The slightest turbulence gets my heart beat up to *&#! BPM. My palms start getting cold and clammy and I shut my eyes and try not to cry. It doesn't matter that my husband is peacefully sleeping next to me, or the flight attendants are engaged in nonchalant chatter up ahead. I just. FREAK. OUT.
But I wasn't always a nervous flyer. I used to look forward to long flights! In fact, a few years ago, I stayed up for the entire 13 hour flight from LA to Manila because I needed to study for Philosophy class oral exam! And I LOVED it! I loved the idea of being in a dark and cozy cabin for several hours with yummy airplane food (yes, I'm one of the few who actually considers plane food a culinary experience!) and in-flight entertainment. I loved the idea that when I wake up, I would be a few hours closer to a different country!
But the thrill of it all vanished a few years ago, on an extremely turbulent flight from Prague to Rome with one of my college friends.
I'm probably exaggerating, but I want to say that it was the most intense turbulence I have ever encountered! I could hear people gasping involuntarily at every dip, and I could feel the wings of the plane fighting against the wind. My friend, Riva, and I were already looking at each other and I may have been close to tears. It was the hardest I've ever prayed in my entire life!!!
I realized that I was terrified because this was the first time I was traveling without my family. And that it could be the END.
A few minutes later, we landed safely in Rome.
It also didn't help that headlines of planes crashing, disappearing or being bombed peppered the news. It just felt like it more of a possibility than an "unlikely event" as they would loosely call it during safety demonstrations. *Stress* I watch the news and instantly think to myself, "I could've been on that flight." So my solution for a period of time was to NOT FLY. AT ALL.
Of course this didn't last. Work eventually required me to go on short trips within the country. And when I'd see those beautiful travel photos on my Facebook and Instagram feeds, I knew that I couldn't let my fear of flying keep me from exploring the world. So I decided to address the issue and face this fear head on.
Step Two: Keep yourself entertained/distracted or in my case, sedated! Hahaha!
I realized that what gets me jumpy is when I hear the whirring of the engines, and then a sudden SILENCE. I have images of the plane stopping midair, just like the cartoon, and free falling! Hahaha!
Thankfully, the inflight entertainment on most planes include classical music. So I just put on my headphones and TRY my best to ignore any changes in the sound of the engines.
You can also watch movies, read a book, have a glass of bubbly, talk to your seatmate, la la la...
But what works best for me is SLEEPING THROUGH THE WHOLE THING. Hahaha!
I bring melatonin with me and take one right after dinner and I'm out in 20 minutes.
*while melatonin is generally safe, you might want to consult your doctor for this first. :p
Step Three: Get learning and Google the stats.
BJ, having been afraid of flying at one point as well (he is now a recovered aviophobic :p), totally geeked out on airplane science and now has all the information to debunk every "ridiculous" theory I had of flights and flight accidents. I remember him asking me, "What are you afraid of exactly?"
1) That the plane is going to drop and just free fall from the sky if one (or both) engines die.
2) That the pilot will press the wrong button (hello, have you seen the inside of a cockpit???) and send the plane spiralling down.
3) That the plane wont be able to fight the strong winds, consequently bending/breaking the wings and sending the plane spiralling down.
4) That severe turbulence will cause the wings of the plane to just break in half, and again, send the plane spiralling down.
And to this, he says:
1) Planes are built to glide. Even if both engines fail.
2) Pilots undergo extensive training programs and are required to serve a certain number of flight hours before being allowed to fly a commercial plane.
The article basically says, statistically (despite the recent news of fatalities), airplanes are still one of the safest modes of transportation in history.
Step Four: Relinquish Control.
The truth is, not matter how knowledgable and "prepared" you are for a flight, there are just too many things that are beyond your control. And this, I believe, is what causes the fear.
So what do I do?
I just relinquish all control to God and trust that He knew I was going to be on this plane, on this flight, with this pilot, and these passengers, in this weather. My worrying won't really change anything. The Bible says,
"Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life."
So now, every time we hit some turbulence (literally, on a plane, and figuratively, in life!) I just pray and trust that my God's got this. I didn't magically get rid of every trace of panic, but it sure helps to know that my God is good, and that my life is in His hands. :)