What are your strategies for managing flight fears?

If you are a nervous flyer, how do you manage your fears around flying?

This can include strategies for offsetting fear in the days leading up to the flight, day-of-flight preparation tips, and ways to invite calmness while in-flight.

You’ll be unsurprised to know I have a lot of strategies and tips here, but I’ll start this discussion with my most basic one: Know what to expect!

This is the philosophy that went into the creation of BumpySkies.com, of course, but I also mean it more generally: I found that flights became much less scary once I learned about the different phases of a typical passenger plane flight, from takeoff to landing. This includes, crucially, what each one feels like on the body and looks like out the window, and the sounds that a healthy, happy plane might make as it enters each stage of a routine flight.

In my case, in the early 2010s I found Capt. Stacey Chance’s website, which opened my eyes to how much of my fear came from simply not understanding flight—not just “how flying works”, but specifically how a modern plane trip works, and the real reasons for air travel’s shining safety record compared to most any other mode of transportation.

A few years later I read the book Cockpit Confidential by Patrick Smith, which lays out the science of flight from a passenger-eye perspective. Now, when my nervous self says The engines suddenly got quieter, and I feel like we pitched forward? What’s happening?! I can reply “Well, based on how long it’s been since takeoff, we’ve probably reached cruising altitude. That means we’ve stopped climbing, so yes, we felt a brief forward pitch while we leveled off. That also means the pilots cut back on the throttle from its full-on take-off-and-climb roar, because it doesn’t take so much power (or fuel) to maintain a high speed at this altitude. Hey, we’ve gotten through the first part of the flight! Pretty good!”

So, yeah: If you’ve got a flight you’re nervous about coming up in a few days or weeks? Make the time to do some reading!

I have traveled a lot by air this year. I feel almost certain that I will have accrued more air-mileage this year than at any time in my life:

  • New York to Maine, visiting my family
  • New York to Raleigh—twice!—visiting my partner’s family
  • New York to Athens, just to visit Athens and the Greek countryside (worth it)
  • New York to New Orleans (where I am now, hello), tagging along as my partner attends a professional conference
  • New York to Vienna, to celebrate my in-laws’ anniversary in a beautiful wintertime place

This has given me a lot of practice at honing some new strategies for calmness and benign distraction. I’ll share one with you now.

I like to do activities that have timers attached to them. Sometimes that means just running a timer—which I always do, with the estimated flight time remaining ticking down on my wrist… But I can’t do only that, or I’ll just end up clock-watching for the entire, multi-hour trip, and that’s not a very effective strategy by itself.

An example of a beneficial distraction with a timer attached: a playlist! I make sure that my phone is packed with purchased-and-downloaded copies of music that makes me happy. And each song I listen all the way through while in the air means that I am that many minutes closer to landing, and that’s two reasons to be happy.

Currently, my favorite song that I reserve for takeoff is “City of Angels”, from Ladytron’s recent album “Time’s Arrow”. Usually if I hit play just as the plane begins its high-powered roll down the runway, the wheels leave the ground before the end of the first verse, full of imagery of celestial beings flitting over the earth. The plane tilts and rumbles as it climbs through swirling layers of air, working its way through our ATC-directed exit path, and the song hits its chorus—the love you bring, and the cherished things you do—as I look at the window and marvel to see the city I’m departing, already in miniature, already under cloud now. For me, this wraps a sense of peace and wonder around something essentially scary, and helps me remember the miracle I’m experiencing and the joy I’ll feel when the trip is over.