The cabin of the plane was completely dark except for the occasional flash of lightning. The plane started to bounce around the clouds, prompting an announcement from the captain that the landing into Bogota would be fairly turbulence due to some thunderstorms. My palms start to sweat and my heart is pounding my chest. I put my head between my knees, which helps lessen the effects of turbulence and the guy next to me stares at me like I’m crazy.
Thankfully, the pilot was able to fly around the worst of the storm and we landed safely in Bogota that dark and stormy evening.
I love to travel but I’m not the most easy-going flyer in the world. I don’t actually think the plane is going to crash and I’m fine on most flights. There are certain flying experiences that I find particularly gut-wrenching:
- Flying in any sort of prop plane
- Flying through a thunderstorm
- Turbulence that causes a loss of altitude
I know the statistics show that flying is safer than other methods of transportation and I believe that but it doesn’t mean that I like the feeling of turbulence. You know what else I don’t like? Roller coasters, bungie jumping or any other activity with a sudden drop. That said, you can’t avoid prop planes and turbulence when you want to travel around the world. I don’t have an instant-fix solution but I have learned some things along the way that have helped me and hopefully they’ll help you too.
Choose a seat that makes you comfortable
This goes without saying but make sure you choose your seat ahead of time if you know that sitting by a window or in the middle of the plane helps you feel more comfortable. For more, sitting by the window helps me feel secure so I always choose my seat in advance, even if it costs extra.
Listen to music with Bose noise-canceling headphones, watch a TV show, read a book or do some other than just sitting there with your thoughts racing around your head. For me, music works best and the louder, the better I feel.
Remember the last time you drove down a road with a ton of potholes? Visualize yourself driving down that same road. When I went to Costa Rica, I was stuck on a road filled with potholes for at least an hour and my butt and head were sore by the end of the trip from bouncing around so much. That’s the type of road that I try to visualize.
The water trick
This only works if cabin service has already started. Put a cup of water on your tray and look at it during a period of turbulence. You’ll notice that it barely moves which will help you realize the plane isn’t moving as much as you think it is.
Let go of the armrests
I’ve found that resting my elbows on my knees, dropping my head and rolling with the turbulence helps dampen the effect of the bumps. I definitely notice it more if I try to grab the armrests or clutch the tray table.
Check the turbulence report
I usually check for Pilot Reports of Turbulence (PIREPs) before I leave using Turbulence Forecast. Anticipating where the turbulence may occur along the route keeps me from being surprised. That said, clear air turbulence can occur at any time so make sure you always wear your seatbelt.
Try some drugs
Last January, I took a tiny 12-seater prop plane from Guatemala City to Flores. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get on the plane without some sort of medication so my doctor prescribed Xanax ahead of time. Make sure to talk to your doctor about your flight anxiety so s/he can prescribe the correct medication and never mix it with alcohol.
Are you a nervous flyer? Do you have any tips for other nervous fliers? Please share them in the comments below.
Capt Tom Bunn LCSW says
Good tips. Here is a great additional help, a free app that MEASURES turbulence and PROVES you are safe. See http://www.fearofflying.com/app
I’m scared too! Those are some really great tips! I always grip the arm rests!