View Full Version : Acrophobia and Air travel...

2013-May-29, 09:32 PM
Acrophobia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acrophobia) and Air travel...

I have managed to avoid taking airplanes for all my life because of being really afraid of heights.
No more. I'm taking a trip to Portugal next week, and I have to go there by aircraft...

Any advice for a first time "super scared of heights" Air traveler?

-- Dennis

2013-May-29, 09:45 PM
Aisle seat.

Something to read or watch, to keep your mind preoccupied.

Also: Air travel is statistically much safer than travel via car (or train too, I presume). At least that's what I've read.

It's been 13 years since I've flown.

You'll do fine, have a good flight. :)

2013-May-29, 10:29 PM
I am not even sure you'll have a problem. I myself am not particularly good with heights - things like looking down from a ladder, from a high balcony, or down even a 3 m dive into the swimming pool can give me problems, but flying in an airplane is a bit like looking down on a map... the height is rather abstract, and I don't feel it the way I feel it even when watching one of those dreadful YouTube videos of Russian kids climbing bridges or fooling around the roofs of highrise buildings.

Anyway, good luck for the trip. Maybe looking forward to Portugal will help. Gorgeously beautiful country.

2013-May-29, 10:32 PM
I don't know how much this will help, but I'm afraid of heights but it has no effect in an airplane. Tall buildings scare me, but being in an airplane doesn't even feel like being high up.

2013-May-29, 11:04 PM
I don't know how much this will help, but I'm afraid of heights but it has no effect in an airplane. Tall buildings scare me, but being in an airplane doesn't even feel like being high up.

I really hope so. And thank you Buttercup, Arneb, and Jens. My flight is next saturday, I think I have an Aisle seat and I know I have a good book with me! Hope to see you Sunday..

-- Dennis

2013-May-30, 01:26 AM
You probably don't have a choice at this point but bigger airplanes are probably better. For me, looking out the window is the ONLY enjoyable thing about air travel. Especially out the front window, which I got to do at work a few times.

2013-May-30, 01:32 AM
Most international flights provide a fair number of distractions, mostly in-seat video and games. And there is always my favorite activity on long flights - sleeping!

2013-May-30, 02:03 AM
My wife is a fairly nervous flyer. I've tried logical arguments (airplanes are one of the safest forms of transportation), but they don't help her emotional state. She focuses on the goal (her destination), brings stuff to keep her occupied, and almost always takes a Xanax. You might want to consider getting a prescription from your doctor if you are really concerned, but if you are not used to taking them, they can make you sleepy.

2013-May-30, 04:07 AM
I too am scared of heights. The first three flights I took, I jumped out, with a parachute on a static line. It was ten years before I flew again.

But if you can talk about it, you can do it. :)

Have a nice trip!

Ara Pacis
2013-May-30, 05:10 AM
I too am scared of heights. The first three flights I took, I jumped out, with a parachute on a static line. It was ten years before I flew again.

But if you can talk about it, you can do it. :)

Have a nice trip!

On my first flight, I also jumped out... but without a parachute. It was on the ground. :)

2013-May-30, 05:22 AM
Technically, on my first flight, I slipped and fell out. :)

Nick Theodorakis
2013-May-30, 12:18 PM
I was also going to comment but that being in an airliner does not at all feel like being on a high place or high building, but since I'm neither afraid of heights or flying I'm not sure what relevance it had. But FWIW, being in an airplane does seem "different," or more abstract, as another said, so you may be perfectly fine.

Just be aware that takeoffs and landings can seem noisy and "bumpy" so don't panic and think something has gone wrong.


2013-May-30, 12:36 PM
Lots of tretament sfor phobia, uaullsy involving gradual exposure toi the object of fear, so that you get 'used to it'.
But no time for that.

See you doctor; ask if they will prescribe a mild tranquilizer to take on the day.
Practice simple relaxation exercises. Look them up online, or just slow shallow breathing; imagine that you are forcing your shoulders down at each exhalation.
Sit in an aisle-side seat. They are less popular so no probs.
Tell the steward/ess when they come around - not as you board, there will be queue behind you!
Drink a lot, NO alcohol!
Talk to your neighbours, tell them you're scared, they may be too!
Or else read, watch in-flight video. Hope it isn't Towering Inferno!
At take off and landing have a pleasant memory or scenario, or a project that needs work, to run through your mind.


