High 5: Techniques to tackle fear of flying

August 20, 2013



The woman in 4A bent over in the brace position, pleading with God? That’s me, on any flight I take that encounters a bout of turbulence lasting longer than 20 seconds. This is it, number’s up – just as I’d imagined it, over and over again, in the ten or so sleepless nights leading up to the flight. Don’t tell me it’s air pockets and that it’s just like a car going along a bumpy road. Don’t tell me that the stewardesses are still wheeling their trolleys up the aisle and gossiping about the antics of last night’s stopover. And definitely don’t tell me this is statistically the safest form of travel and I’ve a greater chance of dying from eating a Custard Cream. You’re right, I acknowledge it, but right now I’m too busy dying to care.

If this is you, too – and there are plenty of us out there (one in six people, apparently), here are five ways to ease your angst, ordered in their severity of approach, from delicate to drastic:

Bach and breathe
People swear by ‘Rescue Remedy’. It’s completely natural and can be bought at Boots. Made up of five flower essences (Rock Rose for panic, Impatiens for irritation and impatience, Clematis for inattentiveness, Star of Bethlehem for shock and Cherry Plum for irrational thoughts), it’s Dr Bach’s magic mix for moments of stress, to help you stay balanced through life’s bumpy situations. Concentrating on and calming your breathing can really help, too, if your fears begin to escalate and you feel that you are in danger of losing control.

Easy(Jet) does it
Like me, you might not care about the reassuring facts when you’re in panic mode, but empowering yourself beforehand, with knowledge, can conquer fear. easyJet runs frequent Fearless Flyer courses (£179 pp) across the country, hosted by Lawrence Leyton from Channel 4’s ‘Fear of Flying’ show. A senior Captain explains all the noises you hear during a flight, why your plane won’t crash into another plane, and why – even if the cabin crew sits down mid-service – it’s not curtains. The course also provides mind-altering, negativity-banishing techniques and the opportunity to practice these during an ‘Experience Flight’.

Dutch courage
OK, so if you can’t be helped by nature or knowledge, hit the bottle! I mean, I’m not suggesting you get so drunk you’re not even aware which gate you’re at (they won’t let you on in such a state, anyway). But a stiff brandy or two an hour before boarding will certainly make you care less about crashing. If your flight’s at five in the morning (not sure even Gatwick’s South Terminal is in alcoholic mode by then), BYO, discreetly mixed into a bottle of Coke. I’m not an advocate for irresponsible behaviour, but either you want to make this holiday, or you don’t.

Prescribed peace
Next stop: your GP. For a valid anxiety relating to flying, most doctors will prescribe a one-off, small dose of Valium (or similar). I can highly recommend this. After 5mg, I’m skipping onto the plane. The downside is that it does seem to put me into consumer overdrive: I’m buying up books (I’ll never read) by the armload in WHSmith, and flexing my Boots card, big time. And, mid-flight, it gives me the munchies. I’ll eat every morsel of my own, generally inedible in-flight meal – and that of my family’s. Give you amnesia, too, these pills. Be prepared to lose the first 24 hours of your trip.

Opt out
If your anguish about flying is going to outweigh the benefit of your break, it might be best to cut yourself some slack, holiday nearer to home, and get yourself sorted with some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy before considering your next flight. OK, so you can forget that image of yourself basking, Bounty ad-esque, on some exotic beach – you’re not going to make it to the Maldives this summer. But France, Spain, Italy even, are do-able by car, train or ferry. You’re not saying you’re never going to fly again – you just need time, and some professional help, to confront this problem with more than a quick-fix method.

Mischa Mack