Flying Freaks Me Out

snow fly
Foul weather for my flight to Charleston, SC, from Boston two blizzardy winters ago.

I always get excited when March rolls around, as it signals the imminent arrival of spring. I was especially happy to welcome it last week, though, knowing the month brings with it an epic journey across the globe, to Bali. In a matter of days, I’ll be bicycling through Ubud, trekking through rice paddies, staring skyward at the tops of ancient temples, and perfecting my pigeon pose in a sunrise yoga class. But before I can do any of that, I have to make the 10,203-mile trek across an ocean and two continents, and that has me feeling a bit freaked out.

I’ve flown plenty, to the far reaches of Europe, Africa, South America, Hawaii, the Caribbean—even to the tiny island of Palau way the hell out there in Oceania. I’ve been on turbo-props, jumbo jets, two-seat tin cans, and just about every other kind of plane that’s licensed to fly. But somewhere along the way I lost my nerve and became a fearful flyer. (A terrifying late-night flight over Pennsylvania in the middle of a blizzard is suddenly taking shape in my memory…)

As someone who loves to explore new places and write about my adventures, my fear can be problematic. Plus, the process is exhausting: Yearn madly for travel, secure travel assignment, book plane tickets, instantly feel fearful and anxious, experience flight-booking remorse, commence picturing every worst-case scenario, fret until departure date arrives, assume catatonic state and feel ready to faint at every tiny sign of turbulence, swear off flying forever, fall in love with strange new place, vow to travel forever. Repeat.

I often think to myself how much more fun the entire travel experience would be if I didn’t feel that fear. So, I asked two people who log more miles in the air than anyone else I know for their insights on flying. Here’s what they had to say:

Ruthanne Terrero, VP/Editorial Director, Questex Hospitality Travel Group, NYC

Flight frequency: Twice/month, usually domestically. Internationally fives times/year

Are you afraid of flying?
I have no fear of flying at all. I don’t love it or hate it—for me it’s a neutral experience. I truthfully get more anxious when I get off the plane and go to collect my luggage; being in a new place with the chaos of so many people standing around or grabbing at bags freaks me out every time.

Do you have any in-flight rituals?
I am very particular where I sit on a plane. It has to be an aisle seat and preferably one with plenty of leg space. In fact, it’s the space issues that get me when I fly, not the flying itself, because I tend to get claustrophobic and I can’t stand it when the person in front of me lowers their seat all the way back so it smashes my computer or my meal and I have to stare at the top of their head.

So, do you ever get anxious in the air?
I have probably been nervous on a plane three times in my life and that’s out of hundreds and hundreds of flights; it’s when there is turbulence that rocks the plane sideways. I don’t mind the up-and-down turbulence, but being thrown left to right somehow cuts through my consciousness. I one time flew through terrible weather, it was foggy and rocky, and the pilot wasn’t even saying anything anymore. It was that bad. And the man next to me kept on asking me why I wasn’t nervous. He asked me about 100 times, and finally he convinced me that maybe I should be nervous, but we landed right after that so I survived. I do like to zone out during takeoff, for whatever reason, and so I used to have to have the American Airlines magazine with the Soduku puzzles to do during that time, but now I can just read my Kindle.

What do you think about before and during flights?
I fly tomorrow to Berlin, and right now my only concerns are if the flight will be changed because of the snow and if my aisle/bulkhead seat reservation is still in place. I have gotten on planes only to find that I’m now in a window seat because they’ve changed equipment and that is seriously one of the worst things that can happen to me on a trip.

>>>>><<<<<

Ramsey Qubein, North Carolina-based Freelance Travel Journalist 

Flight frequency: 350,000 to 400,000 miles per year (*Mic. Drop.*)

Are you afraid of flying?
Well, Im not afraid, but do understand why others are. By being logical and understanding the facts…driving a car or walking down the street is more dangerous; it helps me to comprehend in my mind that, logically, any fear is unfounded. And I also realize that the media enjoys making aviation a story all the time. They love to hate airlines and whenever there is a crash, they make it quite a dramatic experience (is there really a need for the scary music and flight logo before the story updates on CNN?! That is just meant to instill fear into people).

So, do you ever get anxious in the air?
Rarely, but yes, when there is severe turbulence, I admit that I can be scared, but that is just human nature. If you are truly afraid of flying, you should read a bit about the science of flight so that you understand what is normal and what is not. If you don’t do that, then it’s really not fair to complain about flying without understanding the science behind it.

What sorts of things do you think about before and during flights? 
The magic of it all! Yes, we are soaring through the air in a metal tube, how the heck is this possible? I always plan something to do on a long flight…work on an article, do some work project, read an entire few chapters of a book. I set a goal, and it helps me feel productive and motivated during a flight no matter how long it is.

>>>>><<<<<

To put a more positive spin on the anticipation of my upcoming flights, I’ve already visited Qatar Airways‘s website, where passengers can pre-select their meals and preview in-fight entertainment (three Oscar-nominated films I haven’t seen!). And in my broader efforts to overcome my fear, I’ve found a few helpful links, like this one and this one. Some suggest specific coping mechanisms, and others merely make me feel better knowing I’m not alone in my anxiety. I’ll have plenty of time to put all my new wisdom to use next weekend when I settle in for the 30-plus-hour journey to Bali. One thing’s for sure—it’ll be worth it.

Are you afraid of flying, or something else? How do you cope?

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