What are ways to help relieve fear of flying?

I have a great fear of flying. I would like to know how I can attempt to overcome this. I have flown on planes my whole life many times, and my pilot friend has told me all kinds of studies and data showing how safe flying is, how many thousandos of hours pilots have of training for every possible situation, etc…

But even with all this knowledge, my fear is still there. Maybe I must resign myself to the fact that some fears there is just no getting over? As a child I had no fear, and enjoyed plane rides. But when I hit about 22 (currently 25), I became very scared. Plane rides usually lead to me panicking and I usually end up crying because the turbulance scares me so badly. The lady next to me held my hand once and soothed me. She was a complete stranger. I tried drinking alcohol, that only gave me a headache. Traveling thousands of miles above the earth in a man-made giant hunk of metal is very unsettling. Planes are a wondeful method of transportation and I totally respect that, and love that it is quick and convenient, but the actual ride is deathly terryfing for me. Looking down out the plane window is ok, but turbulance and sharp turns scare me greatly.

Any suggestions on what to do to help overcome this? Does anyone else share this fear?? I have never come across another person on a plane ride that is visibly upset and scared like me. Everyone else seems to be fine just sitting there without a care.

Is it normal for flight attendants to ignore passengers who appear to be scared of flying? I was sitting in the very front one time and the two attendants were sitting right in front of me and I was so scared I had trouble breathing and they just ignored me and acted like I didnt exist. I don’t need them to get down on one knee and baby talk me, but it sure would be nice to hear them say " Everything is ok, don’t worry" and give me a smile.

One thing that may help is to determine is the fear coming from a more rational or irrational fear. The first one can be fought with information, the other cannot.

For example, you say you are scared of the turbulence/banking. What about them scares you? Are you thinking “the plane is going to crash!” or is it that they just remind you that you are not in control?

Do you get scared when you ride in a car when someone else drives?

I am just trying to understand the root of the fear. Is the fear of the height? Is it a fear of lack of control? Is a fear that it will crash?

Looks like your best bets are education, desensitization, and perhaps cognitive therapy. Also, this siteindicates that being in the cockpit helps to alleviate concerns that the plane is going to crash (until something goes wrong); anecdotally, I have known people who managed to conquer this fear by learning how to pilot an airplane.

Then there’s drugs.

All of the above! lol

Deep down inside of me I think I know that when we are experiencing turbulance that we are not crashing, but the feeling terrifies me. I can look out the window and be ok, although in general I am afraid of heights.

It also does remind me that I am not in control. I do fear the plane crashing, I think it would be horryfing to be on a plane that you know is about to crash and theres absolutly nothing you can do about it and you must live your last few moments of life in sheer panic and not be able to even say goodby to your loved ones.

I do not experience fear in cars being driven by other people. I drive in cars every day, for many years, I am used to them. I feel comfortable that I am near the ground and have some control (of my own vehicle at least). Airplane rides are much less sparse. Once or twice a year.

How does one go about getting de-sensitized? Also I don’t know how many more studies and facts I can read up on airplanes to help educate myself on them, it doesn’t seem to be working much.

The drugs part has perked my interest. Any suggestions? Do doctors prescribe meds for this? Seems like something they would think is just an excuse.


Tme Line Therapy
Rapid Eye Movement Technique

and probably dozens of other techniques that I don’t practice or am not familiar with.

In this day and age you should be able to find a practitioner very close to you and it really should not take longer than a session or two to get a flying phobia fixed (YMMV). Heck, I even helped people via Skype, but it is much more recommended to see a practitioner in person.

A good therapist should be able to help, although the right prn medication would be easier if you fly rarely.
There was one psychologist locally who also was a flying enthusiast, and a part of his practice was helping clients with fear of flying, the final session of which was a ride in his airplane! (And I bet he then wrote off some part of his flying hobby as a professional expense, the devious bastard!)

There’s some good advice (and more links) here: http://travel.stackexchange.com/questions/22736/are-there-tips-and-tricks-to-overcome-a-fear-of-flying

But different things work for different people so you’ll have to find out what works for you.

First, congratulations for trying to take on this problem. Fear of flying is one of those things joked about and made light of but some some people it’s more than just simple anxiety, as you well know. Bravo for facing your fears and trying to overcome them, that takes fortitude.

**If the do it yourself options are working I see three alternatives:

  1. A formal “fear of flying” program run by a professional. ** These do cost some money but employ a variety of techniques to reduce your fear and manage any that is left. This could be one-on-one or there are group classes.

2) Medication given by a doctor. - see next paragraph

Doctors don’t like to hand out tranquilizers or anti-anxiety medications like candy, but they are tools for managing situation like this. You will probably need to go to a doctor that knows you at least somehow. Be honest. You have an airplane flight but you find the fear crippling. Is there something he can give you to alleviate this anxiety for the duration of the flight? If the doctor is agreeable he or she will give you a script for just a couple pils along with instructions for use. Needless to say, use as directed and absolutely do not combine with alcohol.

3) Flying lessons. No, I am not kidding.

Yes, people have used flying lessons to overcome fear of flying. It can work. I know this because I was one of those people. At one point in my life the thought of getting on a commercial jet was so terrifying I would literally vomit. This was awkward when I had to take a business flight out of O’Hare one time and I was trying to hide the fact I was puking by pulling a trash can around a corner so the gate attendants wouldn’t see me lose my breakfast. Yeah, I still got on the airplane. I am really stubborn. It was not a fun trip to Phoenix and I don’t really recommend toughing things out like that. Anyhow, I’ve had my pilot’s license for 12 years so yes, it can work (no, you don’t have to go all the way to getting a license)

Our fellow Doper Asimovian used the “take a ride in a cockpit” method and if I recall he took flying lessons as well after that. The thread also shows that if you want to go this route you can get a lot of support and a lot of questions answered here as well.

