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An Ever Increasing Fear Of Flying

Airplane Sky

Every time I see a news headline regarding a plane crash I feel sick.  Last week we heard the devastating news that flight EgyptAir MS804 had crashed enroute from Paris to Cairo.  Now comes the speculation, was it a terrorist attack?  Technical malfunction?  Pilot error?

Those who know me, know I have an obsession with plane crashes.  This stems from trying to overcome a fear of flying by learning everything I can about airline safety and how an aircraft works. In fact friends occasionally ask for my advice on whether to fly certain airlines as they know I’ll reel off the safety statistics.  Until last week, 2016 had been a ‘ok’ year for airline safety.  Sadly the two other crashes this year include a flydubai plane in Russia that killed 62 and a Tara Air crash in Nepal that killed 22.  If you want to look into an airline’s safety record then the Aviation Safety Network has a comprehensive list of accidents and incidents (in the height of my morbid fascination, I was looking at this website every other day..)  If you think it’s strange that I spend ages researching all this, it’s to try and make myself a better airline passenger.  I know that statistically I am more likely to die in a car crash on my way to the airport.  But there’s something about being on a plane and the lack of control that I just don’t like. I have tried to educate myself as much as possible on how a plane works and what all the bumps are about.  I love visiting plane museums including the awesome American Airlines C.R Smith Museum close to Dallas Airport.  Next week I’m off for an evening onboard Cathay’s new Airbus plane, parked in the engineering hangar.  I love everything about planes BUT I’M STILL SCARED OF FLYING.

I have tried a few things to get over my phobia. A few years ago I went for Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and found it extremely helpful.  We tapped into the root of my fear and it did help to calm me down.  I do think the fear is starting to creep back in and I’m probably due a top up!  I have also been down the self-medicating path with either valium or xanax.  There is no doubt that these really do help to take the edge off when I fly but I don’t like to resort to this when I’m with my kids.  

My children know that my husband and I have a huge love of all things aviation.  What they don’t know is that it’s a facade as behind lies an anxious, fretful flyer (just me here, my husband is a very happy flier).  I’m trying my hardest not to pass on my fear of flying to my kids, if there’s a bump I try to smile and say ‘weeeeeee’. If my daughter asks why the plane is making a strange noise I respond with a made-up avionics answer.  I really want to be the mum who is happy to book a crazy airline to take us to a remote island in Indonesia.  But at the moment I’m just too scared.

I’m not really sure about why I’m writing this post.  The EgyptAir crash, a seemingly safe airline (the previous crash being in 2002) has really saddened me.  There is a devastating story of three children under the age of six whose parents were onboard, their mother returning from cancer treatment in Paris (as an aside to this, I am looking into ways to donate money to this family, stay tuned).  I think I wanted to reach out to you and see if it’s not just me who feels like this when I fly now? Sometimes after turbulence I feel as if I’m on my own, looking around the cabin anxiously, desperate for someone to meet my eye and tell me it’s ok.  Am I alone in become an increasingly nervous flier? What has been your experience in recent years? 

6 comments

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  1. Janine Clements

    I feel your pain because I’m the same. It’s hard when you’re a travel writer! When I was younger I flew all over the world without a second thought. Now it’s different. Sometimes I’m better, sometimes I’m worse – usually when there has just been a crash – to the point of stressing about the flight weeks in advance and actually crying if there’s a lot of turbulence especially if I am on my own. The rational part of my brain knows I am being silly but the irrational part takes over.

    The more I fly the better it is and I have recently been to and from England by myself a lot so it is better at the moment. I have to resort to medication too (and a G&T just before I get on the plane!) and usually tell one of the air crew when I get on board. I try and hide it from my kids, but my 8 year old sees me gripping the arm rests and deep breathing, and she isn’t stupid.

    A lot of airlines now have a dedicated well being section in their inflight entertainment with meditation/de-stress audio recordings which I find so helpful. BA even has a flying with confidence recording. Often I just listen to these over and over!

