Flying for the first time can be terrifying, and coping with fear and first flight can be crippling. The limitations that a fear of flying can place on someone not only limits travel, but it limits opportunity – it limits life.
How am I so sure? Because I once had, and overcame, a severe fear of flying that not only controlled my life, but led me to pass over opportunities and even quit a job, because of it.
Long before A Couple for the Road, before trips to Europe and jaunts around the Yucatan Peninsula, my fear of flying was absolute. Anytime I found myself on a plane, something I avoided strongly, I would white-knuckle the hand-rests. I closed my eyes during take-off. I closed them during landing. My mind swirled constantly at every stumble, creak, and groan of the plane. Sweat poured out of my brow. Anytime the engine hissed or made a sudden sound, I thought to myself “this is it”.
This fear was so intense, in fact, that upon receiving a major promotion that required me to travel twice per month, I quit that job less than six months later despite the opportunity. I was great at the job. It fit me perfectly, and was a lucrative opportunity. It was, in fact, life changing for us from a financial standpoint. Despite all the benefits, I couldn’t go on and passed on the opportunity, instead falling back on a less ideal role that was within driving distance from our apartment, and which didn’t require travel.
Fear of flying is one of the most daunting phobias people face – and it’s universal. No matter the culture, no matter the country, there are several people on every flight who are experiencing actual torment. Often these people opt-out of great personal opportunities either professionally or experientially in the way of new travels, new places, or a way to visit friends and family. Perhaps you know someone with this fear.
Perhaps you have this fear, a form of “fear and first flight” jitters.
Perhaps you are that white-knuckled flyer, the person who doesn’t make it “back home” as often as you should because of the fear. Perhaps you’ve skipped out on jobs, or opportunities that you couldn’t replace because of this fear. Perhaps it’s even worse than this. Perhaps you fear something you’ve never done. Perhaps you fear flying, but have never flown.
What do you do? How do you overcome this?
Here are the things I thought, and did, which helped me overcome my fear of flight, and will help you do the same.
Take Care of the Essentials
Once of the things that adds to stress for first time flyers makes a lot of sense because, well, you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re not supposed to know, in fact. Remember, it’s your first time flying! Don’t let fear overshadow the enjoyment of your first flight.
Know the basic rules of what you can and cannot take on a plane. Toss any liquids over 3 ounces, and in actuality any liquid at all the first time you fly. Most toiletries are fine going through security, but you won’t be able to take in drinks or any liquid-based food, so stay away from it unless you check a bag. There are also specialized cases that are very cheap, which are specifically designed to fit travel-allowed liquid sizes. It’s great for shampoos, liquid soaps, etc…
If you check a bag, have all of your essentials in the bag you don’t check. What are the essentials? Wallet, purse, passport, keys, and medications are a few. If something happens that your bag is misplaced, make sure you have all of the things you really need that can’t be easily replaced.
Additionally, book your flight well in advance to save money. The sweet spot for booking flights on most airlines is 3 to 6 months, and we normally aim for this range.
Lastly – get to the airport in plenty of time. If you’re flying internationally, get to the airport 2.5 hours early. If domestic, make it 2 hours. You want to be able to take your time, not feel rushed, and avoid being flustered.
If you get off to a nervous start before you even step on the plane, it’s often hard to let go.
Fear of Flying Can Be Overcome, Even If You’ve Never Flown
Fortunately, this is something that can be overcome, despite battling fear and first flight. It all starts with understanding that fear is a decision. It isn’t given to you. It isn’t forced on you. It’s a choice, and can be overcome.
Is it easy? Well – in a manner of speaking, yes. However, it does require persistence, a little mental work, but more than anything it requires you to step out of your comfort zone. I know from experience.
You see, recently my 62-year-old father flew for the first time. Having grown up in a time where people flew less frequently, and in a sparsely-populated outskirts town where even fewer people had flown, it just wasn’t a concern. His professional career wasn’t one that required travel, so the opportunity was never necessary.
