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Opinion Don't let your fear of flying ruin your holiday – follow these tips

You deserve those stress-free days on a sun-kissed beach: don’t let an irrational fear get in the way.

THE HOLIDAY SEASON is well under way and for most people who travel abroad that means lazy days spent on sun-kissed beaches with the stress of working life relegated to a distant memory. However, for some of the 2.1 million people estimated by the travel industry to have passed through Dublin Airport last month, getting to their holiday experience can be a traumatic experience because they have an irrational fear of flying.

In some extreme cases, passengers are too terrified to even travel to the airport.

In seeking to overcome this phobia, it is important for nervous passengers to establish why their fear of flying began and what triggered it. It may be an irrational fear or it could be due to a negative experience that they had on a previous flight. Encountering turbulence, which is a naturally occurring phenomenon, can often cause fear among passengers.

Once they have identified the reason for their fear, it is important that they inform themselves about flying to help them overcome it.

Understanding what happens on a plane

The most relevant fact that people travelling on holiday should be aware of is that flying is by far the safest mode of transport. Compared to driving, there are a minuscule number of accidents and safety is the industry’s paramount issue.

It is also beneficial for a fearful flyer to understand what actually happens when an aircraft is in operation, as this will explain the myriad of sounds and noises one hears during a flight.

To further debunk the irrational concerns some people have about flying, it is advisable that nervous passengers visit an airport on a day when they are not travelling to get accustomed to the environment.

This would allow them to experience the sights and sounds without feeling the stress or anticipation of having to fly. It would also allow them the opportunity to observe planes taking off and landing.

If you are nervous about flying, it is also important to realise that you are not alone – countless other passengers experience the same feelings before and during flights.

Ask for assistance 

To cater for this demographic, commercial airlines have developed an expertise in soothing frazzled nerves. Therefore, it is advisable that you tell the cabin crew about your concerns as soon as you board.

An airplane’s crew members are used to making nervous customers feel more comfortable during the flight. They will be able to tell passengers about the flight’s progress, the route the plane is taking and what the weather conditions are like, all of which will provide reassurance. If there is something that makes you nervous during the flight – an unexplained noise or a shift in the plane’s direction for instance – they can explain what is happening and reassure you.

While some people prefer to use medication or alcohol to conquer their fear of flying, it is far more beneficial for passengers to get a good night’s sleep before travelling and to eat well before they board the flight.

It is also beneficial for nervous travellers to arrive at the airport early. After all, if a passenger is already nervous, rushing through the check in process and then racing through security and on to the gate is only going to add to their concerns.

Avoid short-term ‘fixes’ like alcohol

If you have got this far, then the next steps are less complicated. Once you are en route, make sure to drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol – it may temporarily numb your fear, but you will dehydrate far quicker at 40,000 feet. Instead, move around the plane once the seatbelt sign is off.

This helps to normalise the situation and if you engage in conversation with the crew or other holidaymakers, it’ll provide a welcome distraction.

Make sure as well to control your breathing, taking deep breaths. This will make you much more relaxed and is a far more effective way to deal with your fears than feverishly grasping the arm rest, which will only serve to accentuate stress levels.

A combination of these methods will help most passengers to overcome their concerns. However, there is also a group of travellers with an extreme, irrational fear, who won’t even go near an airport. They would benefit greatly from taking part in a course designed for fearful flyers or to see a therapist who specialises in flying phobias.
No matter how scared you are, remember that you are not alone.

Dos & Don’ts For Nervous Flyers

Do: Remember that flying is the safest form of transport

Do: Visit an airport when you are not flying

Do: Make your concerns know to cabin crew

Do: Arrive early at the airport to avoid stress

Do: Drink loads of water and eat well

Do: Take deep breaths to relax

Do: Consider taking a course to overcome your fears

Don’t: Keep your fears to yourself

Don’t: Stay up all night worrying about the flight

Don’t: Arrive at the airport with only a few minutes to spare

Don’t: Drink alcohol before or during a flight

Don’t: Grip your arm rest

Don’t: Stay in your seat for the duration of the flight

Don’t: Let your fear of flying ruin your holiday

Shane Kelly is Professional Services Manager with the Irish Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.

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