As I step into the airport, my hands are clammy and my heart is racing. Though I frequently travel, it’s rarely alone, and I feel anxiety welling up inside me. My head knows I have the time I need to navigate through security and find my gate. But my physiological response overwhelms my knowledge. What if they don’t let me through security? What if I get a patdown? What if I make it to my flight, but something goes amiss with the plane? If your attempt to travel resounds with questions like mine, it's likely a sign you may be suffering from Aviophobia.
The dictionary definition of aviophobia (pronounced [A-vee-oh-fo-bee-ah]) is the intense fear or displeasure of flying in an airplane. It is sometimes referred to as Aerophobia (pronounced [air-oh-fo-bee-ah]). If you’re afraid of anything flight related—including airports themselves—keep reading!
My opening paragraph was an accurate description of the most recent time I’ve flown. I’ve been on many flights, yet every time I walk into the airport I’m filled with jitters. For me, the anxiety lies in navigating the security line. I double and triple-check my wallet and make sure I have my ID or passport. I have my boarding pass pulled up on my phone. I wear shoes easy to slip on-and-off. I go through this checklist every time I fly, mentally preparing.
THE PROBLEM: When you step into the security line, you never know how long it’s going to take. You can rush through in 15 minutes or it can take an hour. The whole time you trudge around the roped off lines, you see those at the front have their ID’s and tickets checked. Then they move onward, remove their shoes, jackets, etc. They empty their pockets and remove their little baggies of approved liquids. Laptops, Cameras, and all large electronics are removed. Over and over the pattern repeats.
Then there are the people randomly selected for a pat-down.
I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve had a pat-down before. Multiple times, actually. It’s not pleasant and for many, it can be quite traumatizing and dehumanizing. While we are told to expect it, and they have the right to do it, the inevitability of it makes me sweat. I always breathe a sigh of relief if I make it through security without being stopped! More often than not, my bag is flagged and searched. Once it was because I had packed bean-bags I had purchased. Another time, my laptop was flagged because “it looked hollow”. If your experiences are similar to mine, the security-screening process can be harrowing.
SOLUTION #1: Firstly, sign up for TSA Precheck.
For ONLY $85, you get 5 years of a faster security line, and you don’t have to take off your belt, shoes, and jacket. You also don’t need to remove your laptops or cameras from your bag (when you have two laptops and a camera like I do, this saves a TON of work). This was my personal first step to relieving security-line anxiety. It has been a God-send.
SOLUTION #2: Add CLEAR to your arsenal of security tools.
Basically, the program allows you to bypass the line you were originally supposed to be in (regular or pre-check). It’s $179 a year (but they’re always offering trial offers for amazing savings) and $50 to add on a family member. You fill out an online registration form and then visit one of their registration kiosks at a participating airport. You’ll only need a valid I.D. of some sort, your eyes, and your fingerprints. After they scan your eyes and fingers (quick and easy process) that’s all you’ll need to do to enter the CLEAR line from there on out. My husband has a membership and stands behind it 100%—especially if you travel for work.
PROBLEM: From the moment you walk into the airport until you leave the airport at your destination, you are enveloped in people. When traveling during the Holidays, the throngs can be overwhelming. It’s common to feel disoriented, confused, and out of place. If you are afraid of crowds, there’s an easy solution for you.
SOLUTION: Book your flight at times most people won’t be flying.
Choosing flights quite early in the day (6 A.M.) or red-eyes (overnight flights) can save you from swimming through airport crowds. Flights Tuesday through Thursday are also a given—and usually cheaper too. Fridays, Sundays, and Mondays are popular times to fly, either for business or starting a vacation. Saturdays tend to be a little less crazy (I still always shoot for the morning).
PROBLEM: Most airlines you fly will allow you to choose your seats (sometimes for an upcharge). This is usually the best route to take, even if you’re trying to save money. However, at some point, you may fly an airline that’s “first come first served” boarding or seats are assigned at the gate. For the latter, there isn’t necessarily a fool-proof answer. At least you’re getting on your flight, right? If it’s free-for-all boarding, here’s what you do.
SOLUTION: Do anything and everything you can early.
