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Flying Fearless

5 Tips to Help You Relax and Be Comfortable During a Flight

by Cap'n Meryl

Billions of people travel by plane every year, yet there are an estimated 25 million Americans who are plagued by a fear of flying. For those with flying phobias, world travel may seem like a distant dream. Often, a person who fears flying may suffer from psychological and physical symptoms including heart palpitations, muscle tension and negative expectancies when boarding or flying on a plane, or for some people, when simply thinking about it.

If you or someone you know suffers from this common phobia, you may find that help is closer than you thought. Bookstores offer guides on overcoming the phobia and many online sites are now offering interactive courses. Meryl Getline, an airline captain and author, hosts two websites that offer advice to wary travelers.

"When you hear strange sounds at home, in your car and especially in an airplane, it's absolutely normal to perceive the sounds as potentially dangerous. And I'll be the first person to say that sometimes there is a need to be concerned. But until you've investigated the discovered the cause, being fearful can hinder the way you live your life," says Getline.

Getline's top five tips for overcoming the fear of flying:

1) Do Not Fear Turbulence
Do respect it! What does that mean? It means that when you hear a pilot warn of turbulence, it's always a good idea to keep your seatbelt fastened, even when the seatbelt sign is off. Why? Because injuries happen in turbulence almost exclusively to flight attendants who (because of their duties) are not buckled up and to passengers who are not buckled up. Unfortunately, turbulence is not always predictable. So, respect the seatbelt sign when it's on, even if it's smooth at the moment, and respect turbulence even when the sign is off by keeping that seatbelt buckled. If you do need to get up (and you should during a long flight to help aid blood circulation,) make sure that the buckle up sign is off first.

In thirty years of flying I have never had an incident of any kind regarding turbulence, although it is present on virtually every flight. Turbulence is usually nothing more than the equivalent of a bumpy stretch of road. There are exceptions, however, and being buckled up will almost completely eliminate any danger to you.

Turbulence may be uncomfortable, but is rarely dangerous or worth worrying about. If the idea still makes you nervous ask your to meet your pilots before your flight. This can usually be arranged and being able to put a face to your flight crew works wonders.

2) Believe in Your Crew
Your crew is well trained! Pilots go through immense amounts of training. Many airline pilots were trained by the military and others came up through the ranks flying commercially for corporations or commuters. The FAA rides very close herd on pilot qualifications for commercial levels of flying, and you may rest assured that flight crews are competent at their jobs.

3) Know That Airplanes are Strong and Flexible
In the certification process, aircraft are tested for strength and flexibility beyond belief. The amount of turbulence modern aircraft can withstand is nothing short of wondrous.

4) Deep Breathing Works
In interviewing many fearful flyers, one thing they seem to agree on is that deep breathing is relaxing and really does help soothe the most panicky thoughts. Also keep in mind that panic is nothing more than perception; it simply cannot hurt you and there is no need to tolerate the discomfort it causes. There are plenty of resources if you feel you need professional help.

5) Know that Flying is a Routine Event
Flying was once only for daredevils, but no more! It has become as routine as any other mode of transportation and continues to have an outstanding safety record. The old adage that you are in more danger driving to the airport than you are during our flight remains true. Nearly 3 million people fly every day!