Travelling by plane can be a scary experience for people of all ages and backgrounds, particularly if they've not flown before or have experienced a traumatic event. It is not something to be ashamed of: it is no different from the personal fears and dislikes of other things that very many people have. For some, understanding something about how aircraft work and what happens during a flight may help to overcome a fear which is based on the unknown or on not being in control. This article will seek to help you do that and help you to prepare for a trip by air. It is completely normal to be scared of flying, but it’s not as bad as you would think.
It should be stated initially and clearly that accidents involving aircraft are extremely rare. It is this fact that makes the media coverage of such incidents so prevalent. Despite what you may think, air travel is the safest form of transportation available to the traveller besides high-speed rail: you are far more likely to be involved in an accident on your way to the airport than you are whilst in the air.
Airlines and pilots take safety very seriously — and even if they were minded to cut corners, they are tightly regulated by government agencies to ensure standards. Any pilot will not begin a flight if there is any doubt about the fitness of the aircraft or the weather — as the pilots' saying goes, "takeoff is optional, but landing is compulsory!".
|Flying topics: Planning your flight → At the airport → On the plane → Arriving by plane|
- See also: Flight and health
|“||I can fly. I am not afraid.||”|
—Sällskapsresan ("The Charter Trip"), a classic in Swedish cinema
An understanding of what causes your plane to fly can assist in allaying anxiety. A plane's wing is shaped to direct more air underneath it than above it, creating an area of low air pressure above the wing; this creates lift, causing an upward force on the wings. When the force of the lift exactly balances the weight of the aircraft, the plane will fly level; if the lift exceeds the weight, it will climb; and if weight exceeds lift, it will descend.
Lift generated depends on airspeed: the greater the speed, the greater the airflow over the wings and the greater the lift. Large commerical aircraft have two or more turbine engines each turning a propeller (a turboprop) or a large fan (a turbofan, commonly called a jet) to produce thrust and therefore airspeed. The engines combined with the elevators and horizontal stabiliser, which controls aircraft pitch (nose up/down), allows the pilot to control the aircraft's altitude and airspeed. If the pilot increases the engine power, the aircraft will climb; it the pilot decreases engine power, the aircraft will descend. If the pilot points the nose down without changing engine power, the aircraft will accelerate. Pilots can deploy flaps and slats to alter the shape of the wing, allowing the aircraft to generate more lift while flying at slower speeds, such as at takeoff and landing, at the expense of increased drag.
Most aircraft, including all airliners (but not helicopters or some military jets), are inherently stable. The forces acting on them - lift, weight, thrust and drag - tend to balance each other out, meaning the plane will fly straight and level unless the pilot does something to alter that. For instance, if the pilot increases power, the aircraft will climb; but eventually, the speed will reduce, meaning lift will reduce, meaning the plane will level off. Even if the pilot let go of the controls altogether, the plane would eventually reach this straight-and-level equilibrium.
There are limits beyond which the plane won't correct itself automatically. For instance, if an aircraft flies too slowly or climbs too steeply, the wings will not produce enough lift and the aircraft will enter a stall. Stalls are easily recoverable (the pilot points the nose down and increases the engine power) and are only deliberately created in testing new aircraft and training new pilots. All modern airliners have automatic systems which alert the pilots to these situations well in advance or stop them from happening altogether.
A typical flight
It might also help nervous flyers to understand what happens before and during a typical flight. All of these procedures are standard and extensively understood and practised by all pilots. The following is based on a typical twin-engined jet aircraft, such as the Boeing 737 or the Airbus A320 (the two most popular commercial aircraft models in service). There may be variations on other aircraft models, but the general sequence of events is the same regardless of aircraft type.
A lot of work goes into ensuring that flights are safe well before aircraft take off, and indeed even before the first tickets go on sale. The aviation industry also has a very strong safety culture. The routes taken by commercial flights are typically planned by experts who seek to ensure that the flight is as safe and smooth as is possible. Pilots can amend these routes before take-off and during the flight to further improve the comfort and safety of their passengers. The aviation industry is also highly regulated in the interests of safety. These regulations cover a very wide range of areas, including aircraft maintenance standards, requiring aircraft to carry more fuel than is required (so they can divert to another airport if needed) and making sure that pilots are well-rested.
