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Fear of flying? Here’s how to overcome your anxiety

27.1.2017 at 07:00
As a teenager, Tytti Huttunen had a severe fear of flying. Now, after attending a safety information course, she has learned to manage her fear.

As a teenager, Tytti Huttunen became uneasy at the thought of flying. When she was sitting in a taxi on her way to the airport, her anxiety began to grow, if not earlier. When boarding a plane, her pulse was closing in on 200 as cold sweat began to run down the back of her neck.

“Once the plane began ascending, I thought ‘this is it for me, life is over’,” Huttunen says. “I immediately reached for the sickness bag, as I always spit up my orange juice.”

The thoughts of catastrophe were inescapable, as every external noise or sign became a precursor for potential disaster.

“I had a vast imagination which definitely didn’t help my fear. I envisaged all kinds of disastrous scenarios,” explains Huttunen.

Tytti’s fear of flying was first noted when she was ten years old, after which in a short space of time, it developed to the extent that her family began to favour travelling by car of ferry.

Eventually, when she was 15, Tytti’s parents suggested she attends a fear of flying course, which she immediately agreed to do. 

Managing your fears

During the three-day Passenger’s Safety Information Course organised by Finnair, Huttunen received psychological consultation on fear management, as well as attended classes on airplane technology put on by professional pilots.

“A pilot told me how and why planes function as they do, and why, regardless of anything that happens, the aircraft will stay airborne. We were taken inside the cockpits of planes to see the buttons and knobs responsible for specific functions.”

Those taking part in the course attended airplane staff safety exercises and were thus able to see for themselves, how thoroughly prepared the flight attendants are for various unforeseen events.

“We practiced what to do if there is a fire in the cockpit, how to open the emergency exits and slide down the evacuation slide.”

At the end of the course the participants were flown to Copenhagen and back, during which a flight attendant sat next to Huttunen and helped manage her fear.

“Talking to someone about something completely random and therefore diverting your attention away from the fear itself, is the best cure,” Huttunen says. 

Tip for getting over your fear: tell others about it

Attending the course didn’t completely eradicate Tytti’s fear of flying, though a comprehensive understanding of flying put her in control of her fear.

“I received so much information about what happens during a flight and how the functionality of everything is checked several times, that I now have a much less frightening idea of flying. If one nut or bolt is missing, even from the toilet seat, the plane won’t move,” Huttunen notes.

The most reassuring thing was visiting the cockpit during the flight back from Copenhagen.

“I was able to see exactly what the pilots do and hear how they communicate with air traffic control. I realised that the pilots aren’t a bag of nerves when flying, but indeed that most things are automated.”

To others suffering from a fear of flying, Huttunen suggests being open about it even with the airplane staff.

“The staff are there for the passengers. Telling others about my fear helped a lot. Nowadays, I occasionally go say hi the pilot and co-pilot, as knowing who is in charge of flying the plane gives me a sense of control over the situation.”


Read an aviation doctor’s tips to overcoming your fears

Finnair only offer their Passenger’s Safety Information Course in Finnish.