I’m… I’m… I’m… afraid of flying

It brings me no joy to admit this, but at the same time I consider blogging to be therapy of sorts, and when I post here about something that’s bothering me it instantly makes me feel better. As regular readers know, a couple of weeks ago I had what I called “the Royal Jordanian flight from hell.” I shared further thoughts a few days later and was surprised that my feelings towards flying still hadn’t changed.

Well, I’m currently enroute to South America and am just on a run of the mill domestic flight on American from Seattle to Dallas. This is my first trip since the one that contained my Royal Jordanian flight, and I’m simply in disbelief at my fear of flying.

During takeoff my palms were sweaty and I held my breath just a little. When we hit clear air turbulence I closed my eyes and held onto the armrests.

I don’t know what to do. I’ve flown 2.5 million miles and have never been scared. I understand how airplanes work, understand how safe they are, and aviation is what I love more than anything else. But somehow the feeling of helplessness that I felt for the first time on Royal Jordanian has stuck with me. If I were sitting in the cockpit jumpseat on these flights I’d feel totally at ease, but the feeling of hopelessness is overpowering when I’m on the other side of the cockpit door.

Will my fear go away with a time? Should I take some sort of a “fear of flying” course (not sure that’ll help since I know and can process everything they’re going to tell me)? Has anyone else been in a similar situation?

Gosh, I hope this goes away fast, or else this blog will be about driving. And I really don’t want to have to start researching gas station cash back credit cards. 😉

Filed Under: Travel
  1. You’ll be fine. This will go away.

    You’re paying too much attention to your body’s reactions right now.

    And if it doesn’t get better on its own, seek out one of the many specialists who are pretty effective with this sort of thing.

  2. Usually, this should go after a couple of flights. It´s a human reaction. The same way you need some time to fall in love again after you breakup. You need to feel safe again. It will take some time, but not much. You just need to recover your confidence. If at some moment you think it´s getting worse, then take one of those courses and talk with an expert about your experience.

    Some meditation and deep breathing could also help while on flight. Besides helping you in your every day life.

    BTW, you´re lucky. To live an experience that reminds you that you are mortal, can be a life changing shift. In a good sense. You´re still young. Just enjoy every breath.

    Is this too much? 😉

    Good Luck, @lucky and keep up the great work.

    PS: I want to read the “new american” reports!!!!! 😛

  3. I think after a few turbulent flights it’s pretty normal to feel not at ease. You’ll be back into it in no time.

  4. It will pass. I was a pilot long before I ever flew as a passenger, and for the first dozen or so flights in the back I was frightened because I was not in control. Gradually you relax because you trust the crew. Of course, there are a few airlines where the crew is not trustworthy, so that’s white knuckle time all the way

  5. I wouldnt wish that Jordanian experience on anyone. Sorry to hear you’re still shook up. Hopefully you’ll be more like Maverick than Cougar.

  6. @Anita is right, you’re overly aware of your reactions right now. And that is completely normal. It will get better after you take a few smooth/calm fights and get back into a rhythm.
    Are you on the same type of plane as the RJ flight? I had a terrifying flight on a Q400, and while I was relatively calm during it, it wasn’t until I boarded the same plane for the return flight that I realized how scared I was to fly again. I’ve since exclusively flown a different airline on that route because they use 737s, and have flown happily and calmly all over ever since.
    Take a breath, enjoy the view out the window, and remind yourself how cool it is that we can fly across the world in a matter of hours. 🙂

  7. I had a similar experience…had flown countless times and then from Dublin to London in a snowstorm (all flights before and after this one random flight were cancelled) I realized “this plane might go down and I have no say in it.” After that I realized that there are tons of moments like that. It’s our fault if we don’t ensure all is in order before those moments. Enjoy the gift, tell the ones you love about that, appreciate your life, and then realize that airlines are one of the safest ways to travel. You’re not bothered by the risk, but rather the lack of control and come to gribs with turning things in your life over to others. You’ll be better off.

  8. I think you’re having a very human response.

    It might help to look at your Royal Air Jordanian this way: Nothing terrible happened. You returned safe and sound, just a bit shaken up. It’s a testament to how safe flying is that despite the extreme turbulence you encountered no one was injured and the plane arrived without any damage.

    Life is full of close calls. There simply is not enough time in life to worry about them all.

  9. You were in a red cell for 30 minutes and walked away unscathed. See, even in extraordinary conditions it worked out ok.

    Look at it this way, you’ve tried a huge percentage of the premium cabins available with easily collectible miles in the US. This gives you some different stuff to blog about.

