nervous about flying because i can't stop thinking about death
June 14, 2016 1:23 PM   Subscribe

I've always been terrified of flying yet I've always managed to do it. Now I've started envisioning very vivid, gruesome flight-related death scenarios. I have two Transatlantic flights and two cross-country (USA) flights coming up in a couple of months. How do I chill?

Thanks to a handful of international moves and a long-distance relationship, I am a seasoned air traveller. There were even a couple of years where I flew from the US to England three times a year. Nonetheless, I've always hated flying and I've always forced myself to just get on with it. However, last year, there was a horrific incident during a routine flight that involved strong winds and several failed attempts at landing that left me so afraid of flying that I couldn't manage a subsequent (super short) flight between England and continental Europe without sobbing the whole time.

Now I've got longer flights coming up and I can't stop envisioning how I'm going to die. If I run a bath too hot, I'll feel the uncomfortable heat on my skin and think, "This is only a small fraction of what it would feel like to be engulfed in flames." I'm flying with my partner, so I keep thinking, "What would we do in the event that we knew we were going to die?" Recent highly-visible plane disappearances and crashes don't help the anxiety. I'm even managing to talk myself out of taking anxiety medication like Xanax or Valium because I keep thinking that the drugs will knock me out but I'll be woken up by the sounds of alarms going off and people screaming as we fall to our deaths. I WANT THIS TO STOP. These trips are essentially a honeymoon for me and instead of excitement, I feel dread.

There a couple of useful threads about fear of flying on AskMeFi, but my main concern is dealing with the gruesome visions of death because they're incredibly disturbing. This is garden-variety anxiety, right? How do I cope with the gruesome visions of death?
posted by quadrant seasons to Travel & Transportation (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I had a major fear of flying several years ago. I wanted to take a job that would involve a lot of flying. My therapist at the time suggested EMDR. It sounded pretty "woo" and she acknowledged it sounded that way to her as well, but we did it anyways :). My anxiety dropped significantly and I've had many trips both personal and business since then.

I hope you are able to get help so this isn't an issue for you anymore - it is awful to have such a dread of something.
posted by elmay at 1:36 PM on June 14, 2016

This is garden-variety anxiety, right? How do I cope with the gruesome visions of death?

Yep. Doesn't make it any harder to manage though. But! Since you know that you also "know" (even if your irrational mind doesn't feel it) that people have overcome this. That medication can be quite helpful. It's also very useful to understand that one of the things about anti-anxiety meds that all people who take them know is you are always afraid to take them at first. Always. You are fine. You should try medication. On land, during a free day. Just so you know what it's like. I dislike flying and it gets worse after scary things happen. It gets better after no scary things happen for a while. A few things that have helped me.

1. Realistically I'm not that afraid to die so why did I decide life was so precious when I was in a plane? Like death by plane crash wouldn't be optimal but it actually beats many of the long lingering illnesses that would be my other options. Macabre but true.

2. If you and your partner would be together, just as well. You'd hold hands and say "I love you" and as these things go that's not bad.

3. You are safer in a plane than in a bathroom, your own bathroom. Truthfully.

4. You know that thing Mr Rogers says about watching the helpers? I keep my eyes on the flight attendants and basically decided to chill unless they seem rattled which is very very rare.

5. Mindfulness meditation and learning to push aside negative thoughts. You can't make yourself feel better about a plane trip by thinking bad thoughts about it now. You CAN make yourself feel better about an upcoming plane trip by thinking NO thoughts about it now. Opt for that. Learn to practice clearing your mind (not about flying specifically though there are some guided meditations about that, but about negative and intrusive thoughts in general)

If all else fails and this is messing up your life therapy and/or medication can help you manage it. And maybe you have other life stresses (you mention honeymoon, did not mention a wedding) but maybe there's some other stressors in that jumble there? Be kind to yourself. You can do this.
posted by jessamyn at 1:43 PM on June 14, 2016 [14 favorites]

Have you taken Xanax or Valium before? I never had until the past year, and I have been pleasantly surprised to find that those sorts of medications, when taken at the proper dose, are quite mild for me. They take the edge off my anxiety, especially that terrible feeling of physical panic, but I barely notice any actual sedation. Talk to your doctor, and if you're able to get a prescription, take it once before you go as a test run to see how you react.
posted by something something at 1:44 PM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have this same fear. I wish I could make it stop, but every time the plane takes off or hits turbulence my lizard brain starts screaming in panic.