Let me tell you, I’ve often found myself the last to board a plane (*cough*—Southwest—*cough*) and it’s not pretty. You’ll get a middle seat, usually towards the back. That is completely uncomfortable for longer flights. For Southwest specifically, set an alarm, and check-in for your flight the second it hits 24 hours before takeoff. You can pay for priority boarding, but I prefer this route. IF YOU FORGET to check-in right away, you will end up boarding last. If you’re assigned a seat at the gate, show up early and talk to a gate agent as soon as you arrive. Sometimes this can help you snag a better seat than others who arrive last-minute.
PROBLEM: From take-off to turbulence, to landing the plane, there’s a lot that can leave you anxious. I personally enjoy take-off and the moment where you feel weightless—but just because I do doesn’t mean you will. I’ve lived through turbulent flights, where weather or “unexpected air” can leave you quaking in your seat. Landings can nearly jolt you out of your seat. Here are some sure-fire ways to curb your in-flight anxiety:
SOLUTION #1: Practice calming techniques.
Everyone gets anxious, even more so when the plane feels like it’s tumbling through the air when you hit turbulence. For most, the first vice that comes to mind is alcohol—I recommend not doing that. Did you know that humidity on your flight is kept at 20%? Drier than the Sahara desert. Alcohol will only serve to dehydrate you. Instead, recognize your fear of flying, acknowledge that fear, and take slow deep breaths. Breath in through your nose, out through your mouth. It’s simple and easy to utilize.
SOLUTION #2: Distractions are pure magic.
I always over-prepare for a flight, no matter the length. Bring a book you’ve been wanting to read or download some on your tablet. Listen to some new music (Spotify is a great resource for this). Find out if your airline offers in-flight entertainment—I always end up watching a new movie or two that I’ve been holding out for. If we hit rough air, I make sure I’m doing things to keep me busy and distracted.
SOLUTION #3: Arm Yourself with Knowledge
Learning these things gave me a huge sigh of relief, I hope it does the same for you.
Now I know that sometimes facts aren’t enough to make you feel at ease, especially when things such as the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappearance happen. Not knowing what happened to that flight leaves you questioning whether or not it could happen again. The most widely accepted theory is that the pilot depressurized the cabin and veered off on a suicide course. We know that events like this rarely transpire and things are being done to prevent them.
In fact, According to the FAA, airline pilots under 40 are required to undergo medical exams yearly with an Aviation Medical Examiner (AMA). If over the age of 40, it’s required every 6 months. AMA’s are allowed to ask questions regarding mental health and can order psychological evaluations if deemed necessary. “Certain medical conditions such as psychosis, bipolar disorder and severe personality disorder automatically disqualify a pilot from obtaining an FAA medical certificate and prohibit them from flying.”
If a pilot has a treatable mental health diagnosis, it is treated and addressed and they are allowed to fly when it’s safe to do so. Programs have been introduced in the last couple of years to remove the stigma of mental illness among pilots and offer them mentoring programs and real solutions. Knowing that they have to undergo medical testing at the very least yearly certainly eases my anxiety about putting my life in a pilots hands.
Did you know that not just anyone can get a commercial airline license? You’re required to obtain a bachelors degree in aircraft operations or aeronautical engineering (or the equivalent). A pilot is also required to complete on ground training (flight simulators and so forth) and over 1,500 hours of flight time before becoming licensed. Not “just anyone” is a pilot. They have hundreds of hours of training under their belt and know what they’re doing.
If you need more than self-help options, we suggest consulting a professional therapist. You may be suffering from PTSD and anxiety related to the situation. Alternatively, you may prefer online counseling for aviophobia.
Another treatment option specific to this phobia is the SOAR Fear of Flying program. It was created by Tom Bunn, an airline Captain and licensed therapist.
As a little girl (I’ll be honest, as a teenager and adult as well) there was nothing more exhilarating than a swing—I’d pump my legs to propel into the air, going ever higher. Then, in one fell swoop, I would leap off the swing and fly for just a moment. In that moment of weightlessness, time stood still. It was pure freedom. That’s the way flying should be. Hopefully, we gave you some helpful tips to overcome your fear of flying and learn to enjoy the experience.
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