scared to fly, need to fly
December 12, 2003 11:43 PM   Subscribe

I'll be flying 8+ hours to London two weeks from today. I have a paralyzing fear of flying, any advice?

Also, what should I do once I make it there?

I've already tried Xanax and OTC sleeping pills, as well as a few cocktails before boarding. I know it's irrational, but I just can't seem to kick it...
posted by esch to Health & Fitness (30 answers total)
alcohol is a beautiful thing...
posted by joedan at 1:51 AM on December 13, 2003

Stay up one (or two if you can) nights in a row, then try to sleep the whole flight.

I always use this trick, and I'm usually asleep before the plane starts taxiing.
posted by LukeyBoy at 2:01 AM on December 13, 2003

my brother - who never flies because of panic attacks - tells me there are drugs that can prevent panic attacks. You are still terrified, but your heart doesn't go into panic mode. Basically, remember it is a heck of a lot safer than being in a car. Take a look at the pilots - they are usually grey haired gents. They don't get that way by crashing planes.
posted by zaelic at 2:16 AM on December 13, 2003

A deep understanding and respect for the laws of probability prevents me from wasting my money on lottery tickets, but it also makes my plane journeys enjoyable and stress free. I guess the whole problem with "fear of flying", however, is that it's an irrational fear, and all the rationalizing and justification in the world won't cure that. I've heard of those drugs, zaelic, and I think they're fairly easily available now days. Here's a good resource anyway, and another.
posted by Jimbob at 2:51 AM on December 13, 2003

If you ask me, you just aren't getting sloshed enough, or taking enough sleeping pills. The former dean of my college used to have a very specific formula that made him able to stand the plane rides, but I honestly can't remember what it was. Have you tried muscle relaxers?
posted by angry modem at 5:56 AM on December 13, 2003

posted by muckster at 7:00 AM on December 13, 2003

Also, what should I do once I make it there?

Tell us all how cute our accents are? (",)
posted by dash_slot- at 7:11 AM on December 13, 2003

I have flown a bit, and still get a wee bit nervous. My trick is to take a very interesting magazine and make myself read it during takeoff. Once we are aloft I feel a lot better.
posted by konolia at 7:27 AM on December 13, 2003

what should I do once I make it there?

Be prepared for the longest gate-to-baggage-claim walk of any airports I've ever been in. Don't even think about taking a taxi into central London, use the Heathrow Express or Gatwick Express trains. Expect lots of wind and rain, poor heating and plumbing. The food has improved a lot in the last couple of years, though.

And don't ever confuse a Scot for an Englishman.
posted by fuzz at 7:47 AM on December 13, 2003

posted by majcher at 8:24 AM on December 13, 2003

I don't have a fear of flying, I just hate the all-around crappiness of the trans-atlantic economy-class experience. Stay up as long as you can tolerate prior to the flight. Down a couple of those 'individual' sized red wine bottles they serve on-board, then start reading something really dull (I've had good results with programming books): Out like a light for most of the flight. Getting a seat at an emergency exit (much more leg-room) is a good plan, if you can swing it.
posted by normy at 8:25 AM on December 13, 2003

Oh, and as for the fear part, for some people it seems to be linked to the mystery of it all... How the heck does something that big and heavy stay in the air?! It's a tough thing to just have 'faith' in, despite all the evidence of planes not regularly falling out of the sky. Perhaps doing a little research on the basic principles of flight prior to your trip might help. I've known a couple of folks who've found this has helped.
posted by normy at 8:33 AM on December 13, 2003

Hopefully you'dve seen it, but we recently discussed the Museum of London. If you're interested at all in seing how London became the city it is today, the Museum's a great find. There are also links to other sites and attractions in that thread you might want to check out. If you're looking for a very pleasant day trip outside the city, not long ago I ditched some boring meetings and visited Windsor Castle, Bath and Stonehenge. Yes, it's a tour bus, but it is a simple way to visit sites that would otherwise be problematic to reach.

As for the anxiety of flying, I'm surprised to hear you say Xanax is ineffective. Are you taking it earlier enough in the day to ensure it's "working"? Have you tried taking it the day before you fly as well? I'm not doubting your word, I just know it works for me, and for at least a couple of people I work with who also fly frequently between Chicago and western Europe...
posted by JollyWanker at 8:34 AM on December 13, 2003

Depending on your tolerance for chilly temperatures, you may want to take one of the original London Walks--inexpensive (5 pounds) and quite enjoyable. (The various ghost/horror walks are extremely popular.) During my last trip, I also spent a lot of time in museums, including the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the British Museum. One of my favorite places is Westminster Abbey. If books are your thing, be sure to hit the secondhand stores on Charing Cross Road. The Tower of London is a must-see (be sure to take one of the guided tours and arrive early). Day-long bus tours are also a good investment. Don't forget to see a show, although theatre tickets are getting pretty expensive.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:51 AM on December 13, 2003

I take tylenol pm before i get on the plane, and stay up late the night before (i'm usually too excited about my trip to sleep much anyway), and put my headphones on without sound, to drown out the other people and that dull roar of the engines--i don't sleep that much, but it cocoons me. (I only have a little anxiety while taking off--I'm bored out of my mind the rest of the time). You could try reading guidebooks about where you'll be going, and forcing yourself to think about that instead of the fact that you're up in the air)

The Victoria and Albert is one of my favorite museums in the world, so i second it (great and odd mix of stuff) : >
posted by amberglow at 9:04 AM on December 13, 2003

Take a look at the pilots - they are usually grey haired gents.