I've found a few things that help me reduce the terror:

1. A book. I read a lot of books, so when things get bad I focus on reading.
2. The flight crew - if you can see them. They're usually pretty calm and been through this many times. If they're going about their jobs, then everything is good.
3. My Special Place. Sometimes I just have to let my eyes roll back, grip the seat, and forget where I am.
That's how I cope, anyway.

Honestly, despite what people say, I don't think you will ever get over the fear of flight. I've been trying for years.

Usually I just assume that the pilot wants to live, and the flight crew has been through worse. If they're okay, then I assume it's an issue within my brain, and I try to react accordingly.
posted by BenevolentActor at 1:47 PM on June 14, 2016

You're having anxiety around a specific issue that is negatively affecting your life, otherwise known a perfect scenario for a therapist. I think of it as the equivalent of a minor health issue for which you might call your doctor's office about. It's not a big deal relative to the kinds of things that people go to a doctor for but that doesn't mean that you should suck it up and try take care of it yourself. You might not NEED help from a medical professional but getting their help will make it so much easier to deal with that you'll wonder why anyone hesitates to make an appointment with a therapist. That certainly describes myself before I started seeing a therapist (and it was easy for it to be temporary too).
posted by VTX at 1:49 PM on June 14, 2016

Hi there,

I, too, travel for work fairly constantly, and have for the last ~10 years. My partner flies even more than I do--at least 2-3 flights per week--and I imagine him as the most stone cold, capable air passenger imaginable. He sleeps through takeoff, turbulence, and landing. Meanwhile I can't so much as read a full sentence during turbulence, have trouble focusing on music or podcasts in the same conditions, and generally feel like a hyperreactive, white-knuckled, superstitious buffoon on any flight. This isn't the best setup because most of my work is 6 hours away from me if I manage a direct flight (which I don't often luck into, so I routinely spend full days in airports and on multiple flights). I, too, have intrusive, unwanted thoughts throughout the airport experience. When I'm in cities for work, I'll often spend part of the trip dealing with anxiety about the return trip.

Having set the stage, I'll tell you my past and present coping mechanisms. Until the last couple years, I'd just drink. Drink drink drink. In the beginning it helped me push through my fear, but then it became a sort of compulsion/superstition: 1 drink at the airport bar, at least 1-2 drinks as early in the flight as possible. Make them all doubles please.

But slowly, flying more and more for work, and following my wonderfully calm partner's lead, I found that I was able to contain most of my anxiety to the first part of the flight: taxi, takeoff, and the first half hour or so of getting up to altitude. After that point I was pretty solid. BUT THEN, like you, I had One Of Those Flights (and the airline handled it so poorly that I ended up getting a flight voucher). I had a series of transcontinental flights coming a month after That Flight, so I cut my losses and called my doctor. She didn't even let me finish explaining the situation before she asked me, "have you ever tried ativan?" I hadn't, so she wrote me a prescription for the lowest dose, had me take a weekend test dose so I could get a handle on the effects, then to take one before my next big flight. And I have to tell you it worked like a charm. It was just enough edge-off to help me avoid getting worked up to that unpleasant state. Bad thoughts still would pop up, but they were easily closed--like tabs in a browser instead of boulders pushing me ever back down a hill.

