The Strange Rituals People Do to Beat the Fear of Flying

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I have a highly embarrassing confession to make. I’m scared to fly. I say this is an embarrassing confession because I’m the Editor in Chief of Budget Travel magazine and should be a wholly confident and seasoned flier by now. I grew up overseas and flew all the time, and I’ve probably been on hundreds of airplanes. My two-and-a-half year old son has been on 26 round-trip flights, and my husband regularly travels for a living. But still, every time I book a flight, I feel that familiar twinge of anxiety tugging at my brain. “Ugh, I’m actually going to have to do this?” Clearly my fear has never actually kept me grounded, but it’s enough that en route to the airport, I’m always wary about what’s about to happen.

Apparently, I’m not at all alone. Even though air travel has never been safer, Fear of Flying is on the rise. A recent study showed that people with Fear of Flying are much more willing to pay for nonstop routes or traveling on a carrier they’re familiar with. I can understand that. I’ll always pay more for a nonstop flight, mostly to avoid the extra take offs and landings. I also have a familiar ritual that keeps my anxiety in check—it used to mostly involve wine, but now that my son most often flies with me, my routine is to read him a children’s book aloud during the more unnerving parts of the ride. (Which means more than one unwitting passenger has listened to me shouting Green Eggs and Ham during bad turbulence.) Wondering if I was alone with my weird calming ritual, I checked in with some friends to see if they had any rituals. Turns out, almost everyone does something that makes them feel more at ease in-flight!

“I touch the top of the plane right as I’m boarding. It’s like a love tap, like I’m bonding with the plane so nothing bad will happen to it. Just a little, ‘Hiya, plane!’” R.H., Cliffside Park, N.J.

“I cover my entire face with a scarf so I can’t see anything, and leave it on for the entire flight. I look like a crazy person and embarrass my husband, but I don’t care. It works.” L.M., New York, N.Y.

“When turbulence is bad, instead of looking out the window I focus my intention on the interior and pretend I’m on a bus. Typical turbulence is mild compared to, say, a school bus on a dirt road!” R.F.C., Irvington, N.Y.

“I always buy those nougat candies Bit-o-Honey, and stuff five of them into my mouth upon takeoff. All that chewing helps distract me, and what can go really wrong when you’re eating delicious candy?” C.T., Los Angeles, Calif.

“I close my eyes, breathe in deeply, and squeeze my boyfriend’s hand as hard and tightly as he will allow!”J.B., New York, N.Y.

“I always buy a National Geographic and look at the pretty pictures. It was my favorite magazine as a kid, and it’s my dad’s favorite. I guess that’s why it makes me feel better.” E.K., Brooklyn, N.Y.

“I force myself to fall asleep so I don’t actually have to experience takeoffs.” L.S., New York, N.Y.

“I chant a Kundalini yoga mantra in my head when things get rough.” G.M., Los Angeles, Calif.

“Right as the front wheels pull off the tarmac, I say a prayer to God, my mom, and my grandma. I can't sleep until this is done.” J.A., Brooklyn, N.Y.

“A Xanax and a bloody mary. ALWAYS.” B.C., Otis, Mass.

"I always carry "Rescue Remedy" on me in case I go in to full blown anxiety-attack mode. I've never actually used it on the plane but it makes me feel better just to have it." Y.T., Berkeley, Calif.

“My mom has always had one prayer she’d use when traveling or in scary circumstances. By proxy I find myself saying it before any take off, through turbulence or if we're coming in for a rough landing: "Dear Mother-Father God, please put the white-blue light of protection before us, behind us, on both sides, above and below us. Thank you, amen." It tends to roll off the tongue if you say it quickly.” D.H., Los Angeles, Calif.

“I used to wear the same pair of socks and underwear but they're too ratty now. I loathe flying, but love traveling.” A.T., New York, N.Y.

“I always make the sign of the cross upon take off and landing. I try to be sneaky about it. If I feel like I'll be spotted, I'll make the sign of the cross with my eyes: look up, look down, look to the left, look to the right. I'm not really religious, but I feel compelled to do it anyway.” K.D., Brooklyn, N.Y.

Do you have a fear of flying? If so, what have you done to overcome it?

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