I Have Something To Confess.

One thing I was hoping to get out of travelling – or rather, get rid of – was my fear of flying.

I know. Why travel the world when you are absolutely petrified of flying?

Why put yourself through multiple flights on average, every 5 days, if you hate it?

Well, honestly – because I think my passion for travel out-weighs my fear for flying. But that doesn’t make it any less real. 

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I honestly thought that eventually, by travelling, my fear would gradually fade into the background. That it would simmer down and that perhaps I’d be able to finally relax into a flight and the idea of flying instead of dreading it the entire day prior.

But that hasn’t really happened.

I had a bit of a breakdown on our last night in Bangkok, because I’m so sick of feeling paralysed by this fear. And I think it’s important to talk about it – because unlike what many people may believe, travelling isn’t fun 100% of the time. For me, it’s incredible the entire time we’re on solid ground. But the day when we’re due to fly? And the flight itself? You’ll find me clutching my boyfriends hand, a bag of nerves, wishing I was anywhere else but there.

So maybe it’s important to be honest about these things. 

And maybe, if you’re someone who also has a fear of flying, and you’re reading this. Maybe you’ll feel encouraged by the fact that even though I hate flying and it fills me with pure dread, I still board that flight and I cope with it the best I can. Because I know travel is worth it all.

But I’m trying so hard to overcome it, despite a few hiccups along the way.

Over new year, we had a terrible flight into Queenstown, NZ where our plane had a missed approach on landing and we had to surge up the engines again metres from the runway and take-off again. I was an absolute wreck during those few minutes, and I think it erased any progress I’d made previously. Before that, I’d never really hated the landing part (because, hey – it means you’re nearly there) but now my nerves are so on edge during landing I find myself glancing around the cabin frantically every 30 seconds. Pad compared me to a Meerkat – if that helps you imagine it. A super panicked Meerkat. Having a bad day.

Ever since then I’ve felt myself getting worse and it’s become a bit of a downward spiral. In Thailand on a couple of internal flights we had to fly on smaller planes with propellers instead of engines. This was almost a breaking point for me. I literally felt overwhelmed by the fear. I even contemplated having us drive across Thailand and hiring a taxi to take us to our next destination (making a 45 minute plane journey a 7 hour drive). But Pad being the ever supportive boyfriend he is, assured me that I’d be OK – and we were. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t spend the entire flight gripping his hand and cutting off his circulation.

Why am I writing this?

Well, after I had my Bangkok-Breakdown, Pad asked me what I was actually scared of. And I put it down to a mixture of things.

I hate not having control.

I don’t understand how it works.

I hate the sensation of flying.

I dread the turbulence. And I hate the dreading.

It goes on.

So Pad told me to start researching how a plane works. To help me understand. So I could understand exactly what all the sounds were that scared me so much. So I could change my outlook of flying, to a positive one instead of a negative one.

I don’t know why I’d never thought of it before honestly. I feel a bit foolish for never typing into Google “How does a plane stay in the air” or “tips for fearful flyers” but I never had before that night. Which is stupid. Because there are so many people out there with the same fear (1 in 6 apparently) and they are all there, online offering advice.

So now, I know how a plane stays up. It’s something to do with lift, and the way the air glides over the wings of the plane – which creates different pressure levels. And that makes me feel a bit better.

I also know that whilst turbulence is a discomfort – it isn’t dangerous, and the planes are designed to with-stand it and they are designed to be strong and safe in turbulence.

I found this website…. www.askcaptainlim.com and I read through the FAQs and the forums and I can’t thank the guy who wrote it enough.

I read tips like, watching children’s television helps – because they distract you easily and are designed for short attention spans. I read that it helps to imagine turbulence as bumps in the road or like waves on a boat. I read that it helps to imagine the captain doing day-to-day things like brushing his teeth and driving to work. And then imaging him going home after the flight to his family and having tea. Because, although it isn’t to you – this flight is completely routine to him.

It’s helping now, just typing all this stuff out. 

So, last night when we boarded our plane to Hong Kong I was feeling OK. Not confident, not happy or excited – but OK. Which was enough for me at that moment in time. I told Pad, that during this flight I was going to be brave, and that I was going to cope. Which I did.

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Turns out, it was a blessing I found all that advice, and especially the website which I mentioned earlier – because this flight to Hong Kong was a particularly bad one. We actually descended into Hong Kong at night time through a Thunder Storm, probably the biggest thunder storm I’ve ever seen. My heart is beating harder in my chest just describing it. We could see lightening out of the window, bright and white. The turbulence was bad – very bad. At one point we dropped a considerable distance, and many people on board screamed.

But the entire time, I kept my head down, I kept my hands in Pad’s and I closed my eyes. I kept telling myself all the information I’d read the night before. I kept recounting it in my head over and over. I even said a few of the things out loud, as if that might make it more true and convincing.

But I didn’t cry. And I didn’t panic.