I've taken a couple pre-flight ativan since then, but mostly I find that just knowing that little bottle is with me is enough to keep me from ramping up my anxiety. It's a little security blanket. And I've started meditating and doing breathing exercises since That Flight, too. It's all about building up a reliable toolkit for keeping your bad thoughts from spiraling you into an anxiety attack.

I'm even managing to talk myself out of taking anxiety medication like Xanax or Valium

Then tell this to your doctor. Ask for the lowest possible dose. Try out a pill on a weekend like I did, so you know how it'll make you feel (I just feel a little drowsy, nothing more noticeable than that). It's a good place to start.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:49 PM on June 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Another thing that helps keep the lizard brain to a minimum is thinking about stress tests on the airplane.

The wings won't fall off:

If an engine fails:

And the pilots know what to do.
posted by BenevolentActor at 2:08 PM on June 14, 2016

Thanks, all, for the input so far!

To clarify, I've taken Valium before for non-flight-related reasons and it was ace! I'm not at all concerned about the sedative effects. My issue with it is weirdly psychological. I've never taken it for a flight before so in my head, it's almost like if I take it, that's tempting the fates/my suffering unmedicated through each flight is the only thing that will keep the plane afloat. I know it's completely distorted thinking, and I will probably just need to fight through it and take the medication anyway.
posted by quadrant seasons at 2:18 PM on June 14, 2016

"And the pilots know what to do."

This is how I got over my fear of flying. I always used to think to myself "what if something goes wrong", and finally, when I started flying for work, I finally asked myself "well, yeah, what IF something goes wrong? what am I going to do about it?". There's very little I can do, unfortunately for me. On the other hand, there are 2-6 people on every aircraft that can do something, and often have 30+ years' experience doing it. Pilots are pretty impressive.

"last year, there was a horrific incident during a routine flight that involved strong winds and several failed attempts at landing"

But you did eventually land. Everything turned out ok. Just remember that. In the battle of Wind vs. Pilot, the pilot won. The pilots almost always win.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:24 PM on June 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

a horrific incident during a routine flight that involved strong winds and several failed attempts at landing

While I don't know the details of this particular incident, I'd guess that your pilots didn't consider it horrific, but rather a regular day at work. A ‘failed attempt at landing’ is not a crazy, scary, or unusual event for a professional pilot. Your crew was surely working harder than they would on a day with calm winds, but (unless there's more to this story) they were not panicking. They were probably enjoying the challenge, or at worst bemoaning their late arrival to their hotel room.
posted by actionstations at 2:27 PM on June 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm really similar, down to the upcoming transatlantic flight and the weeks of visions of death. If you've seen the previous fear-of-flying AskMes, you've probably seen my advice and
the zillion rituals I do. I get the regular thoughts of death and the "my fear keeps the plane aloft" sort of magical thinking, too (except in my case I think my fear will somehow sabotage the flight, because brains are stupid and irrational). In my case, it's OCD-related; seeing a therapist who's familiar with phobias and OCD might be a good idea.

I am literally typing this from the doctor's office where I just got an Ativan prescription specifically for flying. They'll give you a "practice" dose so you can see how it works for you, how much you need, and how long it lasts, well in advance of getting on the plane. (In the very very very very unlikely event I'm in a plane crash, I'd rather be zonked.) Maybe if you get that practice dose, it'll at least give you a few hours free of thinking about the fear, and that might help.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:29 PM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh hello, intrusive thoughts, my old friend. I'm in a ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) program right now, and the advice from that is saying to yourself "Thanks for weighing in, Brain, but I'm going to enjoy my vacation." That said, I do take Valium on flights.
posted by Ruki at 2:31 PM on June 14, 2016

I've been there, because of some bad experience with ears, aching horribly; another with smoke coming out of the air conditioning; and some with air pockets. My Solution: Business class, two XOs and lay down.
posted by nims at 2:42 PM on June 14, 2016

Another thing to consider:
How many U.S. cross country flights have crashed in the last five years?
Zero...? Yup.

