I was never nervous about flying—my dad was a private pilot while I was in high school and I loved the trips we took as a family. Woke up once ready to yell at my little sister for crinkling plastic wrapping paper and waking me up (don’t know where I imagined she’d gotten it while we were flying). Turned out we were flying low through a river canyon in a hail storm. My dad was on constant alert, making sure there was a spot we could land should we need to. And I was sleeping.
My fearlessness persisted until the time I flew, six months pregnant with my son. The flight was calm, but I wasn’t. I kept imagining that he would not ever be born. He was, and is now 36 years old. But the fear of flying continues to this day.
Trick 1 Avoid stressful situations before and during the flight
- Focus on the positive—like all the things awaiting you at your destination.
- Allow yourself plenty of time at the airport. With Covid, you may need extra time for any testing required and/or to verify test results. Take time to feel relaxed.
You also might prefer to eat at home so that you do not need to remove your mask in the airport.
Trick 2 Wear your most comfortable outfit
I remember as a child dressing up to fly. My little sister and me in our skirts, blouses, and hats. For long-distance travel get comfortable! Wear loose-fitting layers you can move around in. And put on those compression socks. I remember arriving home from Europe the first time as a college student. I’d worn my hiking shoes tied up the whole 20-hour flight home. My legs were swollen for days. You’ll want slip on shoes that can be put on for a trip to the bathroom. And women bring your favorite pashmina/large scarf, which can serve as a blanket or folded up as a pillow on the plane, and as a wrap during your trip.
Trick 3 Arrange to wait for your flight in an airport lounge
Take advantage of the private airport lounges offered by some airlines, by some credit cards, and/or by day pass. They are calm, quiet, relaxing, and well separated from the noise and commotion of the airport. Find out before arriving at the airport where the lounge is located and how to gain access to it.
Trick 4 Sit where you feel most comfortable
I like the window seat. I love to watch the world go by. For me it’s relaxing and I like to be able to lean against the side of the plane to rest. Some people, especially those prone to claustrophobia, prefer an aisle seat—you’ll feel less confined, and can more easily get up and move around. It’s also easier to avoid looking out the window if that makes you nervous.
Trick 5 What to do if there’s turbulence
- Maybe seasoned travelers can relax when the plane flies through turbulence. I’m not one of those, though it does help me to imagine being in a car on a bumpy road.
- The trick that works best for me, is to close my eyes and breathe in deeply. I imagine God (higher power, whatever you call him/her, your mom, your spouse) holding the plane in the palm of his/her hand and smoothing the way. Then I breathe out and relax. I breathe that way until the turbulence stops and I calm down and relax.
- With nervousness, your breathing may get shallow. Deep breathing will instantly relieve stress. Breathe slowly and deeply for a count of five or 10, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Sometimes I use “square breathing” to relax and to help me fall asleep. Breathe in deeply through your nose for a slow count of 4, hold your breath for 4, breathe out through your mouth for 4, and hold for 4. Repeat.
Trick 6 Sleep on long flights
I’m a very poor plane sleeper (and since I live in the Middle East and have family in California, my flights are very long). I use the plane’s entertainment facilities and listen to music or shut my eyes and listen to the soundtrack of a movie. Those help me relax and doze.
Sometimes I resort to medication. Which has never worked for me. I keep hoping that something will work.
Trick 7 What you consume
Some people turn to alcohol to calm their nerves. I find it helps me relax for a little while, but on long flights, I find it keeps me awake. Be mindful not to mix alcohol with anti-anxiety medications. And make sure you’re drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated. It’s a good reminder to get up and move regularly since you’ll need to make your way to the bathroom more often. Be sure to avoid caffeinated beverages; you don’t need to make yourself more jittery.
Trick 8 Music to soothe you
Load your phone with soothing music, meditations, and/or breathing exercises to help you relax. Bring a book, make playlists, and download podcasts to keep yourself distracted. Download meditation apps, such as Headspace, Calm, Breethe, and Mindfulness, to help you calm down. Put your phone in airplane mode, put on your headphones, listen, and relax.
Trick 9 Chat with your seatmate
Most of us love to talk! Other travelers, those you know and those you don’t, can help to take your mind off your nervousness with a stimulating conversation.
Trick 10 Tools to help you get comfortable
Planes are notoriously uncomfortable for most of us. In addition to the tricks to help you relax, companies are always coming up with new ways to help us make the best of a cramped situation. Take a look at these products—they may help make you more comfortable:
- Memory foam neck pillow: Use a neck pillow to help support your neck and hopefully sleep in an unnatural position. They also come in child sizes.
- Foot rest: These attach to the tray table or around the seat in front of you (without bothering the occupant) and give you better foot support.
- Blanket/shawl: Women might consider bringing a shawl onto the airplane to use as a blanket. On long flights blankets are usually supplied, but for shorter flights, if you tend to get chilly, consider bringing a multi-purpose shawl to keep you cozy.
- Eye mask: Block the light and distracting movement around you with a comfortable eye mask.
- All in one kit: This particular has the memory foam neck pillow, a mask, ear plugs and a stuff sack to transport it all.
- Compression socks: Wear these especially on long flights to avoid swelling.
Hopefully when you arrive at your destination the thrill of meeting up with family, friends, and/or a new venue will help you forget your anxiety and welcome you to a new adventure.
Are you looking for someone to share that next adventure with? Register at www.seniortravelbuddies.com/register, post your trip, and find the perfect travel companion.