There’s nothing like being scared of flying to make a passenger exceptionally committed to scrutinizing aircraft. As a flight-phobic travel professional on the road roughly two-thirds of the year, I’m continually faced with hyping myself to get on yet another airplane that’s new to me. Despite the inherent stress of doing so, I’ve learned a lot about which airplanes are more or less likely to ease the travel experience for nervous flyers like myself.
The emotions surrounding flying are always going to be an individual journey, but for anyone hesitant to fly or unsure of how to navigate the aircraft marketplace, so to speak, I want to lend my experience and help make the decision-making process a little easier. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of aircraft that can help make the flying experience a little easier on anxious passengers.
“Two factors contribute to a passenger’s comfort on a plane: the aircraft itself and the configuration of the passenger seats on the plane,” explains Peter Vlitas, Travel Leaders Group Senior Vice President of Airline Relations.
1) Boeing Dreamliner 787-9
Larger aircraft are generally going to be the most comfortable, in the same way that a bus is less affected by potholes than smaller road vehicles. The Dreamliner, my personal favorite among all the long-haul flyers, is actually somewhat smaller than its competitors, but Boeing’s emphasis on technology, like having a lightweight carbon fiber fuselage, makes it the winner for me. Vlitas explains, “the cabin air pressure in a Boeing 787 is equivalent to an altitude of 6,000 feet versus 8,000 feet for most other aircraft,” meaning that the atmosphere is less stressful on the physical body. Their electronic window shades and mood lighting help to combat jet lag while a sense of whimsy to cut through the anxiety of flying. The way this plane enhances the passenger experience is why Turkish Airlines chose to purchase 30 new Dreamliners, according to Mr. Ilker Ayci, the airline’s Chairman of the Board and the Executive Committee.
2) Airbus A380
The Airbus A380, which Vlitas describes as “majestic” is another great choice for long distance flying. “It has very elegant takeoff and landing,” which is important for anxious travelers, since that’s when the flight feels the most variable. The interior is in line with its graceful ground behavior. “It’s quiet and spacious and people feel more comfortable in the larger setting,” Vlitas adds. For the stats-minded nervous flyer, it’s worth noting that the A380, in addition to the Dreamliner, have never experienced a passenger fatality.
3) Bombardier CRJ700/900/1000 regional jet family
Long-hauls have the benefit of requiring larger aircraft to make it across oceans, but us anxious flyers need options for getting around domestically, too. Bombardier’s jets are typically used for shorter flights operating on behalf of the larger airlines, like Delta, United, and American Airlines. 2016 saw the manufacturer refurbishing their aircraft, creating a more spacious entry and overhead bins, bigger windows, new seats and toilets, and improved lighting. Best of all, Bombardier’s trio of CRJ aircraft channel their Canadian heritage by humbly boasting a fatality-free record.
4) Boeing 717
The tale of this aircraft is almost like a love story: formerly disregarded to the point of ceasing production, the 717 was unpopular and no one wanted it. This was around the same time that Delta Airlines was regularly the butt of jokes regarding airline service. Yet when these two outcasts found each other, magic happened. Delta is now rated the best United States airline, and this fatality-free plane is most commonly found in the Delta fleet, in addition to being in high demand from other airlines. As specs go, every seat has a charger and USB port, so there’s no chance of anxiety caused by draining batteries. Passengers report an exceptionally smooth ride, almost like being in a flying sports car, ideal for people wanting as little turbulence as possible.
5) Cessna 208 Caravan
This aircraft is far from the top of the Safest Planes list, but it does offer a benefit for combatting flight anxiety the rest don’t: you can sit in the co-pilot’s seat. Doing no more than coping with flying-induced fear is totally valid, but for those in a place where they can begin to move past their fear, getting to see how planes work demystifies them, creating a sense of control that combats anxiety. During my first flight on Tropic Air in Belize, I ended up in the co-pilot’s seat of this aircraft just by accident. I was so terrified of flying in a small-seater propellor plane, yet when I landed I couldn’t remember what it was I found so scary, forever reducing my fear of flying. It helps that most of their flights are around 15-20 minutes, so it’s not a huge commitment to try out a seemingly-scarier aircraft.
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