Commercial flights are guided throughout the journey by air traffic controllers on the ground, who ensure aircraft stay on course and remain well separated from each other (usually by several miles). Air traffic controllers also assist pilots with the safest and most comfortable journey from the moment the plane begins taxiing on the runway to the point when it arrives at the gate at which point passengers disembark. Air traffic control and pilots communicate verbally by radio, while a transponder on the aircraft communicates the aircraft's position, altitude and attributes to air traffic control (the transponder communications are also picked up by private third-party receivers, which is primarily how aircraft tracking websites such as FlightRadar24 work).
A commercial aircraft has at least two people on the flight deck: usually the captain and the first officer, though some flights may be flown by two captains. Longer flights will have an additional pilot so that crew can rest in shifts. Like the captain of a ship, an airline captain has ultimate responsibility for the safety of the aircraft and everyone on board. The captain and first officer are both pilots, and both are fully capable of flying the plane. They divide responsibilities between the "pilot flying" who operates the main controls, and the "pilot monitoring" who cross-checks the pilot flying's actions, talks on the radio, reads checklists, and performs support duties. They usually swap roles after each flight: the captain might be pilot flying on the crew's first leg, and the first officer would be pilot flying on the next. Due to the way airlines calculate seniority, it's entirely possible for the first officer to be older or more experienced than the captain, particularly if they flew in the military or another airline.
Aircraft with 20 or more seats will have a number of flight attendants, at a minimum one for every 50 seats, who are responsible for safety in the cabin. The chief flight attendant is commonly known as the purser.
Before each flight, the pilots will check on the weather and departure procedures and making sure the aircraft is fit to fly, has enough fuel and isn't overweight. Ground staff will be loading checked baggage and cargo into the cargo hold under the passenger cabin, which can cause loud bangs and the aircraft to shake. You may also hear a small jet engine start up in the tail of the aircraft; This is the auxillary power unit (APU), which provides electricity and allows the aircraft to be disconnected from ground power. The APU also provides the air needed to start the main engines and operate the air conditioning system, so its start will be accompanied by the air conditioning coming on.
Once all the doors are closed, the flight attendants will arm each door so the inflatable evacuation slide will deploy if the door is opened. Most aircraft can't reverse under their own power, so a tug will push it backwards out of the gate. When the aircraft is clear of the gate, the pilot will be given permission to start the main engines.
During pushback, a demonstration will take place to inform passengers of the safety features of the aircraft and their use. This may be given either by the flight attendants or through screening a video. A basic safety demonstration includes the use of the seatbelts, safely stowing luggage, use of the emergency oxygen masks, location and use of life jackets, emergency exit locations, a reminder that the flight is non-smoking, to put electronic devices in flight mode and turn them off for takeoff, and that further safety information can be found on the card in your seat pocket (or printed on the seats) or by asking a flight attendant. If you happen to be sitting in an exit row, you will also receive instructions from the flight attendants on how to operate the exit in case of an emergency evacuation.
After pushback, the pilots will start the main engines. During the startup process, the cabin lights may flicker; this is no cause for alarm, and happens because the main power source is being switched from the APU to the main engines. Once the engines have started, the aircraft will begin its taxi to the runway.
Before an aircraft can take off, it has to taxi (i.e. move on the ground under its own power) from the airport terminal to the runway. Aircraft will generally take off into a headwind, as this increases airspeed and so reduces the length of the take-off run, so the plane will taxi to the downwind end of the appropriate runway. Aircraft move slowly on the ground with taxi speeds ranging from 10–40 km/h (6–25 mph). The plane may have to stop several times as it gives way (yields) to other taxiing aircraft or gets permission to cross a runway. At small airports, the plane may have to enter the runway and backtaxi or backtrack along it to reach the start of the runway.
During taxi, the pilots will deploy flaps and slats on the aircraft wings; the motors moving the flaps and slats make a distinct whining sound. In freezing temperatures, aircraft will need to be "de-iced" before reaching the runway. The plane will be sprayed with an anti-freeze solution to remove built-up snow and ice, as these can disrupt the airflow over the wings and reduce lift, causing hazards in flight. Once in the air, the engines will provide hot air to prevent ice and snow from re-forming on the wings.
