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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

Hate to Fly? 5 Ways to Beat the Mid-Air Blues

It started with an extreme loss of altitude on a flight in India. The plane suddenly dropped, the oxygen masks tumbled out of the overhead bins, and we turbulently headed toward the ground. When the plane finally landed, I was frazzled. And even though I’ve flown a hundred times without incident, I’ve been jittery about airplanes, especially long haul flights, ever since.

But, a new project I’ve started will take me on several transcontinental flights this year, and since Evacuated Tube Transport (ETT)—NY to China in two hours!—won’t be available for at least a decade, I’ll have to shake my worry and fly with a positive attitude.

And I’m not alone—fear of flying is one of the most common phobias out there. Whether you hate the lack of control or can’t stand being stuck in a cramped space with little to do, here are some strategies to beat the mid-air blues.

1. Let Go

It’s easy to be a backseat “flier,” but unless you’ve been trained to fly planes, let go of the need for control and consider the flight a time to relax. After all, while you’re up in the air, you have no obligations other than eating, sleeping, and getting to your destination—how often can you say that?

Download a relaxation app (like the Simply Being App) to help you chill out. Or, just take a break from the electronics—your flight is probably the first time you’ve untethered from your iPhone or laptop in weeks. (Even if your plane does have Wi-Fi, it can be spotty, not to mention expensive.) Embrace the peace and take some “me time” to entertain yourself with a good book. You can also start reading (and getting excited!) about your trip.

2. Recognize Your Safety

It always helps to remember that planes really are safe—in fact, the year 2011 was the safest in aviation history. Planes’ backup systems are more precise than ever, and flight crews and pilots have excellent training. Even passengers often step up in difficult moments, in what has become a bit of a collective effort for everyone to get to his or her destination.

So that dreaded turbulence? Consider it just a few bumps in the road (and yes, buckle up).

3. Bring Treats

Let’s be honest: Plane food is not fine dining and airline “spa kits” leave much to be desired. So create your own luxury flying experience by preparing a special carry-on. I indulge by packing cozy socks, a satin blindfold, a small inflatable pillow, and my favorite mini moisturizers.

If I’m not feeling the airplane food, I’ll bring wrapped and sealed to-go foods that will still stay fresh at 35,000 feet. My favorites are Chipotle burritos, hummus and pitas, Kati rolls, and Cup of Noodles (you know, for emergencies—they’re filling, and can hold you over for some time). I also stock up on Sour Patch Kids, Chex Mix, fruit snacks, and granola bars, which are excellent if I need a snack mid-flight or if I want to share with new friends I meet in the air.

4. Be Social

Sadly, airlines no longer have piano bars on board, and the whole experience of flying coach seems more reminiscent of cattle herding than a party in the air.

The TEDActive Travel Project wants to change this. Since one of the most common complaints on planes is that passengers don’t feel any sense of control in the experience, the project is coming up with recommendations to make flying more social, enjoyable, and user-friendly, and to help passengers “be an active part of the journey.”

Yes, we have a long way to go toward that, but you can do small things to make your experience better now. Get to know your fellow passengers (especially if you’re confined to a middle seat), and chat with flight attendants who probably fly the long haul route often, even if just for a few minutes. It will break their monotony of “chicken or fish?” and make your flight more personable, too.

5. Take Care of Yourself

After a 21-hour flight to South Africa in a cramped seat, my ankles were elephant-sized. This was not only painful, but dangerous, and put me at risk for DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis). No matter how long your flight is, it’s a good idea to take breaks from sitting during by getting up and walking around to keep your circulation flowing. You can even download Yoga Journal’s iPractice app for your phone, and use the space by the emergency exit to strike a pose.

And while having a glass of wine or popping a pill may take off the edge of flying, both of these remedies can also dehydrate you. Instead, try a tea with skullcap or valerian root, which will ease your mind and put you to sleep without causing a headache. And make sure you drink plenty of water.

As you read this, I’m likely up in the air, on my way to Dubai, watching Bollywood movies and snacking on Sour Patch Kids. I’m still a nervous flyer, but I’ve learned to see flying as freedom—knowing full well that the wonder and exploration I experience at my destination is well worth the long haul.

Photo courtesy of Pistols Drawn.