Dealing with fear of flying

A quick guide

I love flying and I love aviation. I'm the kind of person who spots aircraft types from a distance, and can land a Boeing 737 in a flight simulator. But something happened in 2018. During descend to Malmö in Sweden, the plane suddenly drops and the nose goes up very suddenly. It was probably supposed to do exactly that, but for a split second I got scared of stalling, and since I grew increasingly uncomfortable with the ascending angle of planes.

Let's run the numbers

Some readers will find peace in the statistics
Statistics don't do the entire trick for me. But it took me some of the way, and I figured some people definitely find comfort in numbers.

So, why shouldn't you fear a crash? Because every single day there's approximately a whopping 100,000 commercial flights. Even if a crash happened every day, your odds were still extremely good. Now scale that number up - a lot - because large-scale crashes happen very, very rarely.

Turbulence is a major repeat-offender when it comes to aerophobia triggers. But did you know there hasn't been a turbulence-related crash in several decades?

2017 was the safest year in aviation history since 1905.

Statistically speaking, one person dies per 20 billion kilometers of air travel. Air is safer than any other mode of transport.

A crash does not mean death. In 2013, only 10% of accidents involved fatalities.

Face the fear

It takes time and effort to set yourself free from fears
For seasoned and long-term travellers the easiest way to counter fear of flying is obviosuly to go fly. Facing a fear is how we challenge it. Learning some techniques to deal with anxiety - maybe even meditate - might be extremely helpful.

What we want to achieve is to be as calm as possible during flight. This way our brain's primate Hippocampus center will start to associate flying with something relaxing. The Hippocampus center can get trained like a muscle. Expose it to repeated positive experiences and things will change.

Another thing I find very helpful is researching and educating myself about what I'm afraid of. Don't look for the sensational news media articles called "Why you might die from turbulence". They are written to trigger clicks. Instead try to look up sources used by pilot students, where you get far more neutral information, and you will learn what the pilots do - and why the pilots aren't worried!

Talking to your co-passengers during flight is also very helpful.

Turbulence

Turbulence-related crashes are exceptionally rare
Turbulence is best described as a pocket where there's no air, causing the plane to bump or drop.

Turbulence is uncomfortable and scary, but it's only an inconvenience. It's expected.

Pilots have instruments in the plane to detect bad weather and turbulence ahead. It's normal to slow down the engines and they could become relatively silent. This increases maneuverability and makes the pass through turbulence more comfortable.

As far as I've been able to uncover, the last commercial aircraft to crash due to wake turbulence was in 2001, and before that we need to rewind all the way back to 1966. Pretty good statistics, if you ask me.

Stall

Aircrafts are designed to fly
A stall is a state where an aircraft is no longer flying. This is either caused by flying too slowly in an upwards angle, or by overspeeding.

There are several measures in place to help pilots prevent stalls, including the stick shaker and alarms in the cockpit, which go off if the plane is nearing a stall condition.

Some planes have automated anti-stall systems which level the plane, if the pilot should somehow overlook the stall warnings.

Even in unlikely scenario where a plane has stalled, you're still in good hands. Pilots are highly trained in getting planes out of the stall condition. It's actually part of the pilot training to intentionally stall the plane and then recover it.

Modern aircrafts are additionally designed in a way, so that if a stall incident occurs, the weight of the aircraft is centered far enough to the front, making the plane drop its nose automatically. It sounds dramatic, but for stall recovery, it's exactly what you want.

Stalls in commercial aircrafts are extremely rare. And as mentioned, there's plenty of room for recovery, even if it happens.

Things to keep in mind

Aircrafts are the heart of your adventure - they get you where you want to go, in very little time.
A century of innovation in aircraft and aerospace engineering went into the plane you're sitting in. The plane is thoroughly designed by the best talent in the industry. Engineers put thousands of hours into securing concerns you had no idea existed.

The pilots train frequently to handle situations that are extremely unlikely to arise at any point in their career.

Planes are designed with redundancy in mind. There's a plan B and plan C for all critical components of the plane. For instance, if a plane loses its ability to turn left and right, pilots can use engine thrust levels to steer the aircraft.

It's a 99.9% guarantee that any question you can ask about the safety of a plane has several answers built into the aircraft you're sitting in.

FAQ

Can wings break?
Not in practice, maybe in theory. Wings are made by aerospace-grade aluminium, are extremely durable and very bendable. When a wing bends and shakes, for instance during turbulence, it's a good sign.
Can a plane fly if it loses an engine?
Yes.
Can a plane fly without engines?
Planes can glide hundreds of kilometers without thrust.
What happens if the pilot is incapacitated?
It's one of a number of reasons why there's two pilots.
What happens if lightning strikes the plane?
Nothing. The "skin" of the aircraft functions as a large conductor.