When cleared for take-off, the pilot will taxi the aircraft into position at the start of the runway. It's normal for the pilot to increase engine power to ensure all engines are producing the same amount of power. Finally, the pilot will apply full take-off power; this usually means a rapid acceleration and an increase in engine noise. When the aircraft has reached the correct speed (i.e., when it's travelling fast enough to generate the lift it needs to fly), the pilot will "rotate" the aircraft by raising the nose, and the plane will lift off from the runway. For most jet aircraft, the take-off speed is in the region of 220 to 300 km/h (130 to 180 mph). The actual speed required for take-off depends on the size and weight of the plane and weather conditions at the airport, but these factors are worked out precisely in advance. There is always enough runway left to complete the takeoff.
As the aircraft travels down the runway, you may hear and feel bumps as the aircraft's undercarriage crosses the runway lights or uneven parts of the runway. Such noises are to be expected and are not a cause for alarm. Equally, when the aircraft lifts off there is often a noticeable bump. This is a normal event caused by the landing gear suspension reaching its maximum extension as the plane leaves the ground.
On rare occasions, the pilots may decide to reject (abort) a takeoff, usually due to a fault with one of the aircraft's systems. Once the aircraft has passed its safety speed (around 150 km/h or 90 mph), the pilots will generally only reject the takeoff for serious failures, such as an engine fire or failure. If the fault is minor, the pilots generally will continue the takeoff and come back around to land, since stopping at such high speeds within the remaining runway is very hard on the undercarriage and often results in overheating brakes and blown tires.
Once airborne and climbing, the pilot will raise the landing gear, which makes a bumping sound. Since full power is only needed for takeoff, the pilot will reduce power to the aircraft's engines and as a result, the noise in the cabin may decrease. The flaps and slats on the wings will also be retracted. It is also normal for planes to climb steeply and to turn, sometimes sharply, shortly after takeoff. These are standard procedures to turn the plane onto its course as soon as possible and to minimize noise for people living near the airport.
Depending on the length of the flight, it may then take 15-20 minutes for the plane to climb to its cruising altitude. The pilot will typically allow the flight attendants to leave their seats once the flaps are retracted, but it is common for the seat-belt light to remain lit for passengers until the plane reaches its cruise altitude. While the climb is often very smooth, occasional jolts (perhaps as the plane climbs through clouds) can still be expected.
Modern jet aircraft typically cruise at an altitude between 30,000 and 40,000 feet (9,000 and 12,000 metres), although on short flights (less than 45 minutes) this may be as low as 20,000 feet. As it cruises, the plane rides upon an invisible cushion of air that has been pushed down by the shape of the wing. When there are bumps in this 'cushion' caused by gusts of wind, the plane may jolt slightly as it follows the shape of the air - this is turbulence. Turbulence may occur in both cloudy and clear skies and is completely normal; aircraft are designed to deal with these bumps and other than fastening your seat belt, there is no action that needs to be taken. Significant turbulence ahead can be detected on the plane's radar, and if it is the pilot will switch the seat belt sign back on. This may mean a very bumpy ride for a few minutes but there is no cause for alarm. If there is really severe turbulence ahead (for instance in thunder clouds) the pilot will normally divert around it. Turbulence in clear skies is hard to predict and can occur with no warning; if an aircraft experiences unexpected turbulence, it will be reported to air traffic control so they may warn other aircraft in the area. Some turbulence may cause the plane's wings to bend or flex a little: this is a deliberate design feature which actually allows the aircraft to withstand turbulence more effectively, just as a tree bends in the wind.
Commercial aircraft don't fly in a straight line between airports. Instead, they fly via a number of waypoints or intersections, usually along designated airways. Aircraft flying in opposite directions along the same airway are kept apart by flying at alternating altitudes - aircraft in one direction (usually eastbound) fly at odd thousands of feet, while aircraft in the other direction (usually westbound) fly at even thousands of feet. Aircraft flying in the same direction at the same altitude are kept apart by time, typically 5-15 minutes. Air traffic controllers constantly monitor the position of aircraft and can request pilots change their altitude or speed to ensure adequate separation. Modern aircraft are also equipped with traffic collision avoidance systems (TCAS) that automatically detect another aircraft coming too close and advise evasive action as needed.
