How I Overcame My Fear of Flying.
I’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to travel. I’ve visited dozens of countries and taken hundreds of flights.
I started traveling at a young age, so I had never really thought much about flying. It’s just something that was done. So it came as a surprise when I was in my early 20s my slow build-up of anxiety over flying became a fully-fledged fear of flying.
It all started with a landing in Barcelona. Everything was going absolutely fine and we were perhaps a second or two away from touching the runway and arriving when the engines flared up again and the airplane was up in the air again.
No message from the captain and suddenly all conversation in the cabin stopped. One could feel the nerves.
It’s probably worth mentioning that I was nursing a fairly epic hangover. I had already taken a flight from Sicily to Milan, spent the day running around like a maniac seeing as much of Milan as possible, and then went back to the airport to take this flight to Barcelona.
Needless to say, I wasn’t in a mood conducive to rational thinking.
So, we gained altitude again, and still no word from the captain. One of my friends noticed that the stewardess, who wasn’t young, looked a little uneasy strapped in her crew seat.The plane banked to the right, and we circled around and then went for a second, successful landing.
It wasn’t a big deal. The pilot probably overshot a certain part of the runway and so had to take a second attempt.
Still, that hammered home how little control one has when flying and how much trust you are putting in unknown people.
It wasn’t a good feeling, and it started a slow build-up of anxiety that manifested itself every time I had to take to the skies.
At its worst, my fear of flying was completely debilitating.
I would have panic attacks at the mere thought of getting on a plane. I would start to hyperventilate and feel like I was going to pass out. It was a deeply unpleasant experience, and one that stopped me from doing a lot of things that I wanted to do. I’m not sure what finally pushed me to face my fear head-on, but I’m glad I did.
I had a wonderful time in Barcelona and a few days later it was time to make the journey back home. Two flights within twelve hours. I suffered a big case of nerves but made it home.
I then spent the next four months without leaving Sicily, partly due to the amount of anxiety and fear about flying.
I actually managed to overcome this anxiety and fear and I flew four times that summer, including one long-hall flight to Asia from Europe.
I’d like to spend the rest of this essay explaining how I overcame this fear of flying.
The advantage human beings have over animals is that we are rational beings, but many times this can also bring us a degree of discomfort.
Seneca noted this while he was traveling by ship and was caught up in a storm. Everybody was worried, but there was one passenger who took a stoic outlook on the whole situation and continue eating and sleeping as if nothing was happing. It was the pig.
The pig wasn’t worried about the storm and the movement of the ship because it wasn’t aware that there was a danger of the ship capsizing and then of drowning. The pig’s lack of reasoning capabilities made it calm. But I’m not suggesting that we start thinking like a pig. Being rational is the privilege of human beings and so we should try and use our superior intellects and willpower to overcome difficult situations.
As human beings, we are aware of the dangers of flying. We know that planes can crash, so our minds start imagining all sorts of terrible scenarios.
The first step in overcoming the fear of flying is to become aware of this and to understand that the fear is coming from your own mind and not from any external source.
You are the one who is creating the anxiety, and so you are the one who can stop it. This doesn’t mean that you have to be completely calm when you fly, but it does mean that you can control your fear rather than letting the fear control you.
Once you have realized this, it is time to start thinking about flying differently.
Start to think about all of the things that have to go right for a flight to be successful.
There are so many complicated systems and safety measures in place that it is incredibly unlikely that anything will actually go wrong.
When you start to look at it from this perspective, it becomes much easier to see flying as being safe rather than dangerous.
Of course, this isn’t going to happen overnight, but with a bit of time and effort, it is possible to change the way you think about flying and overcome your fear.
If you want to take things one step further, you can also start to educate yourself about how planes work and what happens in different situations.
So that’s what I did, I overcame my fear of flying by reason.
I began to study exactly how planes function and commercial airliners work. I poured over crash statistics, and I read about all the major fatal airplane crashes. I read about all the safety measures that modern planes have to prevent accidents and incidents. I learned about turbulence, I read about the strict maintenance schedules set by law in the developed world.
Rationally speaking, it makes absolutely no sense to have a fear of flying. In fact, you are in one of the safest places in the world when you are 30,000 feet up in the air in an Aluminium box.
Strange, but true.