    I only fly BA or Virgin when I go back to the UK (I live in the US)! The traveller in me wants to travel to remote destinations that you can only get to on a tiny plane on an airline I have never heard of but I just can’t do it (I’m working on it).

    I do wonder if the BA or Virgin fear of flying courses would work as I hear they are great. I tried cognitive therapy before but it didn’t help.

    1. Nicola

      a friend of mine tried the virgin course but unfortunately it didn’t really work for her. I really would love to conquer my fear of flying!!

  2. Laura

    Nicola, you are NOT alone! I, too, get more and more anxious every time I hear of another plane catastrophe. I heard about EgyptAir as I was planning our family trip to the Seychelles for next Spring Break. Now, I am reluctant to even commit to the idea. I feel conflicted about which explanation I would be more terrified to hear, terrorism or technical problems??!

    Recently, we were flying home on Qatar Airways from Doha to Chicago and hit a VERY turbulent spell over Greenland. It lasted over 30 minutes! I was terrified! Thankfully, my children and husband were sound asleep and didn’t seem to even notice. Although, I would have appreciated my husband’s company during the ordeal. I prayed the entire 30 minutes for our safety and constantly looked around the cabin only to find everyone oblivious to the severe turbulence. It was so bad I thought the plane was going to tear apart!

    With all that said, I can’t let the fear win. Even with my dread of flying, I am one of those crazy moms you mention that is taking one of those planes to a remote island in Indonesia this summer! Although in general the safety of Indonesian aviation is incredibly poor, I did my research and found an airline that goes through the IATA Operational Safety Audit and is considered to be safe. That airline being Garuda. I am still petrified to fly it however! But, as you said, it is more likely that we will be killed in a car crash, and I will be telling myself that over and over and OVER again during the entire flight — especially if we are unfortunate enough to experience any type of turbulence!!

  3. Jennifer

    I am a total mess! My fear of flying has gotten worse and worse, no matter what. I’ve tried EFT, learned about all the noises a plane makes, etc. When this headline hit, I just thought “please God no, not another one”. It’s also how the media portrays these accidents, the 24/7 banner news tags, speculation, etc. It assaults the senses, you cannot help but be afraid! I too look around frantically when there is turbulence, always checking the flight crew’s faces to see if they look panicked. The worst!!

  4. Capt Tom Bunn MSW LCSW

    First, I learned EFT from Callahan, tried it, and did not get good results with my clients. Fortunately, I found methods that do work. More on that at http://a.co/0n0P5v2

    As to EgyptAir, I see it, it will take a considerable time and effort to learn the cause of this crash. The black boxes may not be enough. Most likely parts of the plane must be recovered and assembled to see what happened that might have caused the crash.

    Even so, it is possible to have some closure. Either it was terrorism or it was a technical problem with the plane.

    A. f it was terrorism, there is little if anything more we can do than we are already doing. We will be dealing with terrorism for some time to come. It is interesting, however, that the head of ISIS gave a thirty minute podcast listing recent ISIS terrorist activity, and nothing was said about the EgyptAir crash.

    B. If it was a technical problem with the plane, once the problem is defined, it will be quickly fixed.

    Meanwhile, this has nothing to do with the flying you do. Even if it is a technical fault, the fault has revealed itself only once in twenty-seven years. That rare, it does not call for any changes in your use of the A320.

    For more emotional help with this, see https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/conquer-fear-flying/201605/egyptair-now-what

    and

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/conquer-fear-flying/201512/fear-can-make-you-believe-the-worst-will-happen-how

  5. Alex

    On a recent flight from NYC to HKG I found myself getting increasingly anxious. I’d driven myself, my husband and our 2 young daughters from DC to catch a 1am flight. The car journey took 7 hours and we almost missed the flight. It seems my adrenaline dropped once we were all on the plane and on our way. Flying out we’d had to be seated (as had the cabin crew) for around an hour which had me on edge. As my family were sleeping I went to the galley to talk to the hostesses to tell them I was feeling nervous and could they chat with me….they looked at me like I was nuts and went back to their noodles! I made my way back to my seat feeling like an idiot. 😒

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