Consider That You Might Actually Love Flying
I spoke with him while he entered the security line. “Dad, how are you?” He replied, “Son, I’m a nervous wreck.” I was likely more nervous and on-edge than he. It felt like I texted him 100 times over the next 20 minutes to lead him through the process, and gradually his nerves became manageable. I watched the progress of his flight on Flightaware, wondering if he was okay. Is he freaking out? Is he having a life-changing experience, or a panic attack? I couldn’t handle the suspense. So, how did his first flight turn out?
He loved it. In fact, his response was, “honestly, there wasn’t anything to it. It was fun.” How did he have this type of experience, when perhaps you know someone who hasn’t flown because of their fear? Maybe you or someone you know even flew once, had such an unnerving experience, and now avoid the act all-together. What can you learn from this to conquer your fear of flying?
Believe it or not, there’s no magic to this, and it doesn’t require a supernatural ability to control your mind or nerves. In fact, the key to overcoming this fear is stuffing your mind full of logic. Many people avoid researching things like statistics of crashes, likelihood of an issue with the plane, or other things that could go wrong in consideration of overcoming their fear of flying. If it’s your first time flying, however, you’re in better shape than most.
Because you don’t have a negative experience to fall back on. You’ve never been nervous on a plane. You’ve never had bad turbulence or experienced something unnerving 40,000 feet in the air. In fact, as a first time flyer you are avoiding a type of travel that is safer than car travel due to a presumptive fear that you have over something that hasn’t happened.
Fear of Flying Doesn’t Make Emotional Sense
Imagine that – you’re not even avoiding what has happened in the past. As a first-time flyer who is afraid to take that bold step and board a plane, you’ve invented a fear based on a presupposition that it’s going to be scary or dangerous. It isn’t.
So, that’s your first step. If you’re a first-time flyer, you shouldn’t be afraid because there’s literally no basis for being fearful of something you’ve never done before. Fearing something you’ve never experienced is creating an unnecessary fear. Emotionally, it’s creating a fear out of nothing – thin air. It isn’t logical, unless statistics or common sense says that it is to be feared, which we’ll deconstruct next.
Fear of Flying Doesn’t Make Statistical Sense
Each year, there are about 40,000,000 flights. FORTY. MILLION. That’s over 100,000 flights per day. A plane crashes once in every 1.2 million flights, per FAA statistics. Now, consider that this doesn’t just include commercial flights, but also every Joe Pilot with a pilot’s license and too big of an ego to be behind the controls. In fact, the vast majority of air crashes aren’t commercial planes, but rather small personal Cessnas flown by people who don’t have the hours and experience to be considered “safe” pilots anyhow.
Additionally, out of these flights that do incur issues, there is only a fatality on 1 in 11. Most planes that “crash” in a commercial sense actually are considered more like “safe diversions” where there’s an issue on the plane (true, it’s normally a critical error) where the pilot’s experience enables them to get the plane on the ground without danger to anyone’s safety.
Compare this to the danger of car crash fatalities, which top more than one million per year, and it’s a wonder why driving car is still legal! In fact, there are more than 3,000 car crash fatalities each day, which makes it a far more dangerous mode of travel by both frequency and percentage of occurrence over plane travel.
Mathematically, being afraid of flying doesn’t make sense.
Flying Isn’t an Untested Technology
Many people who haven’t flown or are first-time flyers pictures flying as a “new technology” that perhaps doesn’t have all the bugs worked out. It isn’t. It’s established, and it’s reliable.
In fact, most people don’t realize that the first commercial flight was conducted in 1914 – more than 100 years ago. Tony Jannus conducted the United States’ first scheduled commercial airline flight on January 1st of that year for the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, and since that time the technology, technique, training, and science behind the method of transportation has grown to futuristic capabilities.
The maintenance on planes is constant. It’s a science, and has been for a long time. If you’re a first time flyer, you shouldn’t worry whether or not this is a trusted technology – it has been for a very long time.
It’s Just How “Thrust” And “Lift” Work
I remember thinking, when my fear of flying was at its highest, that it just didn’t make sense how a plane that big stay in the air. An airplane is tons, tons, of metal flying in the air that seems to soar like a bird. In fact, it doesn’t seem to. It actually does.
