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Top tips to beat your fear of flying

Around one-in-three of us has a fear related to flying, while one-in-10 of us has an actual phobia of flying.

But if you’re one of them, the good news is there are a number of steps you can take to help tackle these fears. So, having helped on courses designed to confront these anxieties, here are my top 10 tips to help get you out of the terminal and into the air.

1.   Acknowledge your fear

The first step to overcoming any fears you may have is to acknowledge that you have a problem in the first place. Do you find yourself coming up with excuses to avoid flying, such as problems with your ears due to pressure in-flight, or do you manage to get on board, but only with the aid of alcohol and tranquilisers? If so, you could be masking a fear of some sort – perhaps a fear of not being in control or even dying.

Knowing you have a problem and being determined to understand it and confront it will help you to overcome it.

2.   Understand your fear

The next step is to understand exactly what’s causing your fear. For some, their fear is triggered by the strange and unfamiliar noises associated with flying, which is underpinned by the notion that if you fly you are bound to crash and die. For others it’s the lack of control when in the hands of others or the fear of heights.

A great way to learn about your fear and to understand it is to read around the subject. There are a number of books that cover this topic, including Flying with Confidence: The Proven Programme to Fix your Flying Fears co-written by psychologist Patricia Furness-Smith and Captain Steve Allright from British AirwaysThe book covers the psychological issues many of us face when flying and is a great place to start.

If you want to learn more from Patricia you can read an extended interview with her here.

3.   Book a course

If your fear of flying is severe enough to prevent you from booking flights, it’s worth booking a course to help you overcome your fear. There is a range of courses available in the UK, from meditation classes or acupuncture through to individual courses, counselling and a flight accompanied by your own personal psychologist.

The longest running course in the UK is ‘Flying with Confidence’, backed by British Airways. More than 45,000 people have taken this course and the next one is on Saturday, November 9 at Heathrow.

4.   Learn to relax

One of the best things you can do to tackle the onset of anxiety around flying is to learn a series of mind and body techniques to help control your thought processes and to keep your breathing and general tension in check. Once you have mastered these, the next step is to learn when to put these techniques into practice. Patricia Furness-Smith, mentioned above, has recorded a handy CD to assist with this.

5.   Plan your flights

Plan your trip carefully so that you know every step of the journey and avoid any nasty surprises that could trigger your fears. So, for example, before booking your holiday, make sure you know the number of flights you will need to take and how long each flight will last.

Also ensure you leave plenty of time to get to airports or to transfer from one flight to another, use online services to familiarise yourself with airports and their layouts, and have printouts of all your travel arrangements to hand. It’s also a good idea to check-in online and plan how you will spend the time on board for your flight.

By taking these steps, the whole trip will be far less stressful.

6.   Inform booking agents and crew

When booking your flight, tell the airline you have been addressing a fear of flying, if possible. If this can’t be done, tell check-in and gate staff or the crew on board. A note can be placed on your booking which ensures the crew are aware you have anxieties and will be more than happy to keep a friendly and reassuring eye on you if things become a little too much while you are in the air.

7.   Book airlines with good entertainment systems or take your own

A great way to occupy yourself on board is with the TV, radio and games systems that many long haul airlines now offer. Alternatively, take your own personal media player, books, puzzles or any other entertainment you enjoy. This will help to distract you and pass the time inflight and while you are waiting at the airport to board.

8.   Eat the right food and drink

For many, taking a flight is a great excuse for a drink or two. And for some, it’s the only way they will get on board. But alcohol should be avoided at all costs. You should also avoid caffeine and heavy stodgy foods, sticking to plenty of water, fruit, salads and lighter bites instead. You will feel far better and recover faster from any side effects of a long flight such as jetlag.

9.   Familiarise yourself with airports

It’s a good idea to visit the airport before you fly so you get used to the surroundings. Even watching planes departing and arriving and being able to smell the kerosene used by aircraft engines will all help to breakdown unfamiliarity.

10.  Avoid the media

It’s all too easy to watch TV programmes or to read articles about horror stories in the air. My advice is to avoid them. As they are made to entertain, rather than inform, they can mislead and re-enforce any fears you have, undoing all your good work. Flying is by far the safest form of transport and you should always remember that.


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