  10. Normal to have some anxiety after your traumatic experience. As others have said, it will get better in time. I’ve read some good advice that helps to cope with this. When feelings of doom drift into your mind, just say Next! or my favorite – Silly Thought Alert! Because face it, the fear is unreasonable.
    You are more likely to become Kate Upton’s next boyfriend than to be in a plane wreck. Now if you DO become Kate’s next boyfriend, then I think you owe all your loyal followers an introduction (and only then should your fears be validated!). Happy flying!

  11. Lucky – I’m so sorry to hear you’re going through this! I had a horrible experience leaving Mexico City back in 2003 – lightening strike on takeoff with a simultaneous volcanic eruption and a nose dive and emergency landing. It took 1.5 years and about 150,000 butt-in-seat miles to get over the painic attacks. All I can say is the odds are in your (our) favor and try Xanax, it worked for me! You’ll get over it eventually, I know I did!!! Best of luck and keep flying!

  12. I just got caught up on the Royal Jordanian post…and I have to tell you, I’d be the same way.

    When I was younger, I flew through/over some severe thunderstorms with horrible turbulence. To this very day, that experience still affects me to a point.

    I can be perfectly okay on a flight, but there are times when I just completely freak the f*** out and there’s not enough anti-anxiety meds/meditation/happy place/calming thoughts in the world to make me let up on my white-knuckle grip! Mostly it’s brought on by bad turbulence, but even the slightest bump can bring on an “attack” with me. My travel companion (most recently my Mom) tries to calm me, but when it’s severe, there’s no calming me until it’s done and over with.

    Granted, as years go by, it gets better, but that experience still lingers with me.

  13. Good thing to post about it, respect!
    It’s pretty normal that you have such a reaction. In the end it’s only you and your mind that makes the difference. Do not put much energy in it, that only makes the issue bigger.Keep flying. Realize that even with the RJ flight it ended well.It’s like after a car crash….and you realise that that car is just sheet metal and plastic. Get in and drive and soon you will be okay. Keep flying and take a few flights soon. For most people that will work. Only if it gets worse, get help. My guess is you’ll be fine/better after the next few flights. Don’t worry to much, you’re pretty normal!

  14. I think you just need to get smashed on a few more EK First legs, then you’ll be right as rain! 🙂

  15. similar to what many others have mentioned, i often get vertigo when flying and it is usually out of the blue and without any flight stimulus. I can’t speak for you, but it always passes, like you seems to be a lack of control.

  16. I survived UA811 in the late eighties.It took me 7 years to fly up front again and never over a cargo door. For over 10 years the “Dragon Ladies” whom I love over looks any day, could pick the regulars on this flight “You guys, jump, higher,faster, quicker and how can you belt your belt is so tight”. Once out of AKL captain announces severe weather on take off on taxi out, “what’s your favourite liquor”, scotch, FA brings the bottle and straw as she can’t give me a glass yet. Didn’t have to ask, still don’t fly some airlines, never fly their in storm/moon soon/hurricane season. The more you fly after the better but you are never as relaxed, I certainly drink on board!

  17. After commuting weekly for six months interstae in oz, I suddenly went through a similar experience …it’ll pass but it did take quite a few months 🙁

  18. it will never quite go away. each time there is turbulence, you’ll remember. it might even hit you at strange times.

  19. Lucky – how about this. Go have a look at that SEA-DFW flight on flightaware and look at the minute by minute altitude pings around the time of the clear air turbulence. I suspect you won’t see much in terms of altitude change (to the low side). Perhaps this will give you the confidence to know that although it feels rough – that you actually experienced very little in terms of altitude loss – therefore not increasing the chances of unintended ground contact at all.

  20. This is such a disappointing post.

    First, a few weeks ago, you do what most of the general public do and presume to know what was going on with your flight. You weren’t on the flight deck and so you have no clue.

    Now you do what the general public do and, ignoring the fact that flying is extremely safe, go on about how you’re afraid of it.

    A hint: If you do want to pass your pilot’s checkride and become a pilot, one thing you need to be able to do is think completely rationally.

  21. Well, I’ve had an unpleasant experience during a flight and I’ve been afraid ever since. It has been 15 years now. I still fly a lot, but I cannot enjoy it and have to take medication to help. I’m of an anxious nature, so you might end up doing fine. If not, I suggest some sort of therapy (which I’ve never done, go figure).

  22. Weird advice, but exercise helped me. Cardio exercise out in the sun, and upper body weight training. It made my body stronger and better help me get past all the automatic reactions my body had. Then it was getting more and more flights under my belt…

  23. Mike Smith – if it was that easy, no one would be afraid of flying. No one would be afraid of anything, really.
    Even pilots can start developing such fear.
    So please think twice before posting such an arrogant comment.

