10 things to never say to a person who’s scared of flying

Sitting next to a nervous passenger can be hard work…your arms are bleeding from where they’ve dug their nails in, they keep on asking you what that noise means or why that light has come on, and you’re constantly worrying about what barmy or embarrassing thing they might do next. But there are a few things you can do (or not do) to help them through the whole sorry experience. 

Read on for some tips from the Terrified Traveller.

Haven’t you seen the statistics? Flying is the safest way to travel

Not only will they have seen the statistics, they probably know the figures better than you do. Like all phobias flying fear does not operate on a rational level, which is why it’s quite possible for those with a PHD in physics to develop a terror of turbulence. Pointing this out to your fellow traveller will most likely just annoy them, and almost certainly won’t magically cause their nervousness to disappear.

Why don’t you try hypnotherapy/mindfulness/any other therapy du jour?

Chances are they already have, and if it didn’t work for them, the question will come across as equally unwelcome. Some treatments can also be expensive and not an option for everyone, particularly if they don’t have great faith in them before signing up. While these are all options that can work for a lucky few, they are by no means foolproof - much like any other method of overcoming a serious phobia.

But my aunt tried it. She couldn’t fly for years and is flying to Australia next month!

Yay for your aunt. Now seriously, just drop it.

Don’t you want to see the world?

Yes, and that’s why this particular phobia sucks so much. Many flying phobics successfully overcome their fears and are able to do this, and for many, reading up on the amazing places they are yet to discover is a strong factor in working up the courage to get on a plane. But the assumption that being scared of flying equals unadventurous is gigantic misreading of the situation that can come across as particularly hurtful to the fearful flier.

Why don’t you try just taking lots and lots of flights until you get used to it?

Of all the daft questions I’ve heard about flying fear, this one actually comes closest to making some sense. Aversion therapy is one of the most successful methods of curing any fear, and in almost all other situations is the gold standard of treatment. But flying poses a few obvious problems in this respect: how many people have the budget or the holiday allowance to jump on a plane every couple of weeks in order to beat their phobia? Not to mention the fact that you can’t usually get off a plane a few minutes into the flight, providing the short exposure that’s recommended in a classic aversion scenario.

The two most realistic ways I’ve known people to do this are (1) getting a job that involves almost weekly foreign travel and (2) taking a holiday that involves a lot of internal flights, followed by booking a long weekend that involves a short flight in the weeks that follow.

Oh my God, we’re gonna crash!

Yup, I've heard this one too. Needless to say I wasn't tickled!

A few things that CAN help travellers with serious flying nerves will be covered in the next article.


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