Having a fear of flying is normal and common. While most of us aren’t flying anywhere right now during the covid-19 pandemic, it could be a good time to work toward overcoming your fear so you can comfortably hit the skies again when it’s safe.
We always hear that flying is safer than driving, and that’s the reality. Airline accidents and crashes are much more high-profile when they do occur, but that’s only because they’re so much less common than accidents on the roadways.
According to Jacoby & Meyers, there are more than 4,000 deaths on U.S. roads every year just from tractor-trailer accidents.
The following are key facts to keep in mind about flying, and actionable ways you can calm your anxiety as you daydream about your post-coronavirus travel plans.
Is Flying Safe?
When there’s an air crash, it’s catastrophic in many cases, but that doesn’t mean flying is especially dangerous.
According to the International Air Transport Association, there was only one major accident for every 5.4 million flights that took off in 2018. Each year that passes, airline travel also gets safer thanks to new technology, more training, and new regulations.
Pilots are required to follow strict rules making sure they get enough rest before they fly, and there are always two pilots in the cockpit.
Planes have improved engines and backup systems compared to the past, and automated features can often overcome human error. The odds of dying in a car crash are around 1 in 114, but the odds of dying in a plane crash are around 1 in 9,821.
That means there’s one fatal air accident per 16 million flights.
Something else to consider when comparing the safety of flying versus driving is the fact that most deaths related to airplanes are on private planes rather than commercial flights.
Even though you might understand all of these facts, for some people flying just feels scarier than driving.
You’re tens of thousands of feet in the air, and you’re not in control of anything happening around you.
It can be tough to stomach for many people.
Why Are People Scared to Fly?
There are a few main reasons people can often pinpoint as being part of why they’re afraid to fly.
You might have had a bad flight, and that can lead to a phobia or panic attacks. For example, maybe you experienced very bad turbulence or an emergency landing. Those situations can be tough to overcome.
You may be scared because you’ve seen media coverage of a bad event as well.
Airline accidents get enormous amounts of coverage, making them stick in our minds for a long time.
Some people have a fear not necessarily of flying itself, but of being trapped. They might, for example, have panic attacks because they feel claustrophobic.
In some cases, the things we turn to alleviate our flying anxiety can actually make it worse. For example, if you take an over-the-counter sleep aid, you might have a paradoxical reaction and be more anxious.
There are better ways to deal with a fear of flying than drugs or alcohol.
Take a Class
A lot of us are spending more time than usual at home right now, so you might have time to take a class or participate in a fear of flying program.
There are a lot of great ones out there, many of which are offered online.
One of the most well-known programs is SOAR Conquer Fear of Flying. It’s been around since the early 1980s, and it’s helped many overcome their fears.
The SOAR program was created by an airline pilot—Captain Tom Bunn. Captain Bunn is not only a pilot but also a licensed therapist.
Some airlines and airports also have their own programs. For example, there’s a program based at SFO called Fear of Flying, which uses cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.
Get an Upgrade If You Can
If you have a long flight and you’re afraid of flying, getting an upgrade can help a lot. You may have to spend your airline miles or pay more, but being physically comfortable can make it much easier to feel emotionally comfortable.
For example, if you have a lie-flat seat on an overnight flight, you’ll have room to stretch out and you won’t feel cramped. That feeling of being cramped can be a big contributor to stress and anxiety.
See a Therapist
Even if you don’t take a course specifically geared toward overcoming a fear of flying, you can still see a therapist. A therapist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy will be able to help you shift your negative thought patterns surrounding flying.
With a fear of flying, a lot of therapists will also use exposure therapy.
With therapy, you can start uncovering some of the specific triggers that make you the most upset.
Another way a therapist can help you is to work with you on learning how to separate fear from actual danger.
Our bodies react to both in the same way, but we have to be able to label what we’re actually experiencing.
Sit At the Front of the Plane
Whenever possible, try to book seats at the front of the plane, or as close to the front as possible.
The back of the plane is louder and bumpier than the front.
Learn the Science of Flying
Flying can just feel strange to our brains sometimes, but learning more about the mechanics of a plane and how flying works may help you develop a sense of logic.
If you can figure out what’s happening at different points throughout your flight, you’re less likely to panic at every little bump or sound.
If you take the time now to work on your fear of flying, but the time you can get on a plane again you may be equipped with the tools and resources you need for a more pleasant experience.