Fear of Flying? Read on for tips to help alleviate your worries.
Flying is bad for you. That’s what we’ve all been coached to believe, especially in recent months, as the cases of MH17, MH370 and the German wings catastrophe “prove”. Before that, it was 9/11, bird flu and deep vein thrombosis. If flying is more dangerous than ever, how does one get to all those far-flung and exciting places?
All dangers aside, is it not just terribly boring sitting on an airplane for hours and hours, with nothing to comfort you except a shared arm rest, a reclining seat that pisses people off, and endless TV series that you’ve probably already seen before on a screen not much wider than the palm of your hand?
I empathize. I recently completed a non-stop flight from Hong Kong to London, which totaled twelve and a half hours of actual flight time, and four hours sitting on the runway, watching lightning strike the control tower as a tropical storm lashed the island. What’s more, in November I will be travelling to Tokyo, a grand total of 20 hours flying and four hours of layover in Dubai, circling most of the world in allegedly one of the most advanced forms of technology known to man.
I love to hate flying. What started as a mild fear of the unknown, to childish excitement, to anticipation and enjoyment, has steadily increased (thanks to episodes of Air Crash Investigation) to abject fear. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have a phobia, as I wouldn’t want to insult those who physically cannot embark an aircraft, but I get scared. As the engines accelerate for take off, I am always that person alternating between fiddling with the in-flight magazine, gazing ominously out the window, or clutching the arm rest with such force my fingertips are numb for hours. As we climb, I will look around, my head snapping back and forth like an overeager meerkat, to see if anyone has noticed that strange noise coming from the direction of the wings, and more worryingly, why the hell has the seat belt sign not been switched off? We’ve been in the air for more than five minutes, surely we are safe! If we were to plummet to the ground at this stage, would it not be better to be ready to jump out (whilst we still have a good chance of survival) instead of being belted into this tin can with it’s wobbly seats?
My fears, of course, are my own entire fault. I regularly watch YouTube videos of plane crashes, and I’m proud to say I’ve read nearly every book about air disasters that is available on Amazon. I comb international news for any nugget about aviation. This has resulted in the fact that I have an in-depth knowledge of what is happening to the plane at every single minute of its journey. A double-edged sword for any nervous flyer. I know why Airbus planes make that strange mechanical grinding just before they take off, and I know exactly why they dim the cabin lights before landing. I digress.
I’ve read the self-help books and I’ve downloaded every meditation app on the market, and still I’m consumed by this irritating niggle in my stomach every time I board a plane. Occasionally, this is replaced by sheer gut-churning terror, like the time I was flying over Northern Germany and we hit turbulence that was so violent, my mother managed the double feat of crying and throwing up at the same time and even the flight attendants wrote their wills out on the back of the safety card.
However, my morbid love of air disasters couples with my pure and unspoiled love of travel. The two go hand in hand, flying the ebony to the ivory of my travels. I must travel, because it is in my blood, and in order to do so, I must also fly. I admire those who regularly hop on and off jets, carrying their cabin-approved baggage, without a second thought. I especially admire those who can even sleep on a plane (I flew for 13 hours through seven different time zones and I can tell you I saw every minute).
Long haul itself requires some definition. Technically, it is any flight that is over four hours, but then it falls into two different categories. Medium long haul and ultra long haul, the latter being a flight over eight hours. For example, a flight from Dallas to Dubai totals fifteen and a half hours. A situation beyond help.
So, after over ten years of long haul travel to most of the continents on this earth, I have managed to compile some tips that I hope will be helpful -or will at least invoke a giggle from the more capable fliers amongst us.
1. Charity begins at home. Be kind to yourself the day before. Don’t get stressed. Do pleasant activities that relax you. Do not work a 12-hour shift and leave your packing until the small hours of the morning. Be prepared. Check those documents. Do not do as I, whereby I printed off my travel passes for a recent flight to London, neglected to read the small print, and nearly missed my flight as I queued at check-in to do something that I believed I had already done. Buy a nice folder to keep your tickets, passports and other relevant articles in. If I have to tell you to make sure you have all your documents ready the night before, perhaps you shouldn’t be flying at all.
2. Make a flight pack. Mine consists of sleeping pills (I need all the help I can get), attractive flight stockings (available in chemists), painkillers, earplugs, an eye mask, a small mirror, some make up, face wipes and some antibacterial hand gel. I’m not a big believer in disinfecting every surface before you sit down, as people will stare at you, but after four hours, those hands will be a breeding ground for some pretty nasty bacteria. A mini roll-on deodorant is useful too, but usually a quick wipe-down with some face wipes does the trick. Pack this on top of your hand baggage.
