While there is no perfect cure for a fear of flying, the good news is that it is possible to minimise the discomfort.
Peter Chin, who runs Fear of Flying courses at Flight Experience in Perth, joined me on the latest episode of the AFF on Air podcast to discuss this topic. According to Peter, turbulence is one of the biggest anxiety-inducers for airline passengers. “I’d say the number one fear is turbulence, because anxiety is part of your subconscious mind. And then the fear part is when the turbulence actually happens, so it’s like a double whammy for people.”
Peter goes on to explain that the only risk posed by turbulence is unrestrained objects in the cabin. This is why it’s important to always keep your seatbelt fastened when seated. But the plane is never in any danger. “The actual aircraft itself is very safe,” Peter says, “it’s very strong and it can ride through almost any turbulence known to man”.
If you suffer from a fear of flying, there are a few strategies that you can use to reduce anxiety in the air.
If you are feeling nervous when stepping onto the aircraft, it can be worth informing a flight attendant. The crew flies for a living so they’re used to this, and they will often take the time to reassure nervous passengers. Sometimes the cabin crew even let the pilots know, and they’ll also come and have a chat with the passenger if there is time.
Medication may also help some people, but Peter cautions against relying on this as it can have some nasty side effects. Alcohol is also best avoided in the air.
If you’re finding it difficult to overcome your fear, a fear of flying course could also help. Courses include a theoretical “pilot education” component, as well as a hands-on flight simulator experience. There’s also a longer version of the course for people with a medium-to-high level of fear, which includes help from a psychologist.
According to Peter, course participants tend to get the most out of the flight simulator experience.
“I used to think that the flight simulator was the icing on the cake. I’ve actually realised that the simulator is actually the cake itself.” Peter continues, “if you’ve got a fear of heights or snakes, and you’re confronted with a simulated version of those, that will then get your fear going immediately. I’ve had people that have come in and broken down because the realism is very, very real. But towards the end of the flight we then find that the anxiety levels start to drop off. I’ve seen so many times customers walking out with a big smile on their face that say ‘I now want to book a flight to somewhere’.”
Fear of flying courses aren’t a guaranteed cure. But they can give you the tools needed to help you manage your fear.
“We have to realise that it’s not a cure for fear of flying. We basically give you the tools, and then you need to go off and use those tools when you actually go flying.”
The full 12-minute interview with Peter Chin is included in this fortnight’s episode of AFF on Air. This podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Android and Google Podcasts. You can also listen to or download the episode directly on AFF: AFF on AIR Podcast Episode 7: Fear of Flying