If you think the law of probability means we're due, you're wrong. The law of probability means we're specifically NOT due since U.S. flights have some of the strictest safety and maintenance checks in the world.
posted by BenevolentActor at 2:45 PM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Valium doesn't "knock you out." It just quiets the part of your brain that's spinning and making you miserable. If you've talked yourself out of using it as a tool on the flight itself, why don't you get a scrip from your doctor for taking NOW so you can learn how to use it? Find your dose (standard adult dose is 5mg, I've taken 10 for stuff like medical procedures.) Don't drive around on it until you know how it works for you, and don't drink alcohol with it. It will help A LOT. And once you know how it feels, you will understand what a great tool it can be for a flight.

(By all means do the other therapy stuff too, whatever, but a co-pay on a bottle of generic Valium should be about $5. Low barrier to entry.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:46 PM on June 14, 2016

I have to drive myself to the airport, so I take my Ativan as soon as I hand the car off to the dude at Park Plus. It's such a relief to be as anxiety free as possible during the airport/airplane experience.
posted by rdnnyc at 2:51 PM on June 14, 2016

Nthing Valium or the equivalent. I am nervous even typing out this comment because I hate flying so much. But I can tell you it's not your not taking anti-anxiety meds keeping the plane in the air - it's me gripping the arm rests. Or it was, pre-Valium. Now I take one on the way to the airport and another as soon as I'm seat belted up on the plane.

And then I'm a normal person, who can watch a movie and moan about the atrocious meal and even (believe it or not) look out of the window.
posted by mgrrl at 2:51 PM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had a pretty bad stretch of flying anxiety for several years after a couple of bad flights. It's gotten better over the years, although I'm still never completely relaxed about flying. I didn't go the medication route (although it would have made sense to do so, and if the anxiety ever gets that bad again, I 100% plan to ask for drugs). Some things that have helped:

1. reading a lot about flying, turbulence, and air disasters (Patrick Smith's old "Ask the Pilot" column was great for this) as a combination of reassurance for the rational parts of my brain and quasi-superstitious "gaze into the face of the bad thing so it can't jinx you" exposure therapy for the less-rational parts. Also, since the lack of control is a big driver of my anxiety, rehearsing survival scenarios, paying attention to safety briefings, etc. can help--many crashes/disasters are survivable, and there's research on what factors can make a difference, so I try to focus on those and not the parts that are up to chance, or on the scenarios where survival is impossible.

2. moderate alcohol consumption before and during flights--not enough to get a hangover while still in the air on a very long transatlantic flight, because that sucks, but enough to take the edge off.

3. little rituals: takeoff is the worst part for me, and I once read that most things that go wrong happen in the first 6 minutes (not sure if that's true, but whatever) so sometimes I will count down those minutes--one one thousand, two one thousand style--in my head, which distracts me and also helps me breathe slowly and deeply, and then after 6 minutes tell myself "OK, the scariest part is over."

4. giving myself permission to: take audible deep breaths, grip the armrest, close my eyes, etc. to express the anxiety instead of hiding it because it's embarrassing. Sometimes this leads to kind bystanders being reassuring, which can be nice.

5. treating myself to really good stuff to read or watch on the flight, and listening to music, which absorbs my attention and makes me stop thinking about being on a plane.

6. booking flight plans that avoid smaller/turboprop aircraft when possible, since one of the scary flights was in a small plane and you feel the turbulence and motion more acutely in them.

7. trying to enjoy the cool things about flying--this has only started to work in recent years, as the anxiety has waned, but now I sometimes experience genuine awe at amazing views of the terrain or clouds below, and deliberately cultivate that--taking pictures out the window, trying to identify geological features or cities, marveling at weird cloud formations, etc. It's a long stretch from the days I used to avoid window seats or pull down the blind to avoid visual evidence that I was, in fact, on a goddamn plane--and it feels really good.
posted by karayel at 3:20 PM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hi. I worked at the medical examiner's office on the identification of the victims from 9/11. A month after 9/11 a plane crashed in Queens killing everyone on board and four people on the ground. Most people don't remember, but we do. All those remains were brought to our office for identification, along with the remains from Ground Zero. We just used a different color folder.

