiety. I would advise consulting with a doctor rather than self-medicating. That option isn’t for everyone, either but it is an option.