Is Your Travel Buddy Anxious About Flying?
You notice that the person that you are helping on a long-haul flight is suddenly chatty, jumpy, or unusually quiet before boarding. As the plane revs its engines and begins to taxi, your travel buddy begins digging their nails into the armrest and looking around suspiciously or praying. If this is that person’s first air travel experience, they might be experiencing some anxiety, and you as a travel companion can help make their first trip abroad a pleasant one.
Helping someone deal with anxiety
Control your own reactions and body language. If the person next to you is anxious, if you also become excited or anxious about their anxiety you can unwittingly make the situation a little worse. If you seem relaxed, your travel buddy might be more relaxed. Breathe more deeply and encourage them to take deep breaths.
Distract your travel buddy. Talk about the cool things that they will do at their destination or ask them to talk about how they plan to enjoy their time with their family members. Try to change the focus from the negative (we’re going to crash) to positive (when I arrive, I’m going to see my son and his new family). You can also focus on the present (the “now”). On an airplane there is plenty of opportunity for that:
- What is the crew doing now?
- What’s in the pocket of the seat ahead of you? Maybe you can talk (or joke) about the items you can purchase in the catalogs and magazines in the seat pockets.
- Look at the kid in the row ahead of us—what’s he doing? Children are the ultimate entertainment on a flight.
- Which meal do you want to order? Food is one of my favorite distractions on a flight.
- Is there a line for the bathroom?
- Would you like something from your carry-on bag?
- Let’s get up for a stretch (when safe to do so).
Ignore it. If you have headphones or ear plugs to share, you could offer them to your travel buddy as a distraction. Although it doesn’t work for me, zoning out works for some people. In other words what you can’t hear, won’t bother you (so much). You can also pretend that the sounds don’t bother you.
Educate. Education removes some of the “unknown” that your mind capitalizes on to create anxiety. If your travel buddy tells you about their anxiety at the gate and you have a few minutes, you can play a short video on a mobile phone or tablet computer. Talk about the sounds you might hear during takeoff, flight, and landing. Just knowing what’s coming next (or is possible) can be comforting. Like mindfulness, you can control your thinking to a large degree and that can help you experience life fully and more enjoyably.
You can also educate the traveler as things happen. “Hey, did you hear that sound? The pilot just raised the landing gear. We’re on our way.”
Normal sounds of flying
Mike Leary shares a great summary of the normal sounds of air travel.
YouTube is a great source of video clips and sounds from aircraft. Enter the type of aircraft you will be using and watch a few take offs and landings to get an idea of what normal is and whether or not you’ll want some ear plugs. Steer away from the sensational videos of not so great landings or bad weather. Those videos are the exception rather than the rule.
To get you and your travel buddy started, watch these clips:
- Boeing 747 takeoff from SFO
- Boeing 747 landing from the cockpit
- Airbus A321 takeoff from Mumbai
Note: The engine sound is much different than that of a Boeing 747. That sound is normal for an Airbus A321 engine.
When the fear of flying becomes a problem
If your travel buddy experiences a serious episode of anxiety or suffers a panic attack during the flight, alert the cabin crew. When you land, share this information with the travel planner, so that they can get some medical or psychological help for the traveler before the return flight (which might be months away). It is the responsibility of the travel companion to make the planner aware of any problems that occurred during the flight. Travel companions do not diagnose or recommend treatment for any particular problem.