Go Back  FlyerTalk Forums > Community > Trip Reports
Reload this Page >

Delta Platinum, terrified of flying, looks for your advice

Delta Platinum, terrified of flying, looks for your advice

Old Apr 12, 11, 5:16 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2009
Programs: Delta Platinum / HHonors Diamond / Choice Diamond / Starwood Plat
Posts: 3
Unhappy Delta Platinum, terrified of flying, looks for your advice

My headline of this post sounds like that of a personals advertisement!

The majority of my time spent on FT is reading and I have not been posting much, but I come to you today looking for the advice of fellow frequent travellers. I apologise for the lengthy post but, if you have some time, I ask you give it a read and let me know your thoughts.

I travel a lot. I joke with friends and family that I'm on the road eight days a week. While Delta is my primary airline, I fly approximately 120 domestic segments a year. And I hate flying. I travel for work and love my job. It's a job that I excel at and love doing, truly, but one day I fear I might have to leave my job because of an inability to travel on planes anymore.

My fear is one not that the plane will crash, or one of terrorism, it's honestly the fear that some bad turbulence, "drop," or something like the recent Southwest flight will happen to my flight and I will have a heart attack and die while the plane will recover and land without any other injuries. I've been in some flights that I consider bad but know many or most of you have been in worse!

I remember a flight from DTW to LGA last year during which we flew through a strong thunderstorm. The storm was too wide to fly around it and the pilots warned the passengers that it would be rough and rough it was. I was sitting in first class, my head down, arms around my legs to prevent me from bouncing around and the woman next to me had her nails in my arm equally scared as the plane was bouncing, rocking, and the constant - 1 per second - flashes of lightning through the cabin had me praying for my life! While I'm taking a crude pulse reading [with my two fingers and counting the number of beats in ten seconds and multiplying by six] I noticed my pulse was over 180 bpm while I look over across the aisle and see someone working on their laptop, holding it down with their palms, intently focused on the Excel document he was working on.

As a side note, I'm a baby with a lot of things. I can't do roller coasters or those free fall things at carnivals and I'm sure most of my fear comes from (a) the lack of knowledge about what's going on outside or in the cockpit and (b) simply not being in control of the plane myself.

Now, I have a system before I board the plane.
1. I log in to FlightAware, even from my mobile, and track my flight prior to take off so I can see (a) exactly how long the flight is, (b) how long it's taken the same flight to travel in previous days, and (c) the weather radar for the ride to my destination.
2. I pull up USA Today's current weather map which shows pressures and fronts. I feel this gives me an adequate ability to predict turbulence. I recently travelled from PIT to PHL in between two strong, converging weather fronts and it definitely jarred me.
3. If the two previous things lead me to believe there's turbulence, I will search Twitter for tweets near me with "turbulence" to gauge what people are writing about their flights.
4. Take a Xanax, which usually doesn't do much to calm my nerves but does keep my heart rate a little more managable.
5. Pray.

But lately, it's become more stressful. After reading about the Southwest flight and even seeing the jolt those Comair passengers received after their CRJ was thrown by that A380 collision in JFK (looked akin to an auto crash in the video), I've gotten more nervous about flying and need some tips to stay sane in the air.

I won't fly on prop planes or E135/145s. I'll avoid CRJ200s wherever possible. I will rebook and not fly, even at penalty, if it involves flying through thunderstorms. I will only sit over the wings or in the front of the plane. I'll avoid drinking so that I don't have to use the washroom. I've read those "fear of flying" websites. I think about travelling on a bus while in flight. I look at the wings, which are supposed to give you a sense of balance, even if they're being flexed. It's bad!

I'd love to hear all your thoughts and suggestions! I almost wish there was a way to "put yourself out" for the duration of a flight (aside from drinking excessively of course)!

Hold all the criticisms if you would, I full acknowledge I'm a big baby.
modma is offline  
Old Apr 12, 11, 5:26 pm
Join Date: Apr 2011
Posts: 2
Honestly, I'm a lot like you. I got much better after attending a couple of "image relaxation" sessions at an alternative mental health clinic. I know it sounds a bit wacky, and I'm sure it doesn't work for everyone, but it helped me out a great deal, although I am still anxious/stressed to fly.

