A few months ago, I posted a picture on Instagram and mentioned that, despite how often we fly, I really don’t like flying at all – in fact, if I could walk to most of my travel destinations, then I would! I was amazed that almost everyone replied and said that they suffered from flight anxiety too! From the stress of getting through the airport and to the plane on time, to the weird sensations on take off and landing, to the “I know this is normal but it doesn’t feel normal and are we about to fall out of the sky?!” joys of turbulence, I was surprised that so many people have a fear of flying in one form or another. I went from loving flying to being a bit nervous in my teenage years, which exploded into a full blown fear in my early 20’s (when ironically, I was flying more than I ever had before!) Before I had kids, my solution was usually a few glasses of wine, a Xanax, and a window seat so that I could make sure that the wings hadn’t fallen off (because obviously, I would be the first to notice that!) But once I started flying with my kids (especially when traveling alone with the kids), I realized that being under the influence of anything was not an option anymore; should there be an emergency, I would need to be 100% focused on getting my kids out safely, and even without the emergency I would still need to be taking care of them.
Over the years, I’ve tried countless methods to deal with my fear of flying while still remaining calm and focused for the kids. Some things have absolutely not worked for my flight anxiety (hypnosis turned out to be just a very expensive nap) but some things have actually been pretty great. I thought I’d share 5 things that I do each time I fly with my kids to try to keep myself from freaking out too much, and make the flight as easy as possible for all of us.
Coping with fear of flying and flight anxiety when traveling with kids
1. Learn as much as you can about flying
I do not mean Googling “ways my plane could crash” or “top aviation accidents of the 21st century.” Do not do that. I mean learning as much as you can about how a plane works, and why it’s actually the safest way to travel. One of my biggest fears with flying is when I hear something or feel something strange, and I don’t know what it is – my mind then automatically assumes that a part has fallen off the plane and we are going to plummet to our deaths. Well, spoiler alert – that hasn’t happened. After one particularly nerve-wracking trip, I came home and researched what the different noises are on the plane, and found a website that literally had sound clips from the most common things you’ll hear on a plane, and what they actually are. This was fantastic, and immediately made a difference to me. I did a little more research and found out what makes the plane feel a certain way on take off and landing, exactly what turbulence is and why it’s really not a big deal, and all sorts of other amazing details that have really made me feel better about getting on a plane. It’s true what they say that knowledge is power here! This is the website that I got most of my information from, and I found it super helpful.
2. Talk to the cabin crew
Did you know that it’s sometimes possible to visit the cockpit before a flight, where you can chat to the pilot? This is something I discovered after a flight with our son, when a flight attendant invited us into the cockpit so that he could meet the pilot and see how the plane worked. On that visit I happened to mention to the pilot that I hated flying, and he spent a few minutes talking to me about his 30 years of flying, showing me what some of the controls did, and walking me through the flight path and expectations for weather issues. Listening to him talk about the flight as if it were a car trip to Target eased my mind no end, and when I went back to my seat, I felt like I had a friend in the cockpit looking out for me! I’ve also asked flight attendants about turbulence in the past; we often fly the Orlando-Newark route with United, and I’ve discovered that a lot of the cabin crew fly down to Florida, then turn around and fly right back up. This means that they’ve literally just flown that route, and can often tell you what the weather was like on the way down, and what it’s predicted to be like on the way back up. Obviously if everyone is busy, the flight is oversold or running late, or it doesn’t seem like anyone has the time to talk, this isn’t something you want to bother the cabin crew with – but if it looks like they have a few minutes to chat, I would definitely suggest striking up a conversation and asking the questions.
3. Take comfort items for you as well as the kids
When we travel, I always double and triple check that the kids have their comfort items – blankets, a cozy sweater, something that I know always makes them feel safe (read my complete diaper bag checklist for plane trips here.) Last year it occurred to me that I should be doing the same thing for myself; traveling with items that make me feel calm and safe. So now I always travel with an old sweater that I’ve had since college, my iPhone loaded up with music that I love, and – my absolute fail safe – a bar of my favorite chocolate! If we hit turbulence and I start to get nervous, I’ll put an earbud in and listen to a song that always makes me happy, or dig in to my chocolate, and without fail, I start to calm down. I can’t believe it took me so long to realize that something I’ve always done for the kids is something that I should be doing for myself too.
4. Breathing techniques
On one of the trips I made to my doctor to pick up Xanax for an upcoming flight, he handed me a packet of information on breathing and relaxation techniques. I didn’t look at the information immediately, but one night I couldn’t sleep, and decided to have a flick through the packet. I gave a few of the breathing techniques a try, and was amazed at how controlling my breathing had an immediate impact on how I felt. On my next flight, when I felt myself getting tense, I gave one of the other breathing techniques a try and it really did help me stay calm. The one that I have found most helpful involves breathing in for 10 seconds, holding the breath for 10 seconds, and then releasing the breath for 10 seconds. Not only does this deliberately help slow your breathing to prevent you from panicking, but concentrating on counting takes your mind off whatever is worrying you. For more of the breathing techniques that I have found helpful, try this website here.
5. Focus on the kids
My 4-year old, Harrison, loves everything about flying; in the same way I that I loathe pretty much aspect of the trip, he absolutely adores it. He loves packing his bag and making his way through the airport. He loves the roar of the engines of take off, and watching the ground disappear below. He loves turbulence, where he puts his hands in the air and cries “wheee!” He even loves the food! So every time I find myself getting nervous on a flight, I glance at him. He’s usually happily watching a movie or eating a snack, and it always makes me smile. I know that I would never knowingly put my children in a situation that I truly believed to be dangerous, and that reminds me that my fear is completely irrational. Focusing on my kids and how much they’re enjoying the flight reminds me that flying can be fun – after all, you’re off on an adventure!