Fear of Flying? Some tips to manage yourself

Some great places explored

Irony. I love planes yet I dread flying. Flying is part of my work. Flying is part of my love to explore.

Am writing this blog as the plane I am in is going through a “controlled crash” aka landing…as pilots would like to joke.

Not funny.

Not funny at all.

For me to be able to start a blog while 25,0000 feet above the ground is in itself a miracle. Especially less than 3 weeks after the Ethiopian airlines (ET 302) crash….(may the dearly departed RIP). It doesn’t mean I have overcome my fear of flying. On the contrary, I always have anxiety when even thinking about flying. The anxiety begins the night before travel and sticks with me until we get off the ground. That is when I gain some semblance of calm before the next round of anxiety kicks in …”landing!” Yikes!

Then repeat. To think of it,I would love to get these blood pressure watches that monitors my blood pressure during flight.

The genesis of this phobia is unknown but my sister shares similar hatred for flying. She always believes the plane is always trying to crash. So,it maybe genetic. My pops was a frequent flier who used to give me horror stories of flying in West Africa and Middle East in the 1980’s. Tales of people running into planes to fight for the only functioning seats were hilarious. His tales were many and maybe fed into my psyche. Still not sure about the genesis because my other siblings would care less and black out immediately the plane takes off and to only get up during meals and landing.

Not knowing the genesis troubled me. It really bugged me.

So I decided to get as much information, not necessarily for any purpose but just, to know what happens when million dollar contraptions called airplanes manage to float in the air.

For this I thank technology for the hours of lessons. Thank you internet. Thank you YouTube. Thank you flight radar. Thank you Wikipedia. Asanteni.

The inadvertent result of fishing for information was that I got to understand how planes work. With this knowledge I understood the mechanics and could predict every step during the flight. The result was a far much less anxious flight. Much less….but it was still there(hence the title is about managing and not overcoming).

So here are the steps I mentally go through before a flight departs.(if it helps)

Pre-flight checks: These pilots go through a checklist of sooo many things that the checklist is actually a booklet. They even walk around the plane to check if the plane is okay. Look,even the pilots do not want a plane for a coffin. Done.

Next comes the push back from the bay. This is done by a tractor looking thingi. Kumbe these million dollar contraptions do not have a reverse gear?

Once reversed, the plane stands for a few minutes. This is when the engines are switched on one by one. The beautiful sound of the engines stir to life. As the engines are revving up, another checklist is initiated to check the mechanical aspects like the flaps things (you see them moving up and down).

Once this checklist is done the plane taxis towards the assigned runaway as safety videos are played. The plane most times stops at the end (or is it beginning) of the runway. Some do a running start where they just continue and take off. This is when the plane is most silent.

Then the pilots are given clearance by the control tower. Now the fun bit begins. You hear the engines rev up in two stages as the plane lurches forward. Man! If only my car could have such thrust, I would be a happy camper. As the plane taxis the pilots read out the speed to each other. When it reaches 100 knots the plane is ready to take off. That is called V1 speed. This is the speed at which the wings can lift the plane. The bigger planes have an automated command voice that shouts “rotate!”. That is when the pilot pulls back on the stick(or is it yoke) and the beauty of science begins….flight.

Just after lift off a sequence of events happen. First the wheels are raised back into the bay and the doors lock. This causes some mechanical noises. Second the flaps(the equivalent of feathers on a bird) are retracted and there is a sinking feeling. This used to be my worst part of flight leading to some disorientation. The solution gotten from a blog was to focus my gaze on a single point inside the plane (usually the exit sign) to avoid disorientation. This works all the time as this phase lasts a few seconds. Expect the plane to turn as it follows its way point( high way in the sky) which may cause some disorientation. Focus on that exit sign and you will feel slight g-forces. Some people also avoid looking outside the window. Whatever works for you.

In my little experience turbulence is not as common or as bad during take off. My theory is that the plane is using a lot of force to get off the ground and smashes through turbulent winds. I notice turbulence more during landing when the plane is deliberately slowed down and subject to the forces of the wind. My theory though.

After a few minutes the most welcome signal is given “seat belts sign off”. Theoretically means all is well. For now (see how pessimistic I am). During flight at cruising level expect the plane to shake due to turbulence. It may shake even more depending on the route. You are told it is normal, but WTF is a 100 ton contraption being shaken by air. Avoid stimulants like tea or coffee that can raise your anxiety levels. This is the part you can enjoy the flight and watch a few movies as you await the next phase…landing

My maths is now accurate. It takes 20 minutes from cruising level to touch down with most of the big planes. You can match this to the minute. So know your flight times and just 20 minutes before landing there will be a slow down of the plane and it will tilt down. It is like it the sensation of brakes mid air(again WTF!). The plane now begins its decent and you will here mechanical noises as the pilots adjust the flaps (the wings are taking over carrying the flights from the engines). Expect several turns as the plane follows the highway in the air. With these turns expect some g-forces( your guts pulled by gravity)and some bumps as the wings cut through clouds. This where you hear collective “oohhs”and “ahhss”from passengers. These manouvres last about 15 minutes as the plane aligns for landing for the last 5 minutes. You know it is the final approach when you hear a loud noise of the landing gear opening up. Lovely sound which is accompanies by loud noise because air is gushing into the open bay of the landing gear.

Those 5 minutes can feel like 1 hour. I have timed it on my watch. In some instances the pilot can abort the landing and retry to land after a fly around. This is rare but very scary….it has happened to me twice. Any way after those 5 minutes are done the wheels touch down and the pilot yanks out the brakes and the engines try reverse direction of the thrust to reduce speed.

When the wheels are on the ground my nerves can now take a chill.

Then repeat.

Explore the world one plane hop at a time.

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