Some folks take comfort in the drugs that knock you out and/or calm you down. Again, maybe not for everyone, but possibly something to talk to your doctor about!
PDX_Austin is offline  
Old Apr 12, 11, 6:12 pm
Join Date: Apr 2010
Posts: 1
I was the same way for years! I got bounced around once in a private jet, and even since then, the slightest bit of turbulence has sent me into a complete panic! It is just now improving for me, 19 years later. I definitely take Xanax, sometimes even the night or two before the flight as well. It has been a Godsend. The best part is knowing that I won't actually panic, so that I don't have to panic about panicing! It has broken the whole cycle! Maybe your Dr can adjust your dose, or try a different med. Good luck!!
tbhorn is offline  
Old Apr 12, 11, 8:42 pm
Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: BOS, Latin America
Programs: AA Plat
Posts: 712
I feel very similarly. One thing that had helped me is to consider that all my worrying, my elevated heart rate, sweaty palms and clenched fists will have no outcome on the flight. I can go nuts worrying, but it won't change a thing.

I was on a flight from Denver to Jackson Hole through storms. I was so worked up that my chest physically hurt the following day -- I realized that I am actually hurting myself by stressing to such a degree. I try to tell myself now that (a) planes can take a massive amount of turbulence and have taken far more than I'll likely ever experience and (b) working myself up over the potential outcomes will have no impact on the outcome.

Good luck. I travel long haul mostly and can't imagine traveling shorthaul on a weekly basis. Also, have a drink -- it does help!
Ceasy is offline  
Old Apr 12, 11, 10:02 pm
Join Date: Jan 2006
Location: Michigan
Programs: DL DM 1MM
Posts: 5,555
At least turbulence reminds you to pray out to God.
skchin is offline  
Old Apr 12, 11, 10:11 pm
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: MSN
Programs: Delta Platinum Medallion, Accor Live Limitless Diamond
Posts: 207
Arrow You're not alone; some ideas

Modma, as you can see from the above posts, you're definitely not alone. In my teens and 20s, I was a fearless airline passenger, and loved flying on the Dornier 228s and Beech 1900s that I found myself on at least monthly. In my 30s, a string of scary flying experiences made me a very nervous flier for years. I came close to speaking to a therapist, but never got to it. The part of it I never understood was that, like you, it wasn't a fear of dying. In addition, I could never understand why I would be so scared, yet at the same time love planes so much and actually want to get a pilot's license. I am a lot better now, and while I'll still get spooked on some flights, those flights are becoming less and less frequent. The majority of my flights are now enjoyable (OK as long as Delta ACTUALLY remembers to load my vegetarian meal!).

So what has helped?

1. Actually getting the pilot's license. I don't expect you to do so, but knowledge is power, and I learned a lot from it that helped me be a better passenger. There's a lot you can learn without taking flying-lessons. I didn't keep the license for long, as my work and travel schedules made it impractical, but I'm so glad I did it. Fly a 30-knot crosswind landing in a Cessna 172, and you're a lot less worried when the DC9 pilot is doing it. You can appreciate his/her skill a lot more, too! It helped me understand so much more about airplanes and flying, as well as about safety and weather. More about that below.

2. There is a difference between an unsafe ride and an uncomfortable ride. @:-) This was one of the most practical lessons from my flight instructor that helped me as an airline passenger. We were getting absolutely spanked by some summer-afternoon turbulence, and I was getting a little tense at the controls, and he said, "Listen, this is uncomfortable, and you don't have to like it, but it's completely safe." A lightbulb went off, and I use that line a lot when my seatmate is clearly scared as our Airbus or CRJ is getting bounced around. It helps so much to acknowledge that we're uncomfortable, but that has nothing to do with us being safe or not.

3. Weather. It's a hobby, and I love it, and it's knowledge from my flight instruction that I use all the time. Read the textbook "Aviation Weather" by Peter F. Lester, published by Jeppesen. Use the flight to appreciate and identify some of the weather phenomena that you see. Use good weather resources, like www.aviationweather.gov. Learn how to read a TAF/METAR, and just wander around the website, and look up the turbulence and icing reports. See where to expect it. It's a lot different to get smacked around by turbulence unexpectedly that it is to say "Oh, we're starting to bounce; we must be over Indiana. This will go away once we get over Ohio." Similarly, use the onboard WiFi with FlightAware to see where you are, where you are going to turn, and to get into the rhythm of enjoying aviation-nerdiness. Referring to both FlightAware and aviationweather.gov will also teach you how well our professional pilots assimilate the necessary information and make plans with our safety in mind.

