Coping with the fear of flying: Read our pilot’s tips!
If you're one of the millions of people who feel anxious about boarding a plane, you're not alone. The fear of flying, or aviophobia, is a common phobia that can prevent some individuals from flying. Consequently, travelling to exotic destinations and experiencing new cultures may seem almost impossible.
It is estimated that 25% of the population is experiencing some degree of anxiety about flying. But what causes this fear? And, more importantly, how can it be overcome? In our opinion, knowledge reduces fear. In this article, we have gathered some questions and answers regarding the fear of flying and some practical tips on how to fly even though you feel anxious or scared.
Our First Officer Riika Kaipainen started her career as a cabin attendant and then she trained to become a pilot herself. Now she flies Airbus 319/320/321 fleet at Finnair. She was happy to answer some questions and concerns that our Instagram followers had and share her knowledge.
We asked our Instagram followers what their concerns are regarding flying
Q: I don’t know who is controlling the aircraft. How can I trust him/her?
A: There are always two (or more) of us. Both of us can fly alone if needed. Finnair pilots have to earn their licenses in a strict school that monitors and keeps records of their training. Twice every year, two days at a time, Finnair pilots go to simulators with trainers and check pilots to have their skills tested. That includes scenarios that most probably pilots will never encounter in their careers in real-life, but they are always prepared to handle. Also, we must go through a thorough medical check every year. You can always say hello to us as you board the plane – if you tell your worries to the cabin crew or us, we will be happy to have a chat and ease your worries!
Q: How is it possible for air traffic controllers to notice everything? Is it possible to collide mid-air if busy?
A: Air traffic controllers monitor everything and can only work a set amount of time until they hand it over to a colleague. They are never alone; their training and medical requirements are strict and controlled. They see us on their screens and won’t take their eyes off the screen while working. And if something goes wrong, there is a backup, too: we have screens on our aircraft around us and a system that monitors the traffic. This system gives us a warning with time to react if some aircraft gets too close. In the flight deck, we monitor our screens, the aircraft systems, fuels and maps constantly, even when eating.
Q: I’m anxious because I do not know what is happening.
A: We try to keep you informed the best we can by making announcements – and you can always ask our cabin crew!
Q: I’m afraid that the plane would suddenly fall from the sky. What if the engine fails or if the plane loses power or electricity?
A: That is a common fear. However, pilots know how to act in these situations, and we can fly the plane some distance even without power or engines.
Q: I’m afraid of windy take-offs and landings.
A: They can feel scary, but the pilots can handle them! We also practice them in the simulators.
Q: I am afraid that the plane will land somehow unbalanced and will quickly go left or right, driving off the runway.
A: If a pilot sees that the landing would, for some reason, be unbalanced, they would simply not land, do a ‘go-around’ that pilots practice from the very beginning of the training and is a normal part of flying. Then we would just land again!
Some noises of the aircraft worry our followers
Q: What is the noise when the plane departs, and the engines get less power after a takeoff?
A: That is the thrust reduction altitude; it sounds a bit as the engines would sigh. During the takeoff, we have quite a high thrust setting, high enough that even if an engine fails, we would still get safely and easily airborne – and the excess thrust is then reduced soon after the gear goes up.
Q: Sometimes, just after take-off, the plane starts making a noise that sounds like it is broken.
A: That is probably when the gears go up! The noise is rattling, and then you get a few louder clunk sounds as they settle in the landing gear bay and the landing gear doors close. The landing gears make similar noises when they are being lowered for landing. It can be quite loud, depending on where you sit in the aircraft. And once they are down, they create more noise with their drag.
Q: What are the noises coming from the wings when preparing for landing?
A: That is the flaps! For takeoff and landing, we use different sets of flaps to create more lift on slower airspeeds. You can see the flaps coming out at the back of the wings, creating a curved shape of the wing – thus, more lift! We take them out in steps, so usually the noises due to them come four times.
Q: What is the weird noise that Airbus A320 makes after landing?
A: That is probably a power transfer unit. All aircraft have several hydraulic pumps, but A320s are also equipped with power transfer units. They sound a bit different than hydraulic pumps: like there is a dog barking continuously. We put on hydraulic pumps after we shut down one of the engines during taxiing. We do this to save fuel as it is more environmentally friendly.
Q: Is turbulence dangerous? Can the turbulence be so bad that something happens to the plane?
A: Not really; the only danger is falling down if you are not seated with your seatbelt fastened. The aircraft structures are designed so that they can withstand quite heavy forces and still be absolutely fine.
Q: How often is there turbulence?
A: Depends on the day. Some days are smooth, but some, especially beautiful and hot summer days, create lifts in the air, causing the plane to catch on that lift, and that feels turbulent. Flights are planned to avoid storms and thunder. There is nothing to worry about it, though, aircraft are designed to fly with lift.
Q: Can the pilots know beforehand where the turbulence begins and ends and how bad it is?
A: We look at the weather forecasts very carefully before each flight, and most times, we can predict the turbulence and always try to avoid the known turbulent areas – for your comfort.
Q: Is it difficult for pilots to fly in bad turbulence?
A: The autopilot handles it, but in the most severe cases, the autopilot might disconnect, and then we just fly it by hand. It is a trained skill and part of our job.
Q: During turbulence, why does the plane not always change altitude? Sometimes it seems that we fly in a cloud that creates turbulence, and it confuses me why can’t we change altitude.
A: Airspaces we fly in are strictly controlled for safety, and if we want to change a flight level, climb or descend, we have to request that from the air traffic controller who knows and on his radar also sees all the planes in the area. Vertical separation between planes has to remain, so sometimes there is a plane somewhere that we need to create distance horizontally with until we can change the altitude.
Q: How much do you communicate with other aircraft in-air to find smoother levels?
A: Almost every time when there is any turbulence. It is not because turbulence worries us; we want you to enjoy your flight. We pass our turbulence reports to air traffic control, who pass them on to other aeroplanes in the area. Then we change flight levels looking for smoother air for our passengers’ comfort.
We also gathered some tips from our followers on how to handle the fear of flying:
- Talking to flight attendants and asking how the flying weather is today.
- I have read a lot of facts and always try to think/focus on those facts. Flying is considered to be the safest form of transport.
- My daughter is a flight attendant at Finnair, and I remind myself that this is what she does on a daily basis.
- Calling my dad before boarding.
Lastly, Riika wants to say to everybody who is anxious about flying: “For us at Finnair, your safety is always our priority and our focus when we work. If you are scared or worried when you board the plane, we are there for you! Share your worries, and we will help. I hope you find joy in aviation and exploring the world – it is just a short flight away.”