  24. I had a similar experience about 15 years ago. Lost an engine on takeoff out of ATL. I haven’t been able to shake my dread of sitting through a takeoff. Like you, my fear hasn’t stopped me from flying regularly but contrary to what others have said you might never get over it…for me it was just one of those defining events in my life. Fortunately, my love of travel has been able to trump my fear to date.

  25. I think that instead of focusing on your fear of flying, you should address your fear of dying — that’s really what you’re afraid of. We’re all going to die, so let it go. Obviously, most people require some form of therapy (professional, friends, religious…) in order to be able to do that.

  26. I always hate takeoffs and try to sleep during them. Sometimes I have no fear and other times I get completely nervous at turbulence or bad weather. I think it’s natural and just something I have come to deal with.

  27. You can now start trip reports reviewing Amtrak and Greyhound. I can see some headlines now.

    How to avoid sitting next to the junky with a briefcase full of needles

    Compare how many people you can fit into the shower of a sleeper car vs the A380.

    Bus Stop Reveiws can include Vending machine food reviews and rating Lot Lizards and how not to get crabs.

  28. Most of the posts here are right on. Unfortunately, you can’t go home again, so to speak, because of the Royal J experience. You now know what is possible up there. The best thing to do is stay in the air. I had a similar experience to yours and ended giving up flying for about 7 years, and it made getting back up all the more difficult.

    There is self-hypnosis, Xanax, booze (I don’t think a course would be of much value except for learning self-calming techniques), but my guess is you will never be able to smile through moderate turbulence agin, because you know how scary it can get up there.

    I still am incredulous that those HK controllers would hold an airplane in that level of turbulence. They put thousands of people that day through an experience that scarred folks for life.

    Part of getting older is gaining the maturity to know what not to fear, but unfortunately also the knowledge that there’s some pretty horrifying experiences out there.

  29. i went through a period were i was flying ATA from MDW to LGA frequently during college. needless to say i didn’t put much trust in the airline nor their ancient 737’s and developed a bit of a fear of extended turbulence. Got really aware of altitude changes / changes in vertical acceleration. overall a bit silly but hey, it’s how i felt.

    gone now, i’ve learned to laugh it off / explain away those things given the number of flights i’ve been on where they have been of no consequence.

  30. Co-worker of mine was on AA 1420 when it crashed in LIT in 1999. He still flies now, but I’m sure it wasn’t easy to get back on a plane. Jut give it some time.

    Besides- switching to a driving blog you’d be much more likely to have a crash. 🙂

  31. I’m somewhat of a nervous flyer when it comes to taking to the air and although people often suggest xanax or alchohol I tend to shy away from both. Looking out the window has often helped when it’s smooth and then closing the window when it’s not. Either way for us nervous flyers it’s unfortunately not going to get better as a recent scientific journal article published on Monday predicts turbulence over the Atlantic to increase dramatically by 2050 (likely world wide as well): “In a paper published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, Joshi and colleague Paul Williams ran a climate simulation that cranked up the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to twice its pre-industrial level — roughly 50 percent more than now. Williams said they ran a series of turbulence-predicting algorithms for the North Atlantic winter period and compared the results to pre-industrial rates…the results showed a 10-to-40 percent increase in the median strength of turbulence and a 40-to-170 percent increase in the frequency of moderate-or-greater turbulence. He described the latter as shaking that is “strong enough to force the pilot to switch on the seat-belt sign, knock over drinks, and make it difficult to walk.”…The explanation is that some models predict that global warming will draw the jet stream further north, creating more of the vertical wind shear that causes turbulence.”

    At this point theres nothing more we can do but prepare ourselves as best we can mentally because as science has proven, things wont get better.

    Safe flying to you all the more!

  32. Go get one of those damned ugly dogs all the blogger “guys” have now and call it your emotional support dog.

  33. Like the Airborne soldiers who have a bad jump, the cure is to go back up and jump as soon as possible. Getting your doctor to prescribe a small amount of lorazepam would be a good safety valve to get you over the hump.

  34. @duncan – Wow, I wasn’t familiar with that flight, but found that Wikipedia has a good entry. I’m glad you’re still with us! Lucky’s scary flight doesn’t even compare to something like that.

    Here’s the link:
    You probably shouldn’t click that if you’re already a nervous flyer.

