Sharing tips for my friends who are afraid of flying, nervous and afraid of air travel…just like yours. I reached out to the pilot to guest post and am also sharing some of the tips I’ve gathered!
*Update: 10/6/22: Thank you for your overwhelming feedback on this post! So many of you shared it with friends too. I asked the pilot if he would help me make this a podcast episode and we recorded this episode with his tips and advice. It can be comforting to hear a pilot’s voice telling you everything is okay, especially when you’re on an airplane or about to travel. 🙂
You can watch the whole episode here:
Tips for anxious passengers (from a pilot)
Friends out there know I hate flying. They also find it ironic and hilarious that my husband is a pilot who loves to fly. All these years later, he’s still disappointed when a flight is cancelled. He still sums up his best flights for me (even if I quit on the acronyms and hand signals #adhd). When we fly together I feel so much less stressed. I know he can handle it when something goes wrong and I can nudge him if I hear a noise and he tells me what it is. However, when I fly solo, I spend most of my time clinging to the armrest, sweating profusely, and saying Ave Maria again and again in my brain. (Unless there’s no turbulence and I can read a book.)
On my last flight to Hawaii with the girls – it was just me – I was particularly scared of flying across the ocean. The worst thing is that I have to keep my cool for them because I don’t want them to get nervous too. The kids are traveling professionals; They watch a movie or play Nintendo Switch and eat lots of snacks while we fly.
A few things helped me on this flight:
– Before boarding, I checked the radar to see how many planes were currently in the air. I realized that my flight was so insignificant to the thousands that take off and land every day.
– Got this tip from the Reddit page “Afraid of Flying”: Pretend you’re traveling safely from point A to point B on a bus. That helped so much!!
– I made sure I had a lot of things to distract myself. I read a whole book on the way to Hawaii and it kept me so occupied I didn’t have time to think about being in the sky in a metal box.
– Good old CBD. I have it with me, and even if I don’t have to take it with me, it’s reassuring to have it on hand. (This is the one I use. Full transparency, I used to be affiliated with them and am still an affiliate. My code FITNESSISTA still works for a discount!)
I asked the pilot to help me with a guest post on tips for my nervous fellow flyers, and here’s what he wrote!
My real top gun 😉
Tips for anxious passengers (from a pilot)
Good morning friends. The fitnessista has her hands full this morning, so the pilot is here with some treats to help anxious passengers. First, let me say that these are not tips on how to be more zen while traveling by air. Suggestions for the best soothing music to listen to and which decaffeinated herbal tea will best soothe your nerves are a bit off my track. However, I’m happy to take a little behind-the-scenes look at what’s happening during your flight to make you feel a little more comfortable. If you’ve got nerves of steel and turbulence doesn’t bother you, then at least you can share that with your terrified seatmate, who is white-knuckling the armrest on the wild ride that’s the last approach to Vegas in the summer.
Emergency preparedness and simulations
I’ve flown small, maneuverable aircraft for the military and large, highly automated aircraft for a major airline. I’ve seen a lot in the last 19 years of professional aviation and while there have been times when something unusual happened that I hadn’t experienced before, nothing surprised me. That’s because the workout is just so good. Simulator events that train us to conduct emergency response, both on the military side and on the legacy airline side, are nothing more than a series of disasters, one after the other, often interrelated.
The conditions such as weather and power factors are often worst case scenarios. However, The expectation for the behavioral response in dealing with these disasters is calm and methodical. Pilots face myriad different emergency situations until solving the problem(s) becomes second nature. When I lost an engine in a fight in 2009, it almost felt too easy because nothing else was going wrong. Luckily we are up there most of the time just watching the ride, drinking coffee and planning the next phase of the flight (while enjoying the view of course).
The real deal with turbulence and weird noises
So that’s the human factors side. Let’s talk about the planes themselves. What’s with all the noise and bumps along the way? First off, turbulence, that bump you feel, is okay. You will not harm the plane. Pilots are constantly talking to air traffic control about what kind of “ride” the plane is going to be doing and whether a different altitude is better, but that’s usually just for passenger comfort. The plane itself can take quite a beating. It will fly well through heavy rain/snow. It can be struck by lightning. It can fly on one engine to a suitable airport for a safe landing. It is a technical masterpiece.
So let’s talk about the weird noises. Chances are, if you’re an anxious aviator, you’re hyper conscious and pick up on anything that sounds little. I’m here to tell you it’s okay. Engine run-up and deceleration are normal for all flight conditions, including immediately after takeoff. If you hear a sound like the wind picks up a little and the plane shakes a little, only the speed brakes come out.
Speed brakes are generally used to meet speed restrictions on approach when the flight computer was not entirely accurate in calculating the descent point, or when you need to slow down to deploy flaps and landing gear. I’ve used them on practically every flight. Obviously, landing gear shutdown can be quite noisy. The loud crack you hear afterward is the closing of the landing gear doors. Any other weird noises are probably just flight control surfaces like flaps, slats and trim. No problem.
There are some things outside of a normal flight that can, on the surface, seem worrisome, so let’s talk about them. Go arounds. When the plane seems ready to land, but at the last minute the engines ramp up and you’re pushed back into your seat as the plane begins to climb. Oops – that must be bad, right? nope Someone just made a very wise decision.
A go-around can occur for a variety of reasons: previously landed aircraft were too slow to clear the runway (or ATC did not provide an appropriate clearance), crosswinds were exceeding their limits, the aircraft was not properly timed for the landing point, the pilots didn’t see the required visual references to the country due to weather etc. The point is, Someone checked their ego and made the difficult (but right) decision to deal and that’s the kind of judgment you want on the flight deck.
It’s better to do that 5 times in a row than push a landing that doesn’t have to happen there. Pilots plan fuel so that after a certain point, if they are unable to land, they will have enough fuel to go to their alternate destination that offers better landing conditions. This may require pilots to remain in one location or orbit for weather to clear and coordination to be complete, so don’t let this “idle time” worry you either.
Anyway, that’s the short list for now. I hope it gave you some reassurance about what’s going to happen the next time you fly. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments or send Gina a message and I will do my best to answer them.
Until next time.
– The pilot
Resources from this episode:
Check out the 7-day detox by Dr. Cabral on! We’re doing this as a community on October 17th (so many of you have signed up already! YAY) and you can use code FITNESSISTA20 for 20% off. If you see this as a later date, you absolutely can still join at your own time!
Thanks for listening and for all your support of the podcast! Please subscribe to this episode and leave a rating or review if you enjoyed this episode. If you leave a review, go to this page and you get a little thank you from me to you.