Before all of this I was terrified of airplanes. Like hold on and sweat and I'm going to die terrified. But afterwards, all the fear was gone. Some of it was existential, I'm sure, but some of it was my experiences. I'm going to try to write about it. I'm home feeling kind of overwhelmed by Orlando - it will give me something to do.

1. If you are on a plane that is in the air and there is a fire big enough to kill people, you are not going to be burned alive because you'll already be dead. Planes are made of things that are incredibly toxic and in that enclosed space, if a fire takes hold, it's going to suck in all the oxygen and pump out carbon monoxide.

Lest you think you'll suffocate, my boss at the medical examiner's office told me that when they responded to the Happy Land fire in New York, there were people sitting at tables, with their bodies charred from the fire. The carbon monoxide from the fire had put them to sleep so they didn't even know there was one.

And that's before the smoke inhalation and that's before the breathing in of the hot air. All these things can knock you unconscious or kill you before the fire even gets close.

(I assume it goes without saying the planes are equipped to put out fires and this scenario would never happen in the real world)

2. If the fire happens on the ground, then you're DOA because the plane has crashed hard enough to set the jet fuel on fire. That's hard. Once it starts to burn, it's over in a moment. Jet fuel is incredibly flammable and it burns hot. It melted the World Trade Center towers. If it hasn't crashed super hard hard (the non-technical term), then the crew has had time to let the air traffic controllers know something's wrong, and they will have trucks with foam waiting for the plane.

Burning alive is not in the cards. I'm not saying there are horrible things that can happen, there are, but people running around in flames is not one of them.

Some other things:

Remember there is a whole series of events between a non-eventful flight and a plunge to your death. It might help to remind yourself that those are not the only two options. For example, an engine might malfunction or the landing gear might not go down (or you might have to try to land more than once, like you did). All of these things are fixable. So, think of it as a scale from 1 to 100. And don't make everything 100. Try a 20.

Pilots are professionals. They are well trained, experienced and skilled. They are good at solving problems and getting plane off an on the ground. Notice that turbulence isn't on the list of things that go wrong. It's a normal part of flying. It's like choppy water. Planes do not drop out of the sky because of turbulence. Pilots seek calmer air to make for a nice ride and to calm passengers, not because the turbulence is going to kill you.

Sometimes planes do crash. They disappear. They are hijacked. Really bad things can happen. And when these really bad things happen, they are all over the media. They are all over the media BECAUSE they are rare and BECAUSE they hit that primal fear that comes with the lack of control you have when you're in the air. One of those things could happen. It won't. It's like winning the mega lottery - your chances of winning are statistically the same whether you buy a ticket or not.

No matter how afraid you are, it's still not going to happen. My daughter is eight and is afraid of sharks. We live in Richmond, Virginia and whenever I talk about going to the beach she brings up being eaten by a shark. Her being eaten by a shark is equivalent to you having a horrible event happen.

But let's say you do.

As part of my work on 9/11 I processed affidavits to help get death certificates for people without remains. A lot of these affidavits, which required including proof the person was in the World Trade Center, contained copies of emails, transcripts of voice mails and notes of conversations - all of which happened after one or both planes had hit.

These were from people who were above the sites of impact and were pretty sure they were not going to survive, but still had communication abilities. These messages were obviously heartbreaking, but none of them were panicked. No one was screaming. People were calling to tell people they loved them. To tell them they were OK. To check in. To give information. There were a lot of goodbyes, but they were all calm and loving.

