As much as I love flying because it allows me to see far ends of the earth in less time than any other mode of transportation (so far), there’s one thing about air travel that scares the hell out of me every single time:
You’d think after all this flying it would be normal by now and no big deal.
It is, but it’s not.
There’s just something slightly terrifying about being on an aircraft weighing more than 20,000 lbs moving across the stratosphere while it’s rocking back and forth and suddenly dropping 50 feet without warning. You don’t really want to invite the thought of the plane plummeting 30,000+ feet down, but it’s an inescapable thought when the plane starts bouncing up and down in the air.
There are times when turbulence doesn’t affect me as much. But more often than not, the minute the plane starts rocking as if there were an earthquake in the sky, I internally freak out and immediately tense up. Then my breathing becomes shorter and faster. Simultaneously, I’m mind blown with how the passengers next to me are either sleeping through the disturbance or calmly sitting as though nothing is happening.
Last year, for instance, on my way to Boston from Chicago, I was flying on an express jet, the kind with two seats per row instead of three. As we made our descent into Boston, the plane out of nowhere started shaking and lightly dipping. And the turbulence felt exaggerated because the plane was small.
That doesn’t sound too bad right now, but holy moly. I couldn’t take it. So I immediately tucked my head between my knees, closed my eyes, scrunched my eyebrows (like that was going to do anything), and started praying to whoever could hear me to just pleeeeeease make it stop!
While millions of people survive instances of turbulence (including me! Haha), the mere thought of, “You’re going to survive” isn’t always enough to kill the internal panic.
So what to do?
Here are some things I’ve found that help alleviate the stress prompted by unavoidable turbulence:
- Know what causes turbulence. Understanding the source of this unavoidable disturbance is a good start if you don’t already know about it. This article published in USA Today explains turbulence pretty well and offers reassurance that you are unlikely to die when it occurs. Basically, turbulence is caused by atmospheric pressure, jet streams, air that circulates in mountainous areas, thunderstorms and weather fronts. And pilots can’t always tell beforehand whether or not they’ll encounter it. Clear air turbulence occur without visual warning signals, such as clouds.
- If possible, choose a seat in the center of the plane. I’ve found this to help with shaky turbulence, as the movement is not as exaggerated. However, it doesn’t do much when the plane drops several feet.
- Put your head between your knees. If the turbulence is that bad, it doesn’t feel as extreme if you’re kind of scrunched up into as much of a ball as you can get. And yes, it might look a little silly to do this, especially when your neighbors are being super chill. But if you’re internally screaming and praying that it all stops now and don’t know what else to do, this helps a lot.
- Distract yourself with a really engrossing activity or game, like Fruit Ninja. If your concentration is elsewhere, the plane will not seem as bouncy or shaky as it is. I recommend Fruit Ninja (this might sound silly but I’m serious) because it takes a lot of focus to slice all the fruit and avoid the bombs. But whatever floats your boat, whether it’s a really steamy romance novel or a painfully funny comedy show, as long as you’re mostly paying attention to something else will make the ride seem less turbulent.
- Don’t lean against your seat. Not sure why this works for me, but as soon as all hell breaks loose, I lean forward and bounce around and shake with the plane. It reduces the impact felt when leaning on the seat.
- Think of it as a bumpy car ride. Okay, so this method hasn’t actually helped me much, but it might be helpful to others. If you close your eyes during a car ride and pay close attention to every bump along the way, then compare that with the bumps experienced during air travel, it’s clear that there are way more bumps on the road. Perhaps the reason it feels safer in a car is because you know you’ll hit the ground, and because the bumps aren’t as bouncy as they are in the air sometimes. But maybe it’ll help to visualize the plane gliding along a plane of periodically bumpy concrete rather than in the air.
- Hold on to the thought you’re going to be alive when the plane lands. In the end, just know that you’ll make it through the turbulent times. Since the most dangerous part of flying happens during landing and take off, the plane is safest once it’s up in the air – even amid turbulence. Additionally, aircrafts these days are designed to withstand more turbulence than the majority of fliers have experienced.
- Choose flights carefully. This article on USA Today explains that summer flights will typically encounter turbulence, as the sun heats the earth unevenly. A solution? Fly earlier during summer days.
If you’re reading this and aren’t afraid of turbulence, why? How do you think of the disturbance that allows you not to be bothered by it?
Let me know in the comments or via email!