I know logically that doesn’t add up, but just because you and I aren’t scientists doesn’t mean that there are some people who do have this knowledge, and have made pretty amazing airplanes that do amazing things with that knowledge.
Long story short – planes fly because of two things. Thrust and Lift. They have a cause and effect relationship that has no other choice but to work. The laws of physics demand that thrust causes lift, if the object which is “thrusting” is built in a way to induce lift. Planes are the model for lift. It’s why their wings wobble. It’s why they aren’t stiff. It’s why they’re aerodynamic.
All those things that make you nervous about a plane? The noises they make? All of those are some type of mechanism that aids in creating Lift as a result of the Thrust of the engines. When the engines propel the plane forward, air currents push under the wing because of their shape. The fast the plane goes, the more air pushes under. The more air pushes under, the more lift is created.
Therefore, as long as there is thrust, there will be lift, and a plane cannot simply “fall out of the sky”. It can’t happen unless the engines go out. This leads us to…
…The Engines Are Fine
Guess how often commercial airplanes are inspected. Have a guess? Any?
Once a month, at a minimum. While this may not sound egregious, consider what a “check” is. There are four types of checks of an airplane, from a grade “A” check, to a “D” (heavy) check. “A” checks are done regularly and usually completed at least once a month. They’re designed to test the functionality of an aircraft’s brakes, hydraulics, electrical, emergency lighting and crew/passenger oxygen systems. These are essentially tests for airworthiness.
In other words, your engine is fine, otherwise you wouldn’t be on the plane.
Are there rare exceptions? Sure. Very, very rare – as in, 1 in 1.2 million. That rare. However, most of the issues that do arise are things such as wing flaps, which pilots consider small issues, and are easy to overcome.
So, let that sink in. Full diagnostics once every month at a minimum. When is the last time you had one on your car?
What Logic Doesn’t Cure, Music Can
Maybe you know that the odds of a severe mishap on the plane is unlikely, but you can’t quiet your mind. Turn to music!
Given our capability of taking music with us wherever we go, listening to calming or relaxing music helps to ease the mind, and sometimes even to sleep on a plane. I never travel without it, and if you’re a first-time traveler looking for help overcome your fear of flying, I suggest you do the same.
Travel With a Friend
What was most impressive about what my Dad did in overcoming his fear of flying to fly for the first time was the fact that he traveled alone. This is tough. Traveling is always easier with a loved one or friend, because you have someone to talk to and some way to divert your mind.
I love traveling with Tracy because we talk to each other so much. 11 hour flights go by fast, and we always end up having an enjoyable experience, as well as some new stories to share!
First Time Flying? Start Small
Maybe hopping the New York to Singapore haul isn’t the best idea if you’ve never flown before, eh? Start small, perhaps a flight under two hours, and work your way up over time. Once you’re been on an hour long flight, then a two hour, then a three hour, you can handle pretty much anything.
Just don’t do too much too fast, and your fear and first flight won’t be an issue.
Flip The Script
There’s an interesting thing we’ve found when flying, or when doing other things that create nervousness. If you focus on the nerves, then redirect that energy to something positive about the experience, the fear often goes away completely on its own.
That’s right. That simple. If you’re nervous on a flight, find anything to notice that is positive or beautiful. The clouds outside the window. The shadow of the plane on the flatlands below. The snoozing baby across the aisle. Anything.
Purposefully positivity does more to overcome fear than anything. It’s like an eraser that does away with any feelings of unease or difficulty, and it works wonders. Once you tune your mind to positive thoughts, even for a second, the fear has a much harder time taking hold and you’ll fly much, much easier.
If you’ve never flown before, you don’t have to be afraid. Remember that the only reason you even lean toward fear is because that’s what the media, television, and the odd bad story on the news told you to do.
It doesn’t mean you have to fear flying, even if it’s your first time flying. Consider what makes sense. Use logic to guide your way and understand that flying is not to be feared. It’s to be fun! It’s an amazing technology that we have the ability to enjoy, and something that is a real gift to our present-day society.
Take part in it. See the world, or even just a loved one. See Europe, or even just the state next to you. See the world from a different angle. Take a leap. Take that flight. Make memories.
You can fly without fear, even if it’s your first time ever.