  35. @Jason Best part of story: The accident was most likely caused by improper wiring and deficiencies in the door’s design. Unlike a plug door which opens inwards and essentially jams against its frame as the pressure outside drops, the Boeing 747 was designed with an outward-hinging door which, while increasing capacity, required a locking mechanism to keep the door closed. Deficiencies in the design of wide-body aircraft cargo doors were already known since the early 1970s from flaws in the DC-10 cargo door.[3][4] Despite the warnings and deaths from the DC-10 incidents, and early Boeing attempts to solve the problems in the 1970s, the problems were not seriously addressed by the aircraft industry and the National Transportation Safety Board until much later.
    @Labber If you had been a caregiver for a two time leukemia patient with two bone marrow transplants you probably would have a greater appreciation of lorazepam…..

  36. Have you ever been in a car accident? Or even seen one on the side of the road that was really bad? That experience tends to make people nervous about driving, but it always fades with time. Similarly, whenever I get a speeding ticket (which is rarely), I am extra aware of my speed for a period of time, but then eventually that fades (not sure if that’s a good thing or not).

    Until then, there are definitely ways to cope (other people have mentioned them), but the anxiety won’t bother you eventually.

    Also, have you reached out to RJ yet? I really think getting some sort of closure on this would be helpful.

  37. As Gerard Butler said in the awful inflight movie, Chasing Mavericks, fear is healthy, panic is deadly. Write a three page essay on what you’re afraid of so you can reflect and learn from it.

    Hey, Gerard Butler can’t be wrong, can he?

  38. You will be fine, nothing to worry about!
    Hey pilots do this for a living, and they have small children and wives. If it was that dangerous, nobody would be doing this for a living. So get a couple of champers and enjoy the flight. We will be eager to read your fascinating reports.

    PS: I think it is that Diet coke + Krug…they dont mix well. Stick to Krug !

  39. My cousin survived Singapore flight 006. He didnt fly again for 2 years, so your lingering fears are understandable. He was a million miler at the time, averaging 8-10 TPACS a year and several more domestic trips.

  40. Oh stop the whinging! You had a flight with a more than normal turbulence event. It didn’t crash, you landed safely, no one was hurt. In other words, a good flight. If it is too much for you, rename this blog, “One Greyhound Mile at a time” and change your mode of travel. Suck it up princess! And yes, I’ve had a flight like yours and I’m still flying.

  41. You need cognitive behavior therapy. Everyone else will say brush it off or you’ll get over it, but the narrative in your head is now flawed. You have flight anxiety and it won’t go away without therapy.

  42. It’s understandable that you’re having flashbacks to the Royal Jordanian flight. My guess is that in a few more weeks — once you’ve clocked another 10,000 miles or so — you’ll be over it.

  43. After your experience and the after shocks of it you can start to imagine what our troops coming back from the Gulf are experiencing and the challenges they face in leading a new normal life………

  44. I found diazepam (Valium) more helpful than alprazolam (xanax).
    My fear wasn’t from any incident, but just showed up over the course of a few flights. Then went away after about a year or two. It helped when I found that the Valium helped. It was like knowing that I didn’t have to feel that fear (because I’d found something to make it go away) that freed me from it. I’ve been fine with no drugs for years now. I also told the flight attendant once and having her check in on me helped hugely as well.
    Good luck, I think you’ve got a bigger challenge than I had. Thanks for sharing your story, it makes me feel better to know incidents like your rj flight happen but even they turn out ok the vast vast majority of times.

  45. acknowledge it (any fear), live it, breathe it, feel it, learn from it and move on. educate your mind; fact vs fiction. visit nasa aeronautics; one of man’s most miraculous inventions ever and the complexity and sophistication of the entire industry is a wonder. GENIUS, from space, to today’s aircraft to air traffic control!
    bottom line – what, in your life, do you really have control over ?
    enough babble…get back on the horse and LIVE~!

  46. Thunderstorms with turbulence have about 1g. Modern plans are designed to withstand 2.5g’s.
    Science sometimes helps more than statistics.

  47. Lots of great advice here…

    Ignore what your body is doing, think about something that relaxes you and..

    Also, ativan (lorazepam) + alcohol.

  48. @adam you can’t judge the HK controllers. You have no idea what what the reason was. It could’ve been perfectly valid. @william Turbulence would increase if global warming wasn’t just the biggest scandal after climategat

  49. @Adam You can’t judge the HK controllers without knowing the reason. @william turbulence would be worse if global warming wasn’t just the biggest climate scandal ever, even bigger than climate gate

  50. Hi,
    I’ve been helping people to overcome their fear of flying for almost 20 years. Most travelers are anxious about turbulence so this year I created an app to help reduce anxiety during turbulence.
    The Android version is due to be launched this week.


    I was a pilot with British Airways for 28 years, just email or call me and I’ll give you all the support you need. +44 01420 588 628

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *