Coping With A New Travel Fear

Airplanes airport

I love to fly, I really do. I enjoy being in a plane, the service, the entertainment; everything really. Thanks to my partner (who is aviation obsessed) I have also learned a lot about the industry and am a junior level aviation geek. I know just enough to be dangerous, but to also really enjoy it. I never had an issue with flying until a few years ago, on a flight that sort of changed the flying experience for me.

I was flying into Dublin for a long weekend escape. It was my first time in Ireland and I was excited. As we approached the airport the pilot came on to let us know that the winds were exceptionally strong and that while most flights were being diverted to England, we were given the go ahead to try to land. When you’re in a plane these are not terms anyone wants to hear, but aviation is not a democracy and before I knew it we were all strapped in and getting ready for the big event. We had great seats and in front of us the flight attendants sat directly opposite. They were ashen. Gone was the normal flight attendant banter, nothing but fear radiated on their faces. They stared down at the shoes – transfixed – with a slight tremble in their hands and quiver in their voices. Once again, not what passengers want to experience during a flight.

As we made our final approach, coming in for the landing I could feel the wind start to take over and we were tossed around like a toy. Back and forth, it didn’t seem possible that we would be able to level out for a proper landing. I really thought that was it, I thought that we were going to land and roll wing over wing. The physics may not have even allowed for that, but that was my fear as mere seconds were left before we would land or something else. Somehow, above all odds (at least in my mind) we landed on point, right side up no worse for the wear. The color returned to the faces of those trained professionals opposite me, and they led the cabin in a rousing round of applause. The noise was deafening and the relief washed over the passengers in an audible exhalation of air.

We’d done it, we survived. Afterwards the flight attendants leaned over to me and said, “That was pretty risky.” Yet another thing one shouldn’t tell passengers, especially recently terrified ones. While frightening, that singular moment wasn’t enough to turn me into a more cautious flyer. But it made me more frightened of common occurrences like turbulence. With each new experience, including one flight where we dropped what felt like thousands of feet in just a few minutes, that fear increased.

Today I still love flying; I still enjoy each and every time I climb on board a plane, ready to depart for a new adventure. But if anything, anything, outside the ordinary happens, especially turbulence, I’m a mess. I don’t scream or cry, but I am truly and sincerely terrified. In fact, I’m writing this during one of those encounters to help get my mind of off things.

None of us are static creatures, we’re always evolving, for better or for worse. Sometimes that means adding some unnecessary stress into our lives, including fears. But those fears don’t have to define us or even dictate what we do. But I did want you all to know that even someone who flies all the time can sometimes be scared of it. That’s not the challenge, the challenge is knowing that I’ll be scared and still offering myself up to it. Why? Because even though it can sometimes be scary, most times it’s not and it’s always worth it in the end.

Does anything about travel scare you sometimes?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

8 thoughts on “Coping With A New Travel Fear”

  1. I know what you mean I am the same – I have flown so many times and I have never been comfortable on any of the flights since I had a bad turbulence experience. Still get on the things but very relieved when the flight is over! great read!

  2. I definitely understand where you are coming from. My fear of flying is my biggest obstacle to traveling, though I still do it when necessary. Fortunately, I really enjoy long train rides.

  3. I can relate, to a certain extent. I’m generally not a fearless flyer. I’ve taken off and landed, without incident, over 1,600 times in my life now. Most weeks, I do it 2-4 times, and that’s been going on for nearly a full decade now. Yet, there are times, when even I get a bit nervous. I’ve seen that look on the face of flight attendants that says “This isn’t normal” a few times, and it’s frightening. I was probably giving it right back to them when it has happened, too.

    I did have one incident in 2007 that had me calling my mother and my future partner (we had just been dating a couple of months). I was flying home from work in Lubbock, Texas that week, in a fully loaded CRJ-200, a plane that’s not exactly known for being a great performer when loaded down. It was a hot, windy day, and Lubbock is high enough in elevation where hot, windy conditions can start to negatively impact takeoff performance. We started to lift off, didn’t climb much, and then I felt the wheels touch the runway again, then lift off, then touch again, and lift off a third time. By that point, the flight attendant was visibly concerned, and I was instinctively bracing for what I expected to be a rough skid off the runway and into the cotton field at its end. Fortunately that wasn’t necessary, as after the second bounce, we had enough speed and stayed airborne, for a very slow, laborious climb. Of all the times I’ve sat in an emergency exit row, that’s the only time when I thought, “I may actually have to open this thing.” Fortunately I didn’t. It did take a few weeks before takeoffs became routine for me again.

  4. It’s still the safest way to travel with a miniscule miniscule miniscule number of people actually being hurt or killed every year compared to the number of people who fly. I’m much more reticent to get into a car than I am a plane.

    And I once had an horrendous flight going into North Carolina, where the pilot could only get the wheel on the right hand side of the plane to hit the runway and couldn’t get the left hand side of the plane down as the wind was so bad. He then had to increase speed and do another take off from just one wheel. Never felt or heard anything like it, but he managed it. Amazing what these pilots can do.

    Even more amazing was the calmness in his voice as, after we went back up in the air, he came on the intercom system and calmly said “Sorry about that folks. We’re going to try it again, but coming in from a different direction and on a different runway” :)

  5. I recently shared a row with a guy who was genuinely terrified of travel. He was a reasonable guy but as soon as we were airborne he was terrified. Terrified that the wings were going to fall off and we’d plummet to earth. He knew it wasn’t particularly rational. He was shaking and covered in sweat and had trouble breathing. I felt so bad for the guy. It got to a point where I was mentally rehearsing tackling him in case he decided to bolt for the emergency exits while we were up in the air.
    The woman beside him talked to him calmly and that seemed to help. When we landed for a stopover she got up and polled the other rows for medication. She was an MD. She scored a Valium and he took it. He was still terrified for the next leg, but physically much, much calmer.
    It really gave me some insight into what it’s like to have a flying phobia. Poor guy.

  6. Ha, I feel pretty similarly. I love getting on the plane, I love long haul flights where you watch movies, eat, drink, try to sleep and end up somewhere far away and exciting. But turbulence ALWAYS makes me nervous. And from other people’s stories I don’t think I’ve been on a particularly bad one but I still seem to have at least one moment where I’m like “this is it, isn’t it??” But of course no one else around me seems concerned so I try to focus on my book or movie. I’m also a huge horror fan but refuse to watch anything like that on a plane once I realized that it was making me more nervous. It’s kind of ridiculous but it doesn’t keep me from going anywhere. I still love to travel!

  7. I have a friend that I’ve traveled with to different surf spots around the world and we both love turbulence. It’s like an amusement park ride when the plane is jumping, dropping, swerving. We enjoy the moment since being on a plane is like being on a boat in the middle of the ocean… you can’t simply get off because you are scared, sick or whatever. My thing is, the pilots aren’t going to take an unnecessary risk with THEIR lives.

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