2013-May-30, 01:47 PM
Read up on flying so you have an idea what the various bumps and shakes that'll happen during start and landing means.

It helps to be able to identify a bump followed by increased shaking during landing as meaning "they extended the wheels, which is a really good thing to happen around now" instead of being scared by the unknown and think something has gone wrong.

Under the Rose
2013-May-30, 02:16 PM
There has been plenty of good advice given and I can only think to add this...

A friend has a wife who is very apprehensive of flying and she takes Gravol, an anti-nausea medication that has a mild tranquilizing effect, when she has to travel by air. My mother is a nervous traveler also and uses this product. I am not nervous but had a very bumpy flight one time due to air turbulence and became very motion sick, along with many others. I would rather die than puke in public so I asked the stewardess if she had anything to suggest and she had Gravol which she gave me. (That was some years ago and they may not have the same privilege to dispense under today's regulations.)

Within minutes, I was symptom free.

Information and cautions at this link: http://chealth.canoe.ca/drug_info_details.asp?brand_name_id=1805

As others have noted, being inside an airplane is quite different than being near the edge of a height. Portugal sounds grand. Just hold that thought! :)

Infinity Watcher
2013-May-30, 03:24 PM
I'm not great with heights either, not actively phobic but I don't like them much, get me in an aeroplane however and I love it, even small craft, I'm hoping once I actually have money to get a pilot's license I just... don't respond to aircraft the way I do to a socking great cliff so you may find aircraft don't affect you, that said if you think you might have significant anxiety problems, consider having a word with your GP/PCP as others have noted there's some decent enough OTC stuff but perscription meds or even some form of therapy might be worth it as well, without knowing your situation it's impossible to guess but what's the worst they can do? say no?

Paul Beardsley
2013-May-30, 04:08 PM
I usually don't have any problems with flying, but now and again I get scared just before a flight for no reason.

My advice from this perspective:

Don't feel embarrassed about being scared. The people around you are probably more sympathetic than you realise.
As others have said, immerse yourself in something if you can - a book or a conversation - or sleep.
Keep in mind that you might not be scared at all as it's not quite the same as usual fear of heights.
In short, all the advice on this thread is pretty good. Hope you enjoy Portugal!

2013-May-30, 04:58 PM
My wife had a fear of flying, and when challenged she tried to rationalize it by arguing that a plane is heavier than air and it didn't make sense that it could fly. Thus it was extremely dangerous. I found this an interesting irrationality from somebody with a PhD, because the evidence that pėlots fly for decades and retire on huge pensions didn't seem to impress her one bit. Evidence was irrelevant. So once during a flight I explained the principle of the aerofoil to her, showing the path length of air over the wing was longer than under the wing, pressure difference thus lift, bla bla. I could demonstrate how the plane was controlled by slight alterations to the shape of the wings by using the flaps, and she could see at first hand how this happened turning corners and landing. For some reason, this basic physics lesson completely eliminated her fear of flying.

Women are weird, and I'm still scared.

I don't suppose that helps.

Ara Pacis
2013-May-30, 05:01 PM
OP, do you get scared on boats or rollercoasters?

If not, then just think about the experience as being similar. Remember that when you're not on the first car of the coaster, you may not be able to see the supporting rail, so just imagine that you can't see what's supporting the plane but that it's still there. Also, look towards the horizon and work your way to looking straight down and pretend that you are looking at a map or through the water of an aquarium to the people down below.

But if your flight experiences major turbulence, all bets are off. Especially if it's at night over an area without city lights. It happened to me over the Rocky Mountains once and it was either overcast above us or a new moon. Either way there was no visual horizon and it was very discombobulating.

2013-May-30, 05:17 PM
As others have mentioned, there are various levels of Acrophobia.
Are there any situations where heights aren't a problem, or as much of a problem?

Personally, I have a fear of falling, not heights.

-Roller coasters? No problem, I'm strapped in.
-Tall buildings? No problem as long as I'm not standing at a full length window. In fact I had no problem at the top of WTC1 out in the open air, because the rail was set back far enough from the edge of the roof.
-Airplanes? I usually have my gaze fixed to the window.
-Bungee jumping? I was terrified on the climb up, but had no trouble stepping off the platform because it was a controlled fall.