The next time you find yourself getting anxious about flying, remember that you are more likely to be struck by lightning than in an airplane crash. And even if something goes wrong, the chances of you dying are still very low.
I also think the fear of flying is closely related to the fear of death. Overcome the latter and you will overcome the former. After all, if you aren’t afraid of dying, a plane crash will hardly bother you, now is it?
So, let me share a few things I’ve learned about airplanes.
Why Flying Is Safe.
Obviously, one cannot always take statistics at face value, because it often depends on who provides the statistics.
The following quote is quite apt: There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.
That said, there are extremely detailed and accurate statistics about the number of journeys made each year and the number of problems encountered overall.
It boils down to this: The chances of being involved in an airplane crash are extremely low, something along the lines of 1 in 11 million.
To put that into perspective, you are more likely to die from a bee-sting, and flying is around sixty to one-hundred times safer than driving.
But it gets better than that. If you were involved in a serious airplane crash, you have a 76.7% chance of survival.
In fact, 95.7% of all people involved in plane accidents survive.
You are Flying in Two Airplanes
What’s the likelihood of two planes crashing? I don’t know, but I know it’s less than one plane crashing and that’s why modern airplanes are actually two airplanes in one.
Think about it, you have two pilots, at least two engines, and every single function on the plane has at least one backup feature. So a crash cannot be caused by a single failure. I will say that again: a crash cannot be caused by a single failure. I find that very reassuring. So if an engine fails, you probably won’t even notice. The cool thing about total failure in all engines is that an airplane is simply a very big glider and so it’s not like it will drop out of the sky like a stone. The pilot can simply glide it to the nearest airfield.
The Engineering of Airplanes
The engineering of airplanes is extremely impressive. They are designed to withstand an incredible amount of stress and strain.
For example, the wings of a commercial airliner can bend up to 20 degrees without breaking. That’s amazing considering that they are made mostly of aluminium, which is a relatively soft metal.
And the engines are designed to keep going even if one or more blades break off. In fact, it’s quite common for engine blades to break during takeoff because they encounter so much turbulence and stress. But don’t worry, the engine will keep working just fine.
Turbulence Is Not Dangerous.
Turbulence is not dangerous. It might be uncomfortable, but it cannot cause a crash.
The only time turbulence can be dangerous is if it surprises the pilot and causes them to make a sudden maneuver that could put stress on the plane and potentially cause damage. But this is very rare.
Most Crashes are caused by Human Error.
Most transportation crashes, especially in car travel, are caused by human error. This is an area where air travel wins out. You don’t have an idiot flying your plane. Pilots go through training that can be compared to the training that medical doctors receive in both length and intensity. They know what they are doing. When you are out and about in your car, you have no idea who is driving the car behind you. It could be a drug addict, it could be a drunk, it could be someone underage or someone who doesn’t even have a license. But when you are on a plane, you know that the pilot has gone through years of training and has to pass regular tests in order to keep their license.
So, the next time you are feeling anxious about flying, just remember that you are actually safer in the air than you are on the ground. And if you ever do find yourself in a situation where there is an emergency, don’t worry, the chances are good that you will be just fine.
On top of that, not only are the pilots highly trained, but the whole host of support staff they work with are highly competent. Air traffic controllers and ground maintenance crew are all thoroughly checked and have limits on how much they can work in a given period.
Plenty of car accidents involve two or more cars. Well, airplanes fly in a 10-mile-wide corridor to ensure that two planes will not collide.
Mechanical problems don’t really happen. Think about it, we can build supercomputers that fit into our pockets, send people to the moon, and destroy entire cities with one bomb. I don’t think that it is expecting much of the human race to build a reliable machine. Mechanical problems are highly unlikely. Turbine engines are incredibly reliable, and there is a good 70 years of data to back that up.
## Airplanes are checked…a lot.
I was quite shocked when I heard how airplanes are maintained. Every five years, a commercial airliner has to go through what is known as a “D check”. This takes roughly two to three months and involves complete disassembly of the aircraft (by the way, an average airliner has over five million parts…) and a complete structural check for invisible stress in the metal. This generally requires about 50,000 man hours (that’s over five and a half years!). Yes, there are also smaller A, B and C checks done more frequently.
Anyway, I hope this has been some help to you, and enjoy your next flight!