You made it through a long security line, sprinted to your gate (which always seems to be in the furthest corner of the airport), and even managed to grab a snack for your flight. It seems like the worst parts of air travel are behind you, right? Not if you have a fear of flying. While flying is a fast and safe way to travel, many people get anxious on airplanes, especially when turbulence occurs. Ease your flying fears with this viral TikTok that uses jello to explain turbulence, and learn more tips from plane pros on how to enjoy your flight without fright.
How common is a fear of flying?
If you’re scared of being in an airplane, you’re not alone. Over 25 million American adults struggle with aerophobia, a.k.a. fear of flying. Aerophobia isn’t just fear of plane crashes; It encompasses fear of takeoff, landing, confinement to a small space, and extraordinary heights.
But the aspect of air travel that scares more people than any of the others? Turbulence. Those bumps and tussles you feel when the plane changes altitude due to natural changes in weather can be disconcerting. Sure, you hit speed bumps when you drive, but you’re, at least, on the ground. Turbulence on a plane can feel like a loss of control; like you’re about to fall out of the sky, says flight attendant Mary Renner. Despite how it feels, turbulence is actually natural and very common.
While you can’t always avoid air travel, there are steps you can take to inform yourself about the realities of flying, which can help you feel more comfortable.
The Jello Theory
Turbulence can feel sudden and scary, especially since it’s not an everyday sensation for most people. But even though it feels like certain doom, turbulence really doesn’t threaten your safety. TikTok user Anna Paul shares a visual she learned from a pilot about why you’re not at risk of crashing when you’re experiencing bad turbulence. She says that when you’re flying in the air, the airplane is like a little ball suspended in jello. The pressure from the jello keeps the ball suspended; it doesn’t sink, even when jiggled. You may feel the movement from turbulence, but you aren’t going to fall out of the sky from it, she explains, as she jiggles the cup of jello. “When you’re in a plane, experiencing turbulence, just imagine that you’re in jelly. This has helped me a lot,” says Paul. Watch her video here:
It’s important to note that while severe turbulence can cause injuries from passengers being jostled suddenly, turbulence alone has not caused an airplane to crash, and that the main reason pilots try to avoid turbulence is for passenger comfort — not because of safety concerns.
How to Manage Your Fear of Flying
Even when you know that the odds of anything going wrong are incredibly slim, your fear of flying can persist. That’s normal: Anxiety doesn’t always respond to reason. Additionally, being stuck at home during the pandemic, which made travel far less frequent, has amplified travelers’ anxieties, says Tom Bunn, former pilot, therapist, and founder of SOAR — an organization that helps people overcome flying fears. It’s quite common to be afraid sometimes, so cut yourself some slack.
“Whether you’re feeling newly afraid of flying or old fears are resurfacing, it’s important to be compassionate with yourself,” Dr. Carla Marie Manly told Well + Good. “It’s natural to fear flying, given that being on a plane involves giving up personal control.” But you can’t always avoid traveling by air, even when it scares you, so don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor if you need extra help with your anxiety. Check out these tips from professionals in the airline industry to help you feel less afraid of things that go bump in the flight.
Before You Go
Teach yourself the facts. Just like The Jello Theory simplifies turbulence, learning the facts about flights can help you feel more secure. On her website, Fly Confidently, Renner notes that flying is “the safest mode of transportation” — your chance of dying in a commercial plane crash are one in one million, and if you do happen to crash, your odds of surviving are 95.7 percent. Learn more about flight safety in her Ultimate Guide to Overcoming Your Fear of Flying.
Pack yourself a comfort kit. What everyday items give you a feeling of calm? Whether it’s earbuds so you can listen to soothing music or your favorite flavor of chewing gum, Dr. Manly recommends sticking things that make you feel safe and happy in your carry-on for an added measure of comfort and security.
Book a morning flight if you can. Early birds get the…smoother flights. Morning flights tend to be less turbulent because the air is cooler, explains former pilot Vanessa Rivers. While turbulence does not present danger, if you know bumps will upset you, fly early.
Select your seat strategically. Rivers says that movements feel more intense behind the plane’s center of gravity, so your best bet is to sit as far to the front as you can. And Dr. Manly recommends sitting on the aisle, because you have more “visual space” and feel less trapped.
Once You Board
Tell the flight attendant. No matter how small your flight is, you’re probably not the only one on it who’s afraid, and the flight attendants have dealt with tons of fearful passengers. Let them know you’re nervous, says Rivers. While they can’t offer you any sort of medication, they can give you comfort and support, and reassure you if things get bumpy.
Meet the pilot and trust them. If you’re able, introduce yourself to the pilot, recommends Bunn. “This puts you in personal contact with control. You will sense their competence and confidence. It helps to know they also want to get back home to their family, and they have been doing so for years,” he says. Rivers adds that when she was a pilot, she and her colleagues would undergo extensive and frequent training to make sure their skills stayed sharp. Pilots are at the helm for a reason — they are dedicated to making sure you stay safe.
Recognize your feelings. If you’re getting anxious mid-air, write down your fears, recommends Bunn. What is it exactly that’s scaring you? Getting it down on paper and out of your head can help you distinguish reality from fiction, and by acknowledging your fears instead of blocking them, you’re keeping them from building up and getting bigger. Renner also suggests separating your fears from the idea that you’re in danger. Fear is a natural response to danger, but it isn’t always a rational response. Danger isn’t present just because fear is.
Distract yourself. As simple as it sounds, distraction is a beautiful thing. Take advantage of the uninterrupted downtime afforded by air travel. Delve into that book you’ve been meaning to read. Lean back and enjoy the newest episode of your favorite podcast. See how fast you can complete a crossword puzzle — in pen. Sometimes, life is too busy to allow for quiet, recreational activities, so lose yourself in a relaxing pastime, and you’ll be back on the ground before you know it.
Flying can be uncomfortable, especially when you’re afraid. But it isn’t dangerous, and the truth is that it’s often the fastest way to get from point A to point B. Do your best to relax and enjoy your flight. Just don’t be the passenger that falls asleep and loudly snores. We have no tips for that situation.