Takeoff-specific flying phobia
November 17, 2012 11:26 PM   Subscribe

Takeoff-specific flying phobia

Everyone says that most crashes happen during takeoff and landing. I guess this is meant to be reassuring but actually, it has made me that much more terrified of takeoff.

I worry that something will go wrong during takeoff and that the plane won't have enough lift or will go hurtling to the ground. The speed at which the plane travels and the upward movement and shaking just terrifies me. Thoughts like "what if my pilot has a heart attack at this exact moment" or "what if we fly through a flock of birds" go through my mind.

Unfortunately for me I have to do a large number of long-haul flights with multiple connections.

Do you have any reassuring information about take offs in particular? How can I get over this specific fear?

While I don't care for any aspect of flying, it's the take off that really ruins it for me.
posted by davisnot to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if it helps you, but while it is true that the most crashes happen during takeoff or landing, these crashes are less likely to be fatal. At least I THINK that's what you can infer from the statistics here.
posted by lollusc at 11:37 PM on November 17, 2012

I've worked alongside the industry (albeit in it for only several years) and I feel that a lot of the engineering and air traffic control technology has matured enormously. Consider that just 60 years ago there were piston-driven Constellations flying across the Western US without any radar ATC and without decent weather advisory services and traffic collision systems. The track record has gotten so much better than the 1960s and 1970s, when it seemed there was a major crash every month (whereas now, it's every year or two, and usually just with the regionals). Also after the Delta crashes in 1982 in New Orleans in 1982 and DFW in 1985 the FAA invested millions in reactive windshear systems and proactive Doppler radars around major airports, many of them built with the same level of design as the National Weather Service's radar network, and this provides a greater margin of safety during the takeoff phase.

I'm much more confident about flying than I was 20 years ago, and my main concerns would basically boil down to issues of crew fatigue and work hours (to which the FAA and the industry still just pay lip service) and the possibility of the pilots busting through bad weather as part of the get-there-itis phenomenon. Also if I keep hearing about maintenance outsourcing problems I may worry a problem might hatch out during a critical phase of flight, but so far I haven't yet felt any reason to be concerned. Personally I've always felt that 80% of the danger is in the final approach phase. Of course that's not going to eliminate freak accidents like FOD on the runway that caused the Concorde crash, but there we're getting into a lottery win being more likely and I guess you've heard that old yarn plenty enough times.
posted by crapmatic at 12:09 AM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I count. One, two, three, ...

Usually we're well above the clouds before one thousand, and I decide to do something else.
posted by ead at 12:13 AM on November 18, 2012

Yeah, this is also my least favorite part, though I know rationally it's probably safer than landing. Taking off is just such an unnatural thing for something that huge and heavy to do.

When I first started flying, I noticed all the "veterans" just reading their book or paper or whatever like they barely even noticed what was happening. I decided to emulate them, if only so no one would notice I was scared. And eventually, it came true. I would get so into my book I'd barely notice we were taking off.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:39 AM on November 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

I absolutely HATE takeoffs, but love every other aspect of flying, so I hear ya. I kind of embrace it, by putting headphones on and listening to really intense death metal or electronic music and imagine that this is it, the end, like something out of that scene in Fight Club. I get all revved up on adrenaline, then I look around at people bored, sleeping, reading magazines, and realize I'm being irrational and dramatic.

And, by that point, we're up. So, I don't know, it works for me.
posted by mannequito at 12:40 AM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I hate flying as well. What I do is I give myself permission to be nervous in units: for example, I can be really really nervous for the first five minutes, nervous until ten minutes have passed, sorta nervous until twenty minutes have passed, etc.

I also sometimes pretend that Tom Hanks is the pilot (especially during turbulence), because Tom Hanks won't do anything wrong if he's flying. (and yes, he was the star of "Castaway" but he wasn't the pilot, OK?).
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 12:47 AM on November 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

A diazepam prescription just for flying solved this for me, after a bunch of other things, including hypnosis, didn't work. Now I can be one of those people who reads a magazine, sometimes has dinner and watches a movie! It's a great improvement.
posted by mgrrl at 1:48 AM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do not have any particular fear of flying--but I am always amazed that the plane can land. A plane, given its design and engineering, has no choice but to take off and fly one a certain speed is achieved. But landing...well. Since your fear is essentially "irrational" it is unlikely rational reassurance will work. I would suggest any combination of the following--take a pill, sign up for one of the airlines courses on "fear of flying" or just do it and give yourself permission to be anxious. we do not have to overcome all of our fears unless it/they prevent us from accomplishing things important to us.
posted by rmhsinc at 6:26 AM on November 18, 2012

I'm not sure how reassuring it is, but actually landings are considerably more risky than take-offs. Only 20% of all accidents occur during take-off, where 36% of them are on landing.

The other possibly reassuring fact about take-offs gone wrong is that they usually happen VERY soon after take-off. They are usually associated with some kind of system failure that doesn't allow the plane to safely climb or maneuver. So if the plane remains inclined at a steep angle, engines screaming, things are going well and your risk is quite low. When it goes wrong, the plane will remain relatively flat (or worse, quiet). So perhaps you can limit your anxiety to the first few moments?

On preview, this all sounds terribly unhelpful.
posted by Lame_username at 6:27 AM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I took a survival course that focused on surviving plane and helicopter crashes (planes rarely crash, but if they do... well, it ain't like Lost; helicopters crash frequently but have pretty good survival rates).

Anyway, the guy running the course said plane accidents usually occur in the first two minutes of ascent and final 30 seconds of descent. I only allow myself to be nervous for those 2.5 minutes.
posted by peacrow at 7:07 AM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are you a believing man or woman? If so, you may find the strongest therapy for takeoff and landing within your own belief, and it is usually the most effective by far, though we are overwhelmingly people of science.