During cruise, the autopilot uses programmed instructions to fly the plane. The (human) pilots monitor the autopilot and make corrections to it as required, as well as monitor the fuel, weather and other systems on the aircraft.
Descent and approach
As the plane approaches its destination, it will begin to descend. The pilot will reduce engine power, sometimes so that the engines are only idling and barely making any noise. The steepness of this descent varies depending upon the airport and the aircraft. The pilot will typically switch the seat belt sign on as the aircraft begins to descend, although flight attendants won't typically be seated until the aircraft is established on the approach to the airport. During the descent, the spoilers on top of the wings may open slightly; the spoilers decrease lift and act as brakes to prevent the aircraft from going too fast.
Aircraft where possible land into the wind, which helps slow the plane down, so depending on the direction from which you approach the airport, the plane may have to make a series of turns to line up with the runway. These are usually carried out at slow speed and can feel quite sharp as a result. If there is congestion at the airport, air traffic control may request the plane to hold (fly a race-track-shaped pattern) to await a slot to land.
As the plane begins its approach into the airport, the pilots will deploy the flaps and slats on the wings. The flaps will be deployed in several stages and to a greater extent than at take-off. The pilots will also lower the landing gear. Since the landing gear and flaps create drag, the pilots may have to apply engine power to maintain speed and profile.
The approach to land can feel unstable; this is because the air near the ground is often more turbulent than it is at altitude. If there is a crosswind, the pilot may also have to bank and turn the aircraft slightly to keep it on course.
In some cases the aircraft will have to land in low cloud or fog, and you may not see the ground until you have almost landed. Most airports have instrument approach systems to help guide aircraft towards the airport and the runway; most aircraft can safely land with visibility as low as 800 m (½ mi), and at some major international airports, a landing can be conducted in a suitably-equipped aircraft with visibility as low as 50 m (150 ft). But again, there are strict rules that pilots must (and do) stick to when landing in bad weather. If the weather is too bad, the pilot may decide to hold and wait for improvement, or divert to another airport where the weather is better. All aircraft must carry at least enough fuel to fly to their destination, hold for up to 30 minutes and then divert to another suitable airport.
Just before the aircraft 'touches down' on the runway, the pilot flying will idle the engines and flare the aircraft by raising the nose, allowing the main landing gear to touch down first and take the weight of the aircraft before the nose landing gear touches down. The touchdown may be accompanied by a jolt and an audible 'thud' as plane's landing gear touches the ground. If the runway is wet, the pilot often lands deliberately firmly to minimize the risk of skidding. Spoilers on the wings will open to stop the aircraft generating lift and keep it firmly on the runway. To help slow the aircraft down, the pilot will engage reverse thrust: the direction of the engine's output is changed and the engines will power up again, slowing the plane down rather than pushing it forward. At some airports, the aircraft may slow down very sharply. This is simply to ensure it can turn off the runway at the right point, and/or means that there is another aircraft on the approach which needs to land.
On occasions, you may experience a go-around, which is when the aircraft takes off again shortly before landing. This occurs when the pilots decide to (or air traffic control orders them to) reject landing because of poor visibility, the aircraft not being in line with the runway or getting blown off course, or a runway obstruction. As a result, you will hear the engines power up once more and feel the engines' thrust to perhaps a greater degree than you did at take-off. The pilot will partially retract the flaps and raise the landing gear to help the aircraft climb. Once at a higher altitude and depending on the circumstances, the aircraft will either be turned around and the landing will be attempted again, or it will be diverted to another airport. Should this happen to you, you should not be alarmed - it is a common procedure and well-practised by pilots.
Every year, millions of flights take place without incident. The few serious aircraft accidents that do occur receive a large amount of media attention because they are so rare, along with media outlets' bias towards stories about death and disaster ("if it bleeds, it leads"). All serious accidents are thoroughly investigated by independent government bodies to identify the cause and to prevent similar accidents occurring in the future.
New commercial aircraft are designed and tested to operate in conditions far more severe than those encountered on nearly any actual flight. For example, one test involves filling an aircraft with volunteers and testing whether the entire aircraft can be evacuated within 90 seconds with half the exits blocked and only emergency lighting. Only once the aviation regulator, such as the EASA in the European Union and the FAA in the United States, is completely satisfied the aircraft model is safe will they issue a type certificate. If issues are discovered after the aircraft enters revenue service, the regulator can require changes be made through issuing an airworthiness directive.