I decided to split my replies into two posts, the prior one on possible solutions, this one more chatty.

Nope. What you do need to do is get some help, apparently it’s not a problem you can solve on your own. But we already talked about that so I won’t repeat myself.

That’s probably because it’s such an unfamiliar sensation. The motion of an airplane in flight is nowhere near like that of a car and the strangeness can be frightening. The primitive lizard part of your brain is going “OMG THE CAR IS ACTING WEIRD OMG OMG!” because that part of your brain is stupid and runs on emotion instead of intellect. You can’t reason with something that is incapable of reason, you have to SHOW it that everything is OK by replacing negative experiences with positive ones.

Also a really nice person, she didn’t have to do that yet she chose to be kind.

Yeah, that form of self-medication usually doesn’t work well. That’s why I tell people that if they are THAT upset/scared/anxious they should see a doctor about some proper medication which will probably work better and is less likely to have undesirable side effects.

Ah… interesting. It’s actually very good that you can discuss what part of flying bothers you. That allows anyone trying to help you to better focus on the problem. It also makes me think that the odd (meaning unfamiliar) sensations of the airplane moving is what is triggering your fear, as opposed to be claustrophobic or something else.

Yes, lots of other people fear flying. You are not alone. It’s more common than you might think because a lot of people try to hide their fear. That might be why you’re not spotting other fearful flyers, because they’re trying to put on a brave face.

Mmm… they try to note who looks anxious or fearful, but unless you’re crying or throwing up they are probably not going to disturb you. They encounter fearful flyers every day they’re at work, ranging from mild anxiety to complete meltdown (the latter not being a common occurrence but it can happen). They’re probably more concerned about the drunks, frankly.

That doesn’t mean they don’t care - it’s part of their job to try to make you comfortable - but honestly what they can do for you is limited.

Back when I was still in fear-mode before the airplane took off I was clutching the arm-rest way past white-knuckle into making the furniture squeak. In that case the attendant asked if I had fear of flying. I told her that prior Very Bad Experience on take off left me with some serious fear but I could tough it out and once we got to cruising altitude I’d be fine - which, by the way, was the truth.

It may be that you weren’t visibly in distress. I know that inside your own brain and body it feels like you’re about to shake apart, but sometimes that isn’t obvious from the outside. If it was during take off or landing, though, what they can do for you is limited and their attention is likely more on what’s happening all around than focused on one particular passenger.

As a general rule, though, if the flight crew are unconcerned things are OK even if it doesn’t feel that way. Remember, those folks fly every day, they know what’s normal and what’s not. It sounds like part of your fear is because you don’t know what’s normal and what’s not for flying.

Fear of flying and fear of heights are not related. I’ve had a couple flight instructors who were afraid of heights, for instance. I once heard that 1/3 of pilots have a fear of heights, but obviously they don’t have an issue with flying.

Again, it’s good you can articulate details about your fear. Don’t be afraid to share that with anyone you enlist to help you.

While people do talk about fear of flying as being irrational it’s not entirely so - you are, after all, in a strange environment where you don’t know what’s normal and what’s not, and you have to trust a complete stranger to keep you safe. Having some concern under those circumstances is not irrational. That’s why society insists on training and licensing pilots and all sorts of safety measures in regards to aviation.

And yes, you are right about how horrible crashing could be. However, even if something goes wrong it’s not instant death. I think sometimes that’s part of the problem, people have this notion that a problem=death and there’s nothing to be done. That’s not the case at all. Maybe if you knew how pilots handle emergencies you would find it reassuring.

For example, if we’re landing and a truck pulls out onto the runway some people would go “OMG! OMG! WE’RE GOING TO HIT!” Meanwhile, I’m hearing the engines power up and watching all the flaps and slots and stuff on the wing move around (I like the window seat) and I’m thinking the pilot is going to do a go-around, we’re going to go back up and no one is in danger at all. I can see/feel/understand what the pilot is doing, just as I can see/feel/understand what a car driver is doing to avoid a lump of stuff in a traffic lane, so I have no fear. It’s a routine annoyance being handled routinely, not an incipient crisis. You don’t know that, however. That’s one reason something like flight lessons or a more formal de-sensitization class can help. They don’t just quote statistics at you, they give you more information so you can better understand what’s going on.

This is my personal experience. I used to enjoy flying in the 90’s and looked forward to every flight.

Then back in 2000, I was on a Delta flight from Columbus to Atlanta (think it was a 747) that 1 hour into the flight lost cabin pressure. The pilot let the airplane drop like bag of potatoes for a few minutes (it felt longer) - my eardrums burst - and people all around me were clutching at each other - praying - throwing up …

We emergency landed in a small airport in Tennessee.

After this event, I developed a fear of flying. Whenever the airplane was in turbulence or would fall a few feet, I would get this sick feeling in my stomach.

I overcame this fear (well not completely - it still returns sometimes) by imagining that I am in a truck driving on a dirt road in the beautiful country and that the drive is very bumpy and I am enjoying it every minute. That and I avoid small airplanes as much as possible (thats why I prefer Southwest - they usually have larger airplanes even for small airports).

I hope this helps you.

I’m scared of flying too. I get motion-sick very easily, and I have panic attacks during turbulence.

I get drugs from my doctor. Ativan. There’s also over-the-counter Gravol (Dramamine.) That, plus listening to music, has gotten me through flights before. It helps if you listen to music that has lyrics and focus intently on the words.

Do you find that the dramamine helps calm you down? I use it every night to sleep. It puts me out. I’m afraid to take it because then I would be very tired and possible not sleep that night.