No coincidence why when there is the rare catastrophic event during the flight, many people find religion.
posted by Kruger5 at 8:21 AM on November 18, 2012

I worry that something will go wrong during takeoff and that the plane won't have enough lift or will go hurtling to the ground. The speed at which the plane travels and the upward movement and shaking just terrifies me.

Ok, to give you some background on how takeoff works from a safety perspective. At all points throughout the process there's one basic decision that can be made: do you reject takeoff and stop on the runway, or do you go flying. The entire design of the plane is dictated by the need for one of these options to be viable at every point in the takeoff, even if there is a serious mechanical failure. Before the plane ever leaves the gate, the pilot computes a speed called "V1". When they accelerate down the runway, if anything goes wrong while they're not yet up to the V1 speed, they can reject the takeoff, and it is assured that they have enough runway for the plane to stop safely. This takes into account the length of the runway, whether the runway is wet or dry, etc. If the plane reaches V1 though, then you're going flying, even if there is a major failure. That sounds bad, but again the entire design of the aircraft is based on the need to be able to fly if a failure happens after V1. You can be on the runway, past V1 but not yet in the air, and have one engine completely fail and you will still get off the ground with complete safety. You only need one engine to get into the air. There is seriously no other variable here. Above V1 the plane always has enough lift to go flying.

This so-called single engine climb requirement is one of the most crucial safety requirements, because an engine failure is one of more common of the problems that can happen on takeoff. Engines do fail, it just happens. Worldwide there's maybe 2-3 engine shutdowns per week, not necessarily on takeoff. You don't hear about this though because it's not actually a big safety problem. Recovering from an engine shutdown is something that the pilots will practice in a simulator over and over, they know exactly what to do when it happens. The entire takeoff process is downright choreographed to enable the pilots to immediately handle any of the problems that can occur.

If you have specific concerns ("what if ...") those can be addressed too. E.g., if one pilot becomes incapacitated for some reason, the other one flys the plane just fine. If you fly through some birds, well, bad news for the birds, but you're still going flying.
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:36 AM on November 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

More people are killed and injured by automobiles than aircraft. Think about that until you get airborne, then watch the movie. Doesn't matter what you think about when you land. It may help you to know that apprehension about this stuff is normal. I get that way, and I've made more take-offs than landings. In fact, I rode in various aircraft eight times before I ever landed in one. Always jumped out, and the first landing was on account of engine failure on two of the C-130's engines.

I mention this because of the analogy of taking off to going out the door, and landing, to, well landing. In my case I got to scream as I exited the aircraft. I don't know that that's a workable option in your case, but maybe you can learn to scream silently. If that doesn't work, try to imagine the pilots naked. Or the flight attendants. Anything that breaks the feedback loop of apprehension you go through will help. Tension builds on itself. If you break the chain you may have to start all over again, but by then you'll be in the air. Same thing on landing.

Landing in those puddle jumpers, especially on windy days in places like Portland, scares the piss out of me, but fortunately the tires hit the ground before I start yelling. So far I've not ripped any armrests loose, but it's been close.

I promise you that you'll survive, but I've been known to be wrong, so don't come bitching to me if you don't. Okay, look, I'm not trivializing fear. Fear is not rational. Rational won't help, but it will keep your mind busy so that you don't get tied up in knots.

Hang in there, and naked fear will eventually tamp itself down to a dullish dread.
posted by mule98J at 10:44 AM on November 18, 2012

I'm the same and all the statistics and details in this world just freak me out more (and I've been on an uncountable number of flights!). The only thing that's worked for me in this situation is pills--.5 alprazolam, to be exact. I take half of one half an hour before we're set to take off and it kicks in right around the time of takeoff, which really stops me from freaking out.
Also, I think it was on MeFi where I read that it's the first 90 seconds of the takeoff that are the riskiest, so I tend to go until 90, feel like I'll survive, and then start again until we've stabilized in the air.
posted by Papagayo at 2:42 PM on November 18, 2012

I'm also very scared of flying, particularly during take-off. It doesn't help 100%, but what I do is constantly remind myself that my worrying has absolutely no impact on the eventual safe landing of the plane. (Sometimes it feels like if I don't worry, I'll jinx things, and we'll be in terrible danger, which of course I know is completely irrational.) So during take off, I repeat something to myself like, "I have no control over this flight" or "worrying right now isn't going to help" or some form of "Whatever will be, will be". It's my reminder that, whether or not I'm scared of flying, I am now on a plane, it's in the air, and I am going to be on this plane for the next X hours no matter what happens, whether or not I'm super worried or totally relaxed. It's fairly soothing, and makes me focus on staying calm, rather than focusing on all the things going on in the cockpit or all the safety checks that someone may have missed before we left the terminal.
posted by violetish at 7:14 PM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are on long-haul flights, you are probably mostly on larger aircraft, and those are normally piloted by more experienced pilots. Pilot experience is one of the most important safety factors since pilot error is a major cause of accidents, so I think you can comfort yourself to some extent by knowing that you are in a statistically safer situation than a commuter flight with a smaller aircraft and less experienced pilots. Not to say those are unsafe situations, but the "extra" safety in long haul flights might give you some reassurance.
posted by Dansaman at 4:02 PM on November 19, 2012

Coming here a bit late but perhaps watching airplane cockpit videos on Youtube. There is a series called Justplanes and they have pilots being interviewed and often times cockpit views of takeoff, cruise, and landing. The videos are definitely from an aviation nerd' perspective, but you really see how routine the stuff is, how calm the pilots are, and how much checking and re-checking there is.
posted by xetere at 2:28 PM on November 21, 2012

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