You've now guaranteed that esch's pilot will be Bruce Dickinson. Who will lull the cabin to sleep with his rendition of Aces High.

I don't like flying much either. If I know I'm going to be awake, I've found books of crossword puzzles to be useful. They occupy enough of the brain to pass the time.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:56 AM on December 13, 2003

As a very nervous flyer, the best long-haul flight I ever took was the one where I sat *right* at the front of the plane and could observe the activity around the cockpit. Being able to "peek" in when the door opened, listening to the pilots talking to one another, etc. for some reason gave me a strange sense of security -- somehow, knowing who was "at the helm" and seeing them in there confidently doing their jobs made me a lot less nervous.

If part of your fear stems from the feeling of being "out of control", this might be something to consider. Being close to the pilots made a little of that disappear for me, however illogical it may seem. I don't know if this is possible on the plane you'll be taking, but it might be worth a shot.
posted by scribblative at 11:15 AM on December 13, 2003

As for what you should do once you get there--as an American in London I found that carrying around an A-to-Z map of the city during the day and openly displaying it was the best way to meet people. In a city like New York City, openly displaying a map in some places is asking to get your pocket picked, but London's layout is so random and confusing that both permanent residents and tourists are constantly asking each other for directions to one place or another. Having the book generally means that you'll be regularly approached by people, who'll then strike up conversations most of the time.
posted by Prospero at 3:39 PM on December 13, 2003

Response by poster: We'll be there over New Year's Eve, is there anything that we shouldn't miss?
posted by esch at 3:47 PM on December 13, 2003

Dude, if you;re young, or interested in youth culture (What the FUCK are they wearing?) or fun lil shops, head to Camden Town.

My sister lives in Ealing, and whenever I'm there, I just head to Camden and walk around and write.
posted by armoured-ant at 5:20 PM on December 13, 2003

If you ask me, you just aren't getting sloshed enough, or taking enough sleeping pills.

"OR" being the important part of the above. People kill themselves by doing both.
posted by tirade at 5:25 PM on December 13, 2003

Two years ago I had what remains my first and only real panic attack ever, standing in the Portland airport crying and moaning about how we were all going to die. Now with medication (an ativan + two beer) and positive thought techniques I find flying unsettling, but not an impossible task. Here's a few of things that helped me:

- Meet the pilot beforehand. If you mention when getting your boarding pass that you are a very nervous flyer and would like to speak to the captain, nine times out of ten they don't mind arranging it for you.
- Have someone on the ground track your flight online. I find I feel safer if I know someone back home is paying attention to how the flight is doing.
- It sounds goofy and new age-y, but visualization helps. I hate takeoffs, so I like to imagine lots of successful departures. Close your eyes next time you're a car or train passenger and image you're on a plane.
- Try not to let yourself get too worked up days before the flight. If you get to the airport in a state of sleepless panic, your flight will be that much worse.
- Teach yourself about the physics and mechanics behind modern flight.
- Go to the airport for a few hours and watch the planes take-off and land.

Good luck!
posted by jess at 5:29 PM on December 13, 2003

When you get there (here..)....If it's a clear day and not too cold, get on one of those open-top tourist buses as soon as you can. The ride is not sophisticated but it will whet your appetite and give you a sense of the geography. Try an opera; I saw the dress rehearsal of Sweeney Todd at the Royal Opera and loved it, though I don't know if there are tickets available. For foot-familiarity, you might enjoy a London Walk. Walk in at least one London park and enjoy the architecture.
posted by suleikacasilda at 6:06 PM on December 13, 2003

I'm a transit geek, so I always recommend the London Transport Museum. But I've dragged plenty of civilians there, and they've all fallen in love with it.
posted by bradlands at 10:12 PM on December 13, 2003

Though Valium is the most widely recommended, I've seen anxious flyers get much better traction out of Ativan. Talk to your doctor.

While in the city, if you're a book geek at all, visit the British Library. I could spend two weeks there alone.
posted by Dreama at 10:31 PM on December 13, 2003

Don't watch Fight Club, Final Destination, Alive, Miracle Landing, or the X-Files episode "Tempus Fugit" the day before you leave.
posted by Danelope at 10:43 PM on December 13, 2003

A favorite day out:
Jump on one of the plentiful and cheap cruise boats from Westminster Pier with a ticket to Greenwich. In the winter its cold and draughty (wrap up!) and the sight-seeing commentary is cheesy, but you'll probably almost have the boat to yourself and the unique and up-close view you'll get of The City and East End is more than worth it. You can break your trip at Tower Bridge and check out the Tower on the way. At Greenwich, after wowing at The Cutty Sark, check out the interesting market (Sundays) and grab a snack and warm up in one of several excellent pubs. Then take a short (but steep) walk up the hill in Greenwich Park to Greenwich Observatory (home of 0 degrees longitude and Greenwich Mean Time) for great sweeping views across the whole city. Seeing as you're there, check out the Observatory museum - a fantastic collection of historic timepieces and navigational instruments. If you've any time left after all that, jump back on the boat and head further east to be shown the Thames flood barrier, that protects London from surge tides - an amazing engineering achievement on impressive scale.
posted by normy at 11:57 PM on December 13, 2003

what should I do once I make it there?

train to scotland.
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:26 AM on December 14, 2003

sgt: you don't think the plane ride will be scary enough?
posted by biffa at 3:21 AM on December 15, 2003

Stay up for an insanely long amount of time using coffee, caffein pill etc, and then take some sleeping pills right before boarding. 'll fix you right up.
posted by ac at 1:49 PM on December 22, 2003

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