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Fear of Flying? How to beat the jet set jitters

Fear of Flying? How to beat the jet set jitters

If, like me, you are scared of flying, then good for you – you should be. Flying is just downright wrong and scary. Much as I fly quite a lot, I feel I shouldn’t. Land based transportation is what we are designed to do – wheeled vehicles are all fine because that’s more or less running – but without well…the running bit. Boats and ships too – these are all good since I can also float and like them, only leak sporadically. Flying unaided however is a trick which I will probably never master – even despite my regular practice.

Fear not, be proud
There are various terms for the fear of flying: aviatophobia, aviophobia, aerophobia (it remains unclear as to what a fear of chocolate bars with little bubbles in them is called) or the rather snappy, pteromerhanophobia. So, my fellow pteromerhanophobes, why are we scared of flying? It’s because we have a better imagination than those weirdos who don’t give it a second thought and we are therefore superior. Additionally, we are used to being in control because we are intelligent and educated and do not like the feeling that someone else is in charge of our destiny. Again, this makes us better. We are the elite of the skies and should be proud. One day, pteromerhanophobes will conquer the world – apart from the bits we have to fly to of course.

Your numbers are up – in a good way
Irrationality is the common link between phobias – with some being more irrational than others. I heard about someone who has a phobia of vegetables – it’s very peculiar. I can understand people having a bad experience with a saltwater croc or a huge lion and being terrified of those, but how can you be traumatised by a cauliflower? The flying one is pretty irrational too and, though statistics can be cut and diced many ways, a popular figure representing the chances of your fears coming true is about one in seven million.

With some rudimentary maths, that means you would have to fly every day for 19,000 years before, statistically you were in any danger. Even the Japanese don’t live that long. The airline industry is the most carefully monitored, regulated and scrutinised transport system in the world and commercial planes are flown by people with thousands of hours of training. You drive your car with double digit hours of training at most and you don’t worry about that in the slightest (though you should because it’s twenty times more risky).

Our brains are the issue
The fundamental problem is not with the design of the planes, but with the design of our brains. Our central nervous system has not developed much since caveman times and consequently, we react in a pretty basic way. The amygdala sits just above the brainstem and it’s the bit that controls our fight or flight response (no, not that kind of flight). We have two methods of dealing with risk as human beings – an automatic response when, for example, a large shark bites your surfboard in two and then a more considered analytical response which takes place in the upper levels of the brain.

Our brains are wired in such a way that signals from the amygdala travel quickly to these upper levels but more slowly back down and that “gap” of processing is where we experience fear. In other words, getting jumpy is a cinch, getting calmer again is more difficult. The trick is to try and remain calm in the first place – unless of course you’re a surfer and then panic should be the default setting.

Considered wisdom for beating the nerves

A bit of research from the experts suggests the following as a good way to beat the stress:

1. Before the flight, have a decent meal. Low blood sugar causes stress and tiredness. Drinks with caffeine in them can make you jumpy, so avoid those.
2. Don’t leave getting to the airport until the last minute to try and delay the inevitable. This increases stress levels and you need to approach the flight feeling as calm as possible.
3. As with many aspects of life, fear is often a corollary of ignorance: ask your cabin crew questions if you are unsure about a particular noise you hear or if you see wing parts moving for example. They will be happy to allay your anxieties.
4. Distract yourself with films, music, computer games or a good book. Taking your mind off your fears will relax you.
5. Some people find special breathing and relaxation techniques helpful to conquer in-flight nerves.
6. Alcohol – mixed views on this one. Clearly getting paralytic is bad for you and will make you feel awful eventually but the odd drink could calm the nerves.
7. Tranquilisers – again mixed views. Take advice from a doctor and do not “borrow” pills from friends or family. They can leave with you decidedly groggy, hangover type feelings if you are not used to them.

Ill-considered wisdom (mine)

1. Do sudokus and cryptic crosswords. This is a “left brain” activity – the side which deals with logical, analytical thought. Concentrating on these means you can’t think about wings falling off and engines exploding.
2. Reward yourself. Save up those things you have been looking forward to reading, watching or playing and bring those on the flight with you. Mindless entertainment takes your mind off “other stuff”.
3. Find a flight attendant you fancy and then think what a big wuss you will look if you go off on one. They will never agree to go for a drink with you if you cry and will laugh at you with their friends in the galley. Screaming will not help your chances either.

The Solution

Anyway, enough of all that. I have the perfect answer which means everything above is entirely redundant. After careful consideration and no scientific research, I have the solution: medically induced comas. It’s perfect – everyone nods off on the runway, only to be revived 10 hours later when they touch down – almost as if the travel were instantaneous. Think of the benefits for travellers and airlines alike – no rowdy passengers, no need to serve food or drinks, no need in fact for airline crew at all – what savings could be made.

No doubt officious types might raise the odd objection to this plan but some swift testing on returning stag parties (let’s face it, they won’t know the difference) would allay any concerns. Nervous passengers need never endure the agonies of long-haul again. It worked for BA from the A-Team and it can work for BA from Heathrow too.

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