On rare occasions where serious design flaws are discovered, regulators can suspend an aircraft's type certificate, effectively grounding all aircraft of that model until the issue is fixed and the type certificate reinstated. This happened to the McDonnell-Douglas DC-10 in June 1979 (the certificate was reinstated five weeks later) and the Boeing 737 MAX in March 2019 (cleared to fly in the U.S. in November 2020, however still awaiting full certification).
Aircraft are maintained to strict and regular schedules. If any essential equipment on an aircraft has even minor problems, the plane is not allowed to take off until it is fixed. However, with all the precautions there is always a chance something may go wrong with the aircraft you are aboard. You should, however, be assured that pilots are trained (and refreshed regularly) on how to respond to common onboard emergencies, and quick reference guides in the cockpit are used to assist in responding to rarer issues. Every commercial aircraft is built with multiple redundancies and 'fail-safes', so in the case of one system failing, the aircraft can continue flying safely on the remaining systems. For example, most commercial aircraft today have two or more engines; if one engine fails, the aircraft can continue to fly safely (albeit with reduced performance) on the remaining engine to a nearby diversion airport. In the very rare case that all engines fail and can't be restarted, the pilots can glide the aircraft to a suitable landing place. The 1983 "Gimli Glider" (Air Canada flight 143; ran out of fuel due to a mathematical error) and the 2009 "Miracle on the Hudson" (US Airways flight 1549; engines flamed-out after ingesting a flock of geese) both show that it is possible to land after engine failure without fatalities or serious injuries.
If any foreseeable conditions arise that might endanger flights, chances are, flights are not even allowed to start or strict rules are put in place to avoid such an occurrence. A particular example of this was the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland; volcanic ash has been known in the past to clog jet engines but never once caused any actual crash, even still all flights across Europe were grounded as a precaution. Likewise, when the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone was recalled in October 2016 after faulty batteries caused them to randomly explode, airlines and regulators were quick to ban the phone in any condition aboard aircraft.
Even with all the fail-safes and extensive flight training, pilot error is still the number one cause of aircraft accidents worldwide. To reduce the chance of errors, pilots use checklists to ensure they have done essential tasks, as well as using quick reference guides to handle onboard issues and emergencies. Pilots and air traffic controllers on international flights must have a working knowledge of the English language, and use standard vocabulary to communicate with each other to ensure there are no misunderstandings. A heavy emphasis in pilot training today is put on crew resource management (CRM), the soft skills needed to fly a commercial airliner and to effectively handle onboard emergencies. CRM was introduced in 1981 following several air accidents in the 1970s caused by poor working relationships between pilots, such as a "captain is always right" mentality. Many air accidents have been eliminated or minimised thanks to good CRM between pilots.
There are extensive measures in place to prevent deliberate acts of sabotage on-board aircraft, such as hijackings and bombings. Metal detectors, X-ray machines and explosive detection dogs are all used to make sure that nothing dangerous can be taken aboard an aircraft. Governments and airlines also have no-fly lists to make sure that dangerous or potentially dangerous passengers cannot buy airline tickets and board an aircraft. Airport and airline staff also take aviation security seriously; all airport police carry firearms (even in countries where regular beat police officers are unarmed) and are not afraid to tackle a person to the ground and drag them away in handcuffs for something as simple as making a joke. Israeli aviation security is particularly thorough and enjoys a reputation for ruthless efficiency even though some question the means by which it is achieved. As a testament to this, Ben Gurion Airport is considered one of the safest in the world and flag carrier El Al has not had a successful hijacking since 1968 despite probably more attempts than at any other airline. Unlike most aviation security, the Israeli doctrine places great emphasis on finding the person who has bad intentions rather than the bomb itself. This makes the line of questioning uncomfortable and somewhat intrusive, but it should assuage your concerns about safety and security.