In fact, when we touched down, I had dry eyes and I even managed to smile. And then minutes later, I managed to laugh. I had trusted the captain, I had trusted the plane and I was OK. Yes it had been horrible and frightening – and even now I’m trying not to think about it – but I had been so brave.

I don’t think I’ve ever said this, but I was really proud of myself. I’d actually surprised myself with how brave I’d been.

So, I probably can do this. 

And because the World has a sense of humour (and maybe as a reminder to me to have one too in situations like this), after the flight had taxied to the airport I started to pack up my stuff from the little pocket in front of me where I keep my tablet and headphones, etc during the flight. I reached in, and I saw something small, red and yellow, stuffed in the bottom of the pocket and pulled it out. It had clearly been forgotten by the last person who sat there.

It was a super hero mask.

Maybe that’s all I needed all along. 

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Did you enjoy this post or find it helpful? If so I’d love if you could spare a second to vote for me in The Cosmopolitan Blog Awards 2014. Just click here to get to the voting site. Thanks a million!

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  • http://www.waegook-tom.com Tom @ Waegook Tom

    I totally feel you with your fear of flying. I’m sat in an airport right now, waiting to take my hmm….18th flight this year. I absolutely despise take-off, and always close my eyes and breathe deeply. I’ve found a couple of yelps involuntarily escaping my throat before, though.

    I read somewhere that when there’s turbulence, for every time you feel the plane go down, also count the up. Down-up-down-up-down-up. It makes me feel a LOT better. I always get to the airport pretty early too, as it eliminates a certain amount of stress if I can check in, go through security and wait, without having to rush around. I also love any airline that has a screen to distract me – anything to keep my mind off of flying.

    I’m still not a great flyer, but not as bad as I used to be. Congrats on overcoming your fear, step by step – although I think I’d have freaked out with that landing you had to endure in NZ!

    • Elle-Rose

      Hi Tom, thanks for the tips. I totally agree with you about the airlines with entertainment. Anything to keep your mind on something else. I’ve always thought that maybe flying business or first class would help too – because I think if I could just drop off to sleep – maybe I’d forget about the bumps. But that’s a long way in the future – maybe when we win the lottery or something :)

      The NZ flight was pretty bad, I was a bit of a wreck. People are always so willing to help though. The passengers around us were so supportive the whole time. One kept talking to me and chatting with us to try and distract me – the whole time. Another woman behind me, came up to me upon landing and asked if I was OK and wanted to check I was OK. So the kindness of strangers is always a brightside I guess in situations like this.

      Hope it gets easier for you too :)

  • http://www.BraveFlyer.com Mike

    Very nice article. For 10 years, I would not get on a plane. The finally I spent the last 4 years researching, interviewing (captains, fearful flyers, travelers, doctors, and most importantly, myself). The result was 100% success, I now fly with so much ease (no medication, no drinking..no nothing). Actually, I cant wait until my next trip, I feel like I missed so much due to the Fear of Flying I had.
    This subject is very close to my heart, so I ended up writing a book about it. It is available in many outlets, but Amazon has it also (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AK21XVI) . It is called ‘Brave Flyer: How to End Your Fear of Flying’.
    In it, it talks about all the common fears a typical Fearful flyer suffers from (Believe me, I know them all), and practical ways to get rid of each, step by step…along with hints and recommendations. It is straight from a former-fearful flyer to another. Not from an airline expert of therapist (who in both cases probably do not fear of flying and cannot relate)
    I wish all the best of luck…And just like I got over it, you can as well. And I recommend you do, because too much of life is missed if you do not fly!

  • http://www.amsterdamblog.co.uk Ashley

    I have a similar problem, and until 2 years ago I was sick on every single plane that I went on at least once. It all started when I was 9, and on a long haul flight to the US. I must have had some kind of bug, but from then on I associated flying with feeling sick, hot and clammy which really isn’t fun for any length of time. By 21, I ended up taking diazepam every time I flew to stop me panicking and feeling sick. When I went travelling I decided that I was going to stop taking it. I was sick, but only once on the first flight. The rest of the time I was fine, and now only occaisonally I get that sicky feeling and panic. (Usually in bad weather or turbulence) so I feel your pain.

    • Elle-Rose

      Hi Ashley! I totally agree – the turbulence is when I’m the worst too. Have you tried sitting in different parts of the plane? Apparently turbulence feels a little less bad depending on where you sit?

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  • http://Meganmoments.wordpress.com Megan A.

    I had always loved flying. Nothing about it bothered me, even when there was a bit of turbulence. That is until I also experienced a scary landing going into Queenstown! Maybe it’s just that airport? The small plane didn’t touch down squarely on it’s back wheels and I could feel the plane sway as it teetered between the two wheels. Ever since then I’ve had a hard time with landing.

    A coworker explained to me that an airplane captain feels the same way as a bus driver….they don’t necessarily feel all of the bumps the passengers in the back are, but they are up there driving this huge machine. That different perspective has helped me a bit.

    • Elle-Rose

      Hi Megan :) Thanks for commenting! I did a bit of research on Queenstown airport and apparently it’s a special classified type of airport that requires extra training!

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