4. Weather and your comfort level. I learned as a private pilot that it's ultimately MY decision whether to fly in the conditions Mother Nature provided that day, and a lot of times, the right decision was not to fly. Our airline pilots make very careful, very well-researched decisions on whether to fly, as well, but don't forget that you, as a passenger, have a choice too. If I'm scheduled to connect in DTW, and there are thunderstorms all over Michigan, then I'll reschedule my flights to connect in MSP. I've also been known to move my flight by a day, in order to avoid weather I am not comfortable in as a passenger or pilot. You're a fellow-Platinum, so it's not too hard to change your flights, too.

5. Sedatives. I prefer the natural/herbal route, so I generally go with valerian root, which gives me good results if I need to take the edge off. Xanax is safe, too, but honestly, the risk of a side-effect from any of that stuff is higher than the risk of something happening with the plane. If you've got to evacuate the plane on the runway, and you're slowed-down because you've got Xanax on-board, I'm not sure how smart that is. Keep in mind, too, what risks the sedative will pose if you have to drive right after landing. I won't even touch valerian root if I have to hop in a rental car and drive.

6. Alternatives. Nearly as effective as the options in #5, above, are (don't laugh):
-a cup of tea. breathe the steam in deeply. sip slowly.
-a glass of wine. just watch the refills if you have to drive.
-deep breathing and/or meditation. anxiety has an awful positive-feedback-loop when you start breathing shallowly/nervously. break it with some deep breathing.
-put your head back and close your eyes for a while, even if not sleeping. breathe deeply and rhythmically.
-stretching, either in your seat or using the bulkhead. If I do stand up and stretch, I always ask the FA if it's OK to do so for a few minutes. This eliminates any suspicion about "crowding the galley" and gives them the opportunity to say something if they prefer us to be seated so they can let a pilot use the loo.

7. Communication. As I mentioned above, I never went to a therapist, though I came close. Instead, a flight that spooked the heck out of me led me to have a long, open conversation with my partner about my fears of flying, and he really helped me figure out a lot of it. The people who know you best can be very helpful here. I'd say I was probably about 50% better after that conversation alone. Occasionally, if I'm having a particularly nervous flight (and now I try to be introspective and decide where I am on a scale of 1 to 5, and acknowledge if I'm a nervous that day), if I've managed to chat up the FA, I'll mention to him/her that for some reason, I'm a nervous flier today. They've heard it a million times before and can be genuinely helpful.

8. Lending a helping hand. My least-nervous flights are the ones in which I'm reassuring a nervous seatmate that everything's fine, and explaining what is going on and what all those bumps and noises are. I learned that lesson when, at the height of my nervous-flying, I had to care for a sick passenger aboard the plane (I'm a surgeon), and flipped into doctor-mode, learned how much stuff is actually inside that first-aid kit (I swear I could do a facelift with what's in that bag), interacted professionally with the FAs, Medlink and one of the pilots, and did my job all the way to landing, not realizing until afterward that we flew through 2 lines of thunderstorms while all that was going on! Once my mind was on something more important, I let go of the flight-anxiety and let the pilots do their jobs, while I did mine.

9. Be positive. Find something about the flight that you like, no matter how silly. "Wow, that FA is super-nice." "These new CRJ-900s are really cool" "This glass of wine with SunChips really hits the spot!" Rest your head back, think about whatever little thing you are enjoying at the moment, and smile for a few seconds (and take some deep breaths, don't forget). It really helps the fear melt away.

These are just some off-the-cuff remarks, and I'm sure many fellow-FlyerTalkers will have more intelligent comments than me. We Plats are FAR from the most seasoned fliers on here!
msntriathlete is offline  
Old Apr 12, 11, 10:54 pm
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: HEF
Programs: Delta PM/2.9 MM; Hertz PC; National Executive Elite; Amtrak Guest Rewards; Marriott Bonvoy Gold
Posts: 4,348
I Love Delta Too, and I Too Get Scared Once in a While

The last truly scary episode on an airliner was on a Delta 747-400 LAX-NRT. Two fairly rough 15 minute stretches of turbulence over the Pacific Ocean, followed by a landing into 50 knot winds where the crew were instructed to belt themselves in for about the final 60 minutes of the flight.

I've been on two flights that unexpectedly dropped a few hundred feet; once on a Delta L-1011 circa 1989, LAX-ATL, in thunderstorm headers which exceeded 50,000 feet that we could not fly around; and a clear air turbulence situation on a New York Air (I can't remember whether it was an MD-80 or a DC-9-50) flight sometime in the mid 80s. We were enroute LGA-DCA, and overhead Baltimore getting ready to enter the pattern at DCA. The airline served beer in long neck bottles (they served free beer and wine and snacks in competition with the Eastern shuttle, which had no food or drink service); when the plane dropped, the beer shot out of the bottle like a rope and the liquid hit the ceiling.