I think that when the shit hits the fan we can do a lot more than we think we can. In extraordinary circumstances, many people step up and shine. It's not fated that if something were to happen that you would go down in a mass of terror and uncontrolled insanity. (I tell you this, knowing that you will not go down at all).

And in the end, really, the worst thing that can happen is you'll die. If you get seriously injured, your brain will take care of you. It will not be like you sitting at your desk and someone comes up and chops off your arm. You will have lots of help - lots of adrenaline and natural pain killers and cortisol and maybe even oxytocin. You will be in a totally altered state. "You" will not be there, in a real and true sense. Your family will be with you and the people you love and you will get through it.

So, nothing is going to happen, and if it does, you'll be OK.

My .02
posted by orsonet at 3:25 PM on June 14, 2016 [18 favorites]

The answer for me has been Lorazepam. I still hate flying and I still feel awkward, but not having the severe heart palpitations has helped me deal.
posted by terrapin at 3:52 PM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Think really hard about the numbers. The odds are incredibly, incredibly in your favour. Frankly, you're not that special (and neither am I). This short video might help put it in perspective (it's a map of all the flights worldwide, in a day - one day!).

When a crash fantasy sneaks into my mind, I try really hard to shut it right down. Plan ahead: make a little mental list of alternative things to think about (I like thinking about all the hotels I've ever stayed at, or as a last resort, I count backwards in 7s from 1000). I've also been that annoying person and started a conversation with my neighbour, just to take my mind off a bumpy landing.

I also avoid reading articles about plane crashes (or any crashes, really). It's just voyeurism and I know it only gives my self-destructive subconscious mind more fodder for my next flight.
posted by superfish at 4:14 PM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I once went eight years without flying because of similar bad-flight-induced fears. This website helped me conquer them when I could no longer avoid getting on a plane.
posted by come_back_breathing at 4:18 PM on June 14, 2016

Yup came in here to basically say a much shorter version of some of what orsonet said: If the worst happens, you'll almost certainly be knocked out before you have to feel anything terrible. Just a few moments of fear as you realize that something has gone wrong and then nothing.

And nthing what everyone else said about being statistically safer in a plane than you are in most of your regular day-to-day activities.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:27 PM on June 14, 2016

I was just on a flight that landed in Chicago after 2 failed landing attempts. It was pretty scary, for me and my folks who were on the plane. We kept coming in, almost landing, to the point where you can easily see individual backyard pools and cars in driveways and such, and at the last minute the pilot would haul the plane back up into the air and we'd make a long, excruciating circle back to try again. 3rd time was a charm. When we got off, the pilots met some people who were waiting at the airport. What orsonet said about challenge was right on. "Flukiest winds he'd seen in 10 years at this airport," the pilot said. But they just needed to dial in the right approach and it was golden. Calm and collected. Just because flying is exotic and unimaginable to us doesn't mean it is to them - trust their training!

Everything everyone else, said, too. A certain amount of "if it's my time..." fatalism is actually strangely helpful. I take comfort in being a "Girl Scout," by which I mean diligently reading the safety card and noting all the exits, thinking about how I could be helpful in an emergency. I transfer some deep breathing and calming exercises from meditation practice. I watch the calmest people on the flight and decide if they aren't worred, I don't need to worry. I've learned enough about turbulence and about how planes simply don't fall out of the air once at cruising speed to not worry midflight. For some reason I've come to enjoy takeoff, and visualizing the incredible speed and energy the engines are producing to power us into the air. I take comfort in the many stories of pilots who overcame various types of equipment failures to make safe landings. And drink if it helps, but prescription meds are probably a better option for myriad reasons. Also, bring along some calming, extremely normal podcasts or music playlists to listen to on earbuds, and kind of opt out of the weird plane environment a bit.