Lastly, when an air accident unfortunately happens, they are investigated seriously by investigation agencies like the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the United States, Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) in the United Kingdom, or the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la sécurité de l'aviation civile (BEA) in France, which will make numerous safety recommendations to prevent similar accidents from happening. Often you will have multiple countries' agencies investigating an accident; for example, if a Ryanair Boeing 737 flight from London Stansted to Palma de Mallorca had an accident over France, five countries' agencies would be involved: France (accident location), Ireland (airline Ryanair), United States (aircraft maunufacturer Boeing), United Kingdom (origin and majority citizenship of passengers) and Spain (destination). Large aircraft have a fire- and crash-proof flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder (collectively known as the black boxes, despite the fact they're painted orange) to provide evidence to investigators even if the pilots are killed, incapacitated, or exercise their right to remain silent.
Commercial air travel is regarded as one of the safest forms of transport in the world. Every year, 3.8 billion passengers and 55 million tonnes of cargo travel by air around the world and arrive safely at their destinations.
In the ten years from 2008 to 2017, there were 1,410 hull loss accidents (i.e. an accident where the aircraft was damaged beyond economic repair) worldwide involving fixed-wing aircraft with six or more seats, yet from those accidents, only 8,530 people died. That means on the average flight, you have a 4.5-million-to-one chance of dying, making it the second-rarest event behind winning the lottery. For comparison, an estimated 1.25 million people worldwide die from road accidents every year. Apart from one or two outlier years, both the number of airline accidents and deaths have been on a sustained downward trend since the mid-1990s.
In terms of flight stages, final approach and landing is the most common time for an accident to occur, with takeoff and initial climb being the distant second. However, accidents during landing and takeoff are the most survivable – they occur close to airports where the aircraft are already travelling low and slow and emergency services can respond with a moment's notice.
Sorry Raymond, Qantas has crashed
The 1988 film Rain Man may have drawn attention to Qantas's fatality-free safety record, but they forgot to mention that the airline's record only applies to the jet era (i.e. 1958 onwards). The airline had several fatal crashes in its pre-jet days, the last occurring in 1951. Hawaiian Airlines and Finnair also have fatality-free records in the jet era, along with around 40 younger airlines. Of course, an airline's past accident record is not indicative of its future accident record. China Airlines, for example, once had a pretty bad safety reputation in the 1990s leading to a common belief that they crashed every four years but have not had a fatal accident since 2002.
In the developed world, there is no statistically significant difference in accident rates between different airlines or between aircraft models of a similar era. Airlines from less developed countries generally have poorer accident rates mainly due to poorer regulatory oversight. The European Union maintains a list of airlines banned from its airspace, a list which has a very low tolerance of even the appearance of systemic safety issues. However, the list also include a few airlines for nothing but political reasons.
This page has been created to provide helpful advice to those people who suffer from a fear of flying. There are many techniques for overcoming a fear of flying and many airlines, pilots, and therapists run courses for this purpose. Here is a selection of ways in which you might alleviate your anxieties.
Before the flight
Even before booking your ticket for a flight, it is worth considering how you will feel once on board. Some passengers prefer window seats whilst others prefer one towards the centre of the cabin. On large planes, however, a seat in the middle of a row could mean that you are several metres from a window to peer out of. Generally, the larger the aircraft that you are flying on, the smoother the flight will be, though factors such as storms will make even extremely large aircraft experience turbulence.
Some people are nervous flying on propeller-driven aircraft, thinking they are older or more dangerous. Most actually have turboprop engines - essentially a jet engine driving a propeller - and are just as modern and no less safe than jets. They are cheaper to operate on short journeys, although they are slower and often noisier.
Family and friends want to help, but sometimes they can do the opposite. Your nervousness should be respected and you shouldn't be pressured in any way.
Aboard the plane
If you're sitting next to a stranger, make a judgement call whether or not it's worthwhile to let them know you're a nervous flyer. If they're sensitive, they might make it better; but if not, they could make it much worse (and many strangers would prefer not to talk to their seatmates at all).
Once you're aboard, it can be well worth having some form of distraction with you to avoid flying phobia. Many airlines offer in-flight entertainment systems, but books and magazines can also be good to take your mind off things. Sleep too can be a good way to pass the time whilst flying, although you are not advised to take any medication that may make you drowsy or sleepy. It is also ill-advised to counter your fear of flying with a large helping of 'Dutch courage': excessive alcohol or drug use normally causes more problems than it solves. Additionally, alcohol contributes to dehydration: your body already loses water faster than usual due to factors like dry cabin air and sweating. Resulting dehydration causes discomfort (dry eyes and throat is one example), so it's recommended to drink some water every now and then, and to be moderate with tea, coffee, and alcohol. If your vice is nicotine, note that smoking is banned on nearly all commercial flights worldwide. E-cigarettes (vaping) are also banned, but nicotine patches or chewing gum is generally allowed. Don't think you can get away with it; there are ultra-sensitive smoke detectors in the cabin and in all lavatories. On longer flights it's important to keep your circulation going: standing up, walking in the aisle, perhaps doing some simple stretching helps. However, walking around increases chances of injury during sudden clear air turbulence.
If you have any medical conditions, remember to keep to your regular routine as much as possible. Every year, hundreds of aircraft are needlessly diverted because a nervous passenger has forgotten to take their medications and is now in need of hospitalisation.
Try not to keep looking at your watch or a clock while flying. It will make the flight feel longer, especially on long-haul flights.
Airlines have zero tolerance for unruly or dangerous behaviour on their flights. If you refuse to follow crew instructions, consume too much alcohol, smoke onboard, or assault another passenger or a crew member, the captain may decide to divert to a nearby airport and hand you over to local law enforcement. In addition, airlines and regulators may seek civil damages and ban you from flying. In 2021, the US Federal Aviation Administration fined one passenger $82,000 who had to be restrained and off-loaded after threatening to hurt a flight attendant.
Turbulence is a completely normal part of flying. It can help to think of your plane as travelling along an invisible 'road' made of air and that the turbulence you feel is pot-holes in this 'road'. Turbulence can sometimes be unexpected and may vary from just a few minutes to throughout the whole flight. It is highly recommended you wear your seatbelt whenever you are seated, even if the fasten seatbelt sign is off, just in case of unexpected turbulence. Injuries and deaths from turbulence are rare, but all have resulted from unrestrained passengers and crew being flung around the cabin during unexpected severe turbulence.
Though turbulence is not in any way a threat to an airliner, turbulence feels like a threat to anxious fliers. This is because the amygdala, the part of the brain that releases stress hormones, reacts automatically to downward motion. If we were on a ladder painting the ceiling, lost our balance and began to fall, the amygdala would immediately release stress hormones to force us to shift our focus from painting to falling. In turbulence, stress hormones can be released each time the plane moves downward. As stress hormone levels rise, they cause physical sensations, such as rapid heart rate, breathing rate, tension, and perspiration, that are associated with danger. Thus, though the intellect may well understand that turbulence is not a danger, the emotional and physical state contradict the intellect. If stress hormones rise high enough, what psychological theoretican Peter Fonagy calls psychic equivalence takes place, causing the person to conflate what is imagination with what is perception. Imagination that the plane is "falling out of the sky" can, when stress hormones are high, become all too real to the fearful flier. Some are helped by conceptualizing how the plane is being held in the air as suggested in this video.
Like any large piece of machinery, an aircraft makes mechanical noises along with 'clunks' and 'thuds'. These are entirely normal and should be seen as a positive indicator - your plane is functioning correctly! Other sounds that you may hear are whining sounds, whistling sounds and loud banging sounds.
Airbus A320 and A330 families of aircraft are well known for producing a "barking dog" sound, especially during engine start-up and taxi. Again, this is completely normal - the noise comes from the power transfer unit (PTU), which equalises pressure between the aircraft's two engine-powered hydraulic systems when one engine isn't running (aircraft engines can only be started one at a time, and some airlines taxi on one engine to save fuel).
To turn an aircraft, the pilot cannot just use the rudder as you would in a boat. They also have to bank it - to raise one wing while lowering the other, making the aircraft turn in the direction of the lowered wing. This should be smooth and gentle, and the angle of bank doesn't normally exceed about 30 degrees.
As noted above, airlines, pilots, and psychologists offer programs for people who suffer a fear of flying. Some are listed below:
- Air France
- Flying with Confidence - British Airways
- Fearless Flyers - QANTAS[dead link]
- FearofFlying.com - SOAR, Inc..
- VALK - KLM
- Flying Without Fear - Virgin Atlantic[dead link]