3. “App”ly yourself. I swear by Flight Aware (available for iOS and android). It gives you updates on airport delays and flight delays, before you are even notified at the airport. On a recent trip to Venice, we were stuck in traffic outside of London but I knew our flight was delayed by 2 hours and I was calmed by the fact I would have time to spend some serious cash in duty free. At the airport, we were told the flight was on time but ten minutes later, lo and behold, our delay of 2 hours popped up on the departure screens. This app also sends you notifications; weather updates; and maps your journey so that you can see the route you will be taking.
I also download eastern meditation apps, particularly those that have music as I find it particularly relaxing for the first hour or so of flight, or indeed at any time I feel nervous. I won’t lie however, when turbulence strikes, those headphones come out and that window blind comes up as I nervously anticipate an explosive decompression. These apps are particularly useful when you’re trying to sleep but find yourself distracted by noise, other people or just the general goings on. They focus you and direct your attention elsewhere.
4. The airport. I literally have no advice for airport procedures, as no matter what, they can be incredibly stressful. Just go and spend a fortune in duty free to help yourself feel better about what’s to come.
5. Food, glorious food. I always, always, always eat before boarding a plane. Plane food is nasty, despite the airlines claiming otherwise, and it’s not good for you to have a meal sitting in your stomach for more than 8 hours, with no way to burn it off. I always go for something filling but moderately healthy, and then walk around the airport as much as I can. I’m going to be sitting down for over fifty percent of the day, so I’m getting in some much valued leg stretching time before it’s too late.
6. On board. Seriously, get everything out of your bag that you need. This is a no brainer. Pack that stuff on top of everything else so you’re not foraging around like a pig for a truffle. It annoys everyone else, and most importantly, it annoys you. I rely on my kindle, phone, iPad, headphones, purse, and my flight pack. I also suggest packing some light, leisurewear (you know, the stuff you wear at home when you’re waiting on delivery) that you can change into later. I try to pack some layers, a pair of socks because honestly bare feet on a flight is disgusting beyond comprehension, some leggings or joggers, a loose t-shirt and a cardigan or sweater. Glamour died on air travel a long time ago and you don’t need to impress anybody.
7. Be prepared. I always download a few movies that I love because sometimes I want to just be brain dead and not have to follow a plot that requires any concentration. Have you tried to watch Inception on a plane? I did, flying to New York five years ago and it gave me a migraine I still haven’t shifted. Plus, those airplane screens dry my eyes out to pure sandpaper, and often make me feel extremely sick.
8. Being sick on board. I’ve suffered from travel sickness on and off for most of my life, in some cases being so bad that I genuinely believed I would die. One memorable trip to the Canary Islands saw me suffer with airsickness so severe, I begged my mum to book us a trip home on a boat. I was 26 years old. I cannot recommend taking travel sickness pills enough. Quells are particularly excellent, even if you don’t feel the need to vomit as they will knock you out for a good couple of hours. If you get ill, as I have done many times, there is really nothing you can do except wait it out. I know, it’s easy for me to say, sat here on my sofa, drinking my tea, the ground solid underneath my feet. Yet, it is really the only option. Lock yourself in the toilet, don’t worry about anyone else, and just get it out. I sometimes bring a couple of bags of peppermint tea to give to a flight attendant, who usually adds hot water to it and it goes some way to helping calm my stomach. Don’t watch the in flight entertainment, don’t do anything, just breathe deeply and close your eyes. Now is a good time to use those meditation apps I told you about.
9. Boredom. So you’ve eaten the food, watched a few movies, walked up and down a couple of times, gone to the toilet more than necessary, spied on people to see how they’re coping, maybe taken a few photographs. This is the killer of all international travel. It isn’t terrorism, it isn’t disease, it isn’t mechanical failures; it’s boredom. I’ve tried many things, from learning a new language, reading the classics, watching all of a TV series, writing down my bucket list, writing letters to primary school teachers. Nothing has worked. After ten minutes of focus, my eyes start wandering, my fingers start twitching, heart beat starts racing, my feet are doing a little dance. Now is the time to take a walk. I always take my drink, walk to the back or the front of the aircraft depending on where I’m sitting, and I don’t go back to my seat until I’ve drunk my beverage. I ask myself, how do I feel? Do I feel like watching another movie? Listening to some music? Reading a book? Or just sitting in silence? I nearly always go for listening to music. I don’t automatically reach for my own music, or even the top albums on the entertainment system, but I choose something relaxing, like Enya or Buddhist chants, and I just sit. With regards to games, I’m not personally a huge fan and no techie, so I simply cannot say but I was absorbed by The Room and it’s sequel, the imaginatively titled Room Two. It requires concentration, intelligence and failing that, perseverance which long haul flying is all about.
10. Food, again. I cannot tell you how tea has saved my life, over and over again. Take some bags with you, because there is nothing that tea cannot cure. I recommend good old green tea for a dicky stomach, chamomile to relax you, and rooibos just to make you feel more like a human with feelings and less like an experiment in aeronautics. Most airlines seem to carry Twinings, so if it’s free, make the most of it. Take snacks, and don’t rely on the airlines to cater to you. On a flight back for Las Vegas, we were left without refreshments for 8 hours, so always pack a little something. Do not take bananas, yes they’re energy food, but they smell, go brown quickly and do not travel well generally. The same goes for tuna or any fish product. I personally hate nuts, so I take a bag of plantain chips or if you can get them, hummus chips. I always pack a smoothie too, as it stays miraculously cool in that flying tin can and gives you a shot of something healthy. Oranges, satsumas and clementines are also useful, as are grapes and berries, provided you are careful when transporting them and don’t wait too long before eating them. Do not drink coffee. It’s bad for your energy levels, bad for digestion and dehydrates you quicker than an Arabian desert. The same for alcohol. Nobody likes a drunk passenger. You will make a fool of yourself and everyone else will be nervous. Just don’t do it.
11. Hygiene. I find the opinion that all airplanes are hotbeds of disease insulting to the cabin crew that work incredibly hard to keep your flights running on time. However, being cooped up for longer than four hours is not pretty for anyone. Until the day that showers are available for all and not just for first class cabins, we have to make do and mend. I always take face wipes and/or deodorant wipes to take off make up and to freshen up after a few hours, sitting stationary. Bringing a body spray or deodorant in travel-size form may also assist you. I recommend the Lush solid deodorant bars, which I never use in my daily life, but which work wonders when travelling. They smell amazing and aren’t subject to the liquid guidelines that are particularly strict within Europe. Antibacterial hand gel is your friend, and I always buy mine from the chemist as they are much more potent yet seem to smell better. The likelihood is that you will pick up some kind of sniffle when flying, but try to at least keep your face clean. Plus, your teeth. Be sure to have your toothbrush and toothpaste within reach. You are going to feel like a germ-infested mummy when you disembark, please don’t smell like one too.
12. Turbulence. My final point is probably the most important for me. I can actually enjoy flying if everything remains smooth, calm and tranquil like a pristine lake on a summer’s day. Every little bump or judder used to terrify the living day lights out of me. Yet, I read that what we believe to be severe or extreme turbulence rarely happens. Most of us only experience mild to medium turbulence, where perhaps the aircraft swings about a bit, dips and dives, shakes like a fairground ride and generally sounds like it’s going to fall apart. The one useful trick I learnt from years of reading self-help books about flying fears is this, DO NOT TRY TO FLY THE PLANE. The pilot knows what he is doing, and even if you are sat in your seat, on the verge of a breakdown, do not think you know better than the flight crew. They know exactly how to manage these situations and you do not. Just because you feel like the plane is going to crash does not mean that that is the foregone conclusion. They train for and experience these situations daily. So, the trick I learnt is not to distract myself, as my level of paranoia does not allow for that. I just ride it out. Perhaps put on some soothing music (Sia works for me) and wait for it to abate. If the turbulence is mild and the seatbelt sign is off, I always take a walk, as turbulence feels 100 times worse in your seat than when you are upright. Another useful tip is that if you decide to sleep, fasten your seatbelt over your blanket or clothes, so the seat belt sign going off won’t wake you up.
By the time you reach your destination, you’ll be bedraggled and bewildered, but this is where the fun really starts! You have a whole new city, country or continent to explore. So, shake off that ever so distinct smell of airplane, fight off your jet lag (you should tough it out until normal sleeping hours- promise) and embrace the journey ahead. Until we board again!
[accordion_tab title=”Collegiate Correspondent: Claire Mapletoft” default]
Claire Mapletoft has been unable to deny her love of travel since she discovered that it is a crucial part of being a Sagittarius. This passion has been encouraged by her inescapable joy upon discovering new foods and wines of the world. Traveling became more than a dream when Claire was lucky enough to participate in a study abroad program in both France and Germany, which led her to ultimately study her teaching qualification in Prague. Claire has also lived and worked in both Spain and China, has been published in magazines such as Fringe and Edge, and was accepted to the prestigious Faber Academy. She is currently working on a novel inspired by her love of Asia and the travel experiences she witnessed there. Claire is a graduate of the university of Edinburgh where she holds a Master’s in 20th Century American Literature and a Bachelors in English Literature and History. She was born in Nottingham, England and forever a Midlands girl at heart.[/accordion_tab]