I find flight anxiety comes and goes along with the variations in life's anxiety. Given that you've flown anxiety-free before, you probably will again, and you're just having a flare-up right now that's maybe due to displacing feelings of anxiety from somewhere else in life. Therapy's obviously a good way to ferret that out. In the short term, general self-calming is good, too.
posted by Miko at 8:50 PM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I was a child and afraid of the dark, my mom said something to me once that always stayed with me:

"You can be as scared as you want to be... but you're still gonna be here tomorrow and you're still going to have to go to school. Doesn't matter how scared you are. You're not going to die from fear. Goodnight."

I have flying anxiety (and a host of other anxieties that stretch way back to being a child...) but this stuck with me because it cut through my distorted fear-based brain and made me realize that I was wasting a lot of energy fearing something that was likely not going to happen. And if it did, fearing it wasn't going to change anything. Fear changes nothing except for you!

Full disclosure: this works better sometimes than others. But for flying, it gets me on the plane.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:26 AM on June 15, 2016

No anxiety, on average 50+ flights over the last couple of years, 20+ the three years before that. Over that time I recall two flights that could be classed as interesting.

One was a flight where strong cross winds caused the pilot to have to abort three attempted landings at London City airport before they diverted us to land at London Stansted, which is a 45 min train ride on the express train from central London. This was memorable for two things - amazing views of London's night skyline as we did our circles and the massive inconvenience the diversion caused in terms of my onwards travel arrangements.

The second somewhat memorable flight was a trip to India, where the pilot announced about 45 mins into the flight that today was not our day, we were not going to fly to India, we were returning to our departure airport because we'd lost a hydraulic system, we'd land just as soon as we'd dumped enough fuel to reach our maximum landing weight for the aircraft and they were trying to find a replacement plane and crew to take us to India, he'd keep us posted. At some point he announced a plane had been found. Two hrs later he'd dumped enough fuel, smoothest landing imaginable. But the taxi way was lined with fire engines on stand by just in case. That was the only slightly alarming bit.

Another few hrs later they had also found another crew and I got to India with a total delay of 7 hrs after a very uneventful flight. The main thing about that day though was that my back had been playing up and after sitting on three different planes interspersed with breaks sitting round airports my back was absolutely killing me to the point where I could barely walk off the plane in Bangalore - and this was a buisiness class flight. So instead of exploring the city on the day of arrival as planned I went to sleep and afterwards the spa to ease my muscles and be able to work the next day.

These things stick out in my mind because they are very infrequent in my flight history - they were not infrequent for the crews on these planes, the airports involved or their ground staff. And I am very definitely alive and well as a result of their experience and able to tell the tales.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:55 AM on June 15, 2016

I really love how you captured the omnipotence of the anxiety response - that it's only your fears that are keeping the plane flying!

Could you do an experiment? Next time you're on a flight, in your mind try telling the plane that you're just super tired keeping the plane going, and would it mind taking over for a bit? If the plane tells you, "NO! I need your fear to keep flying!" well, you'll just have to suck it up and keep the plane going - all your fellow passengers and crew will appreciate your sacrifice!

If the plane says, "Sure, take a rest, no prob!" or if the plane doesn't say anything except for that regular old background hum of a well functioning plane, just say thanks! and doze off a bit, or read.
posted by jasper411 at 2:04 PM on June 15, 2016

There are some awesome answers here, but I just wanted to chime in to say two things.

1. I could have written this question 10 years ago. Then I started taking Xanax when I fly. I don't take it till I get on the plane, but I've stopped having anticipatory anxiety (it used to be for days or weeks before the flight, now it's not even when I get on the plane) because I've reconditioned myself that flying isn't scary. I've been able to lower my dose over time, and, though it wouldn't be my preference, I am actually confident that I'd be just fine if I forgot it entirely. Yay for positive reconditioning!

2. I talked to my uncle once, who's a pilot (not a commercial pilot, but still). I expressed the fear that the pilots are totally freaking out when there's turbulence. He said it was more likely that they'd be making out with the flight attendants. That... put things in perspective for me.

Good luck!
posted by bananacabana at 8:48 PM on June 15, 2016

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