How I Managed To Get Over My Fear of Flying

When I was a kid, my ambition was to fly... soar high in the sky.

Little did I know, that my fear of flying would keep the adult me grounded!

Being 10,000 feet high inside a box made me feel stuck. Actually, it left me high and dry, no pun intended.

The outcome? Instead of feeling happy thinking about the final destination, I would internally cry, thinking instead, of The Final Destination. And here’s how it usually transpired.

My Thoughts Inside a Plane

(15 minutes before departure) The plane’s nice and cosy... How I wish it never starts.

(10 minutes before departure) Why is the flight stewardess giving so many instructions on what to do if the plane lands on water. Is she *hinting* at something?

(Time of departure) Oh shit, the plane has begun to move. I must hold my sweaty palms as tightly to the arm-rest as I can. That way, in case of a crash, I will be safe.

(Take Off) Oh God, why is the plane moving so fast? Why can’t it just like... take it slow...? Is the runway even clean? What if there’s a pebble on the runway, and the plane stumbles over it?

(Vertically Up) I can’t believe I am 10,000 feet up in the sky. Damn, beautiful clouds! But what happens if the plane touches a cloud? Shit... I am trapped. *flashes of family playing in front of my eyes* Dear family, I hope you will miss me after I am gone.

(When the plane’s stable) Ah, it wasn’t so bad. I could do flying thing a million times.

Meanwhile, the pilot announces: “Please wear your seat belts. We are about to land.”

(Me during landing time): Oh no, there we go again!

Turns out I am not the only one to feel this. Flight anxiety is fairly common among travellers all over the world.

“People commonly reach out in therapy for flight anxiety,” therapist Sonali Gupta tells me.
A Telegraph article quotes British Airways’ "fly-without-fear" course teacher, Peter Hughes as saying one in four people globally are “discomforted” by the fear of flying. But why do so many people, including me, fear flying in the first place?

The Feeling Of Being Trapped

Therapist Sonali Gupta says there’s many reasons why people feel terrified during flights. Sometimes, it comes from a phobia of flying; at others the fear gets generated because of a bad experience. While in others, the fear is associated with turbulence.

“You feel that there is no way out,” says Sonali.

She’s right. In my case, every time I flew, I felt trapped. I felt I had no control over the situation. I felt pretty much helpless. But it never got to the point where I had to cancel plans. Others, however, don’t have it so easy.

The Fear of Flying: A Universal, Alienating Feeling

Ahmad*, a Software Engineer based in San Francisco, visits his family back home in India only once in two years. The reason? He can’t bear to fly for 14 hours, twice a year. Ahmad’s family misses him immensely. He too misses them, but can’t pay them a visit, no matter how badly he wants to.

Rahul*, who works at a global health organisation says he’s missed many work opportunities involving travel to New York and London because he was convinced he could not do long-haul flights.

A death in the family had compounded Rahul’s fear. Exposure to information about crashes did not help his fear either.

"The more I watched TV shows related to crash investigations to allay my fears, the more my worries became." - Rahul

I would also get triggered by news of crashes. I kept worrying if the flight I was in, too, would be equally unlucky.

Sometimes love for family also compounds the feeling of fear. Aneesha*, mother to two kids, dreads taking flights to America with her family. Her fear is that if something were to happen, her kids too would have to face it.

Also Read: Flying With a Toddler? 6 Ways to Make It Less of a Nightmare

Fear Not?

Everyone feels a bit of fear. But at what point does it become important to confront fear? “When it begins to come at a cost,” says Sonali.

"The minute there is a cost attached to it (the fear), it becomes a problem. " - Sonali Gupta, Therapist

Sonali says when the fear of flying comes at a cost; whether it is financial, or in the context of not taking a job which requires lot of travel, or not being able to attend a wedding in another place, “then it doesn’t remain little or miniscule”

Also Read: Fear vs. Phobia: The Rationale Of Irrational Fears

Coping With It "It’s difficult to tell it to people who don’t have the fear of flying. People who go through it, they understand that even though it’s not severe, you still have to go through that one-two hours of hell. But lately I have met people who do empathise." - Rahul

Since we live in a time of cheat codes, is there one that can be recommended to all those who have a fear of flying? Unfortunately no. Cheat codes lack context, and can sometimes even be counter-productive, feels therapist Sonali.

Meanwhile, Rahul offers some words of advice from his own experience:

"You have to work it out with your own mind. You can work it in parts: first the turbulent bit, then the take-off bit, then the landing bit. There’s no other way. You have to figure it out yourself emotionally." - Rahul

Now if there’s turbulence for 15-20 minutes, Rahul starts playing a game on his phone.

He says now if an opportunity comes to go to New York, he won’t say no!

There’s also a number of communities online. Two of them are Fear of Flying and the Fearful Flyers Group. The amount of support offered there is extremely reassuring, and without *any* judgment whatsoever. Sometimes, the community even goes to the extent of checking up on you after your flight has landed.

So while some choose to work on the fear themselves, others take the help of therapy, some others rely on a good old community!

There’s also apps now to help manage flight anxiety.

Well, as for my fear of flying? On my trip back to India from Europe, I decided enough was enough. I could not let my travel experiences get consumed by my fear. And so, minutes before boarding the flight, I took the help of Google Baba!

Babaji made me understand how a flight works, and told me there’s more chance of me dying on the way to the airport than on a plane! So now, since I am able to appreciate the extreme professionalism of the airline industry and the mechanics of it all, I am more easily able to surrender myself during a flight.

But even now flights make my heart beat faster. It’s not that much to do with the fear of flying, though, as it is from looking at an especially good -looking steward!

Also Read: Nicole Kidman and I Share a Rare Phobia, We Fear Butterflies

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