The Consummate Traveler: Fear in the Sky

BY Michele Goncalves TIMEJune 3, 2013 PRINT

During my car ride home from the airport a few days ago, my driver was sharing with me how he has bungee jumped during his youth, yet remains terrified of flying on airplanes. He was really agonizing over an upcoming trip to Ecuador in the fall. 

This truly puzzled me. After all, what could be more heart pounding than jumping from a bridge with cords wrapped around your ankles? 

I suppose enduring the shaking and rattling of unpredictable turbulence at 40,000 feet might be scarier for some. With all my years of flying, I shared a few ideas and tips with him in an attempt to ease his mind. Hopefully those of you with a similar fear will consider this advice as well.

1. Turbulence Isn’t Dangerous: It is important to remember that pilots and flight crews have long years of service that sometimes span 20+ years of constant travel in the sky. If flying were so dangerous, who would take this up as a career? Pilots indicate that turbulence is more of a nuisance to passengers and crew than it is dangerous for the aircraft. Trust your captain’s abilities and buckle up your seatbelt when the rocking and rolling begin. Injuries come from being thrown around and losing your footing when seatbelts are off—not from plunging to earth from the skies.

2. Aim for the Wings: It is a fact that sitting at the wings or front of the plane helps to reduce the amount of swinging and moving during flight. The stability of the wings helps to keep you more protected. If you are a nervous flyer, try your best to pick these seats instead of the back few rows.

3. Select Larger Planes: The worst flight experience I ever personally experienced was during a weekend trip to Panama. The six-seater plane I was riding in went through an afternoon thunder and lightning storm. I had said my prayers and was ready to meet my maker, but luckily enough we pushed through it and here I am. On the flip side, flying a big jumbo jet (Airbus A380, Boeing 747) provides more space, and in my opinion reduces the amount of shaking from turbulence. Consider searching for routes to your destination that include one of these planes for the longest leg of your journey.

4. Watch Your Route Map In-flight: I do admit that I too can sometimes still get a bit nervous when lots of rocking hits the plane. What I find helps me is to keep the flight tracker map on during my entire flight. This is normally one of the options available on your personal entertainment system. I like to be aware of where I am, and more importantly, it can show you when you are going near or over mountain ranges. This is a typical and notorious area where lots of shaking can occur. Unfortunately, it does not show you when you are crossing the jet stream, another major reason why turbulence occurs.

As always, I wish you all the happiest and smoothest of travels!

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