I flew through violent turbulence overhead the eastern seaboard on a Delta 767-400 LHR-ATL that lasted 45 minutes; I wanted to crawl under my seat and hide there.

The worst of all time was on a TWA flight in the early 90s STL-SFO. I had got upgraded to business class (this was a 3 class 767) and was looking forward to the trip. It was in early March, and we were fighting massive headwinds of up to 200 knots. I think it took us almost 6 hours to fly less than 2000 miles. Probably 150-200 miles out of STL, a male flight attendant standing by door 1L was attempting to adjust the cabin lighting when the plane suddenly lurched due to a sudden and massive jolt of turbulence. Instead of adjusting the lights, he turned off all the lights on the plane. I thought it was all over and that the aircraft had broken apart; there were screams from passengers behind me. My heart started beating as fast as it ever did. Suddenly, Latin prayers I learned in Catholic school in the early 60s entered my head. The plane didn't break up, but we bounced from jolt to jolt, up and down, down and up, left to right, right to left, for at least 30 minutes after that. I prayed five decades of the Rosary and the Act of Contrition in that time. When we got to SFO, I wanted to get down on my knees and kiss the ground.

I love smooth flights and smooth beer. I hate holding a glass filled with any kind of liquid when the turbulence starts.

I've been on flights where the takeoffs were aborted (twice), where the landings were aborted and a fly around took place (twice), and where the landing gear originally wouldn't go down into landing position (once). I've never been as scared as I was on that TWA flight.
ND76 is offline  
Old Apr 13, 11, 10:32 am
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: BRU, DCA, ZRH, JNB, FRA
Programs: UA Global Services 2MM, DL 360, AmEx Cent, Bonvoy Titanium Lifetime, Moms love me
Posts: 5,052
Another thing I've heard people say is they enjoying flying United and having Channel 9 available. Hearing how calm the pilots stay manages to keep them calmer.
ironmanjt is offline  
Old Apr 13, 11, 3:55 pm
Join Date: Feb 2009
Location: Washington, DC
Programs: AAdvantage
Posts: 211
I used to be a flight attendant...

I have to say I used to hate turbulence just as much, if not more not long ago.

I worked as a flight attendant for 4 years.

I had a couple minor incidents (smoke in the cabin, engine shutdown, and medicals) in my short flying career and none of them really got to me. I'd sit on my jumpseat strapped in chatting it up with the FA's or reading a magazine while passengers faces were showing concern through rough turbulence and never thought anything much of it.

Two weeks before I was furloughed after the round of post 9/11 airline bankruptcies and such. I was working a flight into Dulles on a A319. We were just starting our initial decent and picking up trash in the cabin, when the airplane just literally drooooopped. You kind of learn the sounds and the feel of airplanes in different situations and at the moment all three of us knew "this is not normal!" All three of us fell on the floor from the drop and the violent pressure from the airplane lifting up. Lucky for me and the one other FA we just hurt our knees, nothing major. The one flight attendant on the back though fell on her back and was injured, and paralyzed (temporarily). As dramatic as it sounds in those few seconds I literally saw my life flash. It all happened so fast that I'm not sure if something tragic would've happened I would've had the time to actually realize what was happening. Once I crawled back to my jumpseat I told the flight attendant sitting next to me "I am going to QUIT, do you hear me? I'm going to QUIT this job when we land." The cockpit door was closed when we landed, so we never got to talk to the pilots about it. Inflight was waiting on the jetbridge to take us and fill out all this paperwork and some form of incident report. Afterwards we were pulled off our trip (we just had one leg remaining to Chicago), paramedics stayed with the one flight attendant when we landed. The mailman delivered my furlough notice that weekend. So I never found out what happened.

Anyway since then, I have never enjoyed flying like I used to. I HATE turbulence, and it immediately brings back the feeling that we will spiral down out of control. I know it sounds ridiculous but the fear is so real it takes the best of me.

The point of the story is I did some therapy and learned some exercises to help calm down my nerves, blood pressure, and thoughts (the most important part). This is something maybe you should look into. It's been extremely helpful, and I can say I feel more in control of my fear now a days.

Xanax (which is what I used to take to just get on the plane) will only cover up the real issue. Yes it will relax you and POSSIBLY temporarily inhibit the fear; but you are not dealing with the real issue.

This book also really helped me, and there are some very useful exercises in the book as well. Maybe this would be a good start for you:

flyldavid is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Search Engine: