We’ve all heard the trope “you’re more likely to die in a car accident than a plane crash,” but that’s little comfort to those who are understandably a little perturbed by the notion of flying hundreds of miles per hour in a hunk of metal some seven miles above the Earth’s surface. (However, it’s true: the National Safety Council puts the odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident at one in 107 based on recorded deaths, whereas there was not enough data to even calculate the odds of dying in a plane crash.)
“When people come in wanting to address a fear of flying, they will often say that they know flying is a safe form of travel and this may make sense to them in a rational, logical way,” says Dr. Rebecca Hoffenberg, a clinical psychologist. “The problem is that their body has formed a response pattern where airplanes have become associated with anxiety.”
While a clinical diagnosis of aviophobia — a fear of flying — is pretty rare, only affecting 2.5 percent of the population by some estimates, general anxiety about flying is far more common. Some fliers are worried about being in an enclosed space for too long, others dislike heights, and a select group is terrified they might accidentally open a plane door mid-flight. Further still, some passengers are worried about germs and viruses (ahem, COVID-19), and others are just anxious that they might feel anxious on a plane.
Whatever your trigger may be, there are many ways you can alleviate your anxiety. We’re here to help with these tips.
- Demystify turbulence
Turbulence is nothing more than wonky wind currents that cause planes to bobble a bit, not at all unlike driving on a bumpy road or sailing on a choppy sea. But seriously, there’s no need to worry at all: Planes are specifically designed to handle and minimize turbulence.
“When you look out your window and see the wing bobbing up and down as the plane experiences turbulence, don’t fear that the plane is about to come apart,” says pilot Korry Franke. “Instead, be thankful, because those flexing wings are like shock absorbers working to smooth out the bumpy ride on a dirt country road.”
Plus, these days, technology is used to predict areas of turbulence so that pilots can avoid them and provide the smoothest ride possible.
- Learn about built-in safety features
“Airplanes are mystical — albeit commonplace — machines. They make strange noises and provide unique sensations. They’re complex. And they operate in a system with few parallels to what people know and understand,” says Franke. So comfort yourself by learning how planes are designed to withstand emergencies. Preparedness is key in any emergency situation, so knowing that you’re equipped to handle different scenarios may help ease any worry.
It’s also helpful to do some research about air circulation on planes to help alleviate your fear of contracting COVID-19 on a flight. Fresh air is continually pumped into the plane — the cabin air is refreshed every three minutes — and any recycled air is pushed through HEPA filters that remove 99.9 percent of impurities, including bacteria and viruses. Also, the air in a cabin typically flows from the ceiling to the floor, not from front to back, so contaminants are not typically swirling around. Of course, if your seatmate sneezes, you could become infected, but those odds can be lowered with mask usage, which is a requirement on all airlines.