On the other hand...
-Theater or stadium upper levels... I think I'm going to roll down the aisle and over the rail.
-Ladders... Ok up to about 6 feet.
-Any kind of railing. As long as it's very sturdy without any openings (like a brick wall) and at least up to my chest (above my center of gravity), it's ok.

I have a cousin with a similar problem. She's afraid of flying and she's a flight attendent. As long as she's working, it doesn't bother her at all. But, put her on a plane as a passenger? She starts to freak out.

2013-May-30, 05:49 PM
I too am scared of heights. The first three flights I took, I jumped out, with a parachute on a static line. It was ten years before I flew again.The one time I went skydiving, I noticed that fear of heights didn't kick in as much as I was expecting. The ground was far enough away that there was no obvious visual indication that it was getting closer, so it didn't feel like I was plummeting toward it (even though I was). It felt very abstract. By the time I was close enough for the ground to feel like it was something to collide with again, I'd had a chance to become gradually accustomed to the whole thing. A cool experience, all told.

2013-May-30, 05:54 PM
Don't feel embarrassed about being scared. The people around you are probably more sympathetic than you realise.

For a long time, one of my wife's ways of dealing with her fear, which seems particularly acute during take-off and landing, was to hold my hand, sometimes pretty tightly. Shortly after we were married, she had to make a trip on her own, and she told me afterward that she was telling the woman next to her all about her fears and the woman let her hold her hand during the scary parts.

And of course, there is this reference from Airplane:

[as the plane prepares to take off]

Lady: Nervous?

Ted Striker: Yes.

Lady: First time?

Ted Striker: No, I've been nervous lots of times.

Infinity Watcher
2013-May-30, 06:02 PM
And of course, there is this reference from Airplane:

That said... as good as some of the jokes are on Airplane (not all of them, the quality is kind of variable but there are some very good ones in there)... it's probably not the movie to watch before flying if you're nervous... it... probably won't help matters...

2013-May-30, 06:15 PM
There was a Simpsons episode where Marge, in order to get over her fear of flying, watches a movie she thinks will help her: with the calming, reassuring title Alive.

Definitely not to watch before, during or after a flight.

2013-May-30, 06:20 PM
Why do you need to take a plane? Is Portugal at war with Spain again?

Anyway, this is how it goes.


Since your flight is within Schengen (I'm assuming Netherlands to Portugal), you shouldn't need a passport. However, carrying some photo ID on you is probably a good idea. At some point, you may need to prove your identity at least for security reasons. Naturally, bring any documentation that may be necessary to things like the hotel. Currency shouldn't be a problem.

The biggest culture shock may be the packing. You need to consider two types of baggage: checked and carry-on. Carry-on baggage, also known as hand baggage, is that which you keep on you the whole flight, carrying it with you into the aircraft cabin. Baggage allowed into the cabin is extremely limited by two considerations. Naturally, the size as it needs to be able to stow properly in either the overhead bins or under the seat in front of you, and also security concerns, which restrict what items can be carried onto planes. Normally, you can carry something like a backpack, or maybe a small wheelie case or a large head bag, plus something like a handbag or a laptop bag. There must be no sharp objects, lighters and the carriage of liquids brought in from the outside are severely restricted, so don't expect to be able to carry much in the way of toiletries. Consult with your airline for the limits on hand luggage, both the size and what can be carried.

Checked baggage is baggage you hand over at check-in at the airport. They take it to the plane for you, stow it in the aircraft hold, and you reclaim it at your destination. The weight and quantity of these checked bags is subject to restrictions. Normally a case isn't allowed to weigh much more than 20kg. This varies widely from airline to airline. As before, consult with them before flying so you know how best to pack your things. There are some items that can't be carried in checked baggage either, like polonium.

At the departure airport

This is a short haul flight, probably taking around 2, maybe 3 hours. You should probably arrive at the airport by an 1― hours prior to the flight's scheduled departure time at the latest. Your airline may advise differently depending on circumstances.

There are three main stages to the airport: Check-in, security, gate.

If you're going from a large airport (Schipol?), check-in will be large. Banks of monitors may guide you to which desks to use. Staff should be on hand to help. Often these days, before the desks, and queues to the desks, there will be self-service machines, you will be expected to use one to print your boarding pass. You then take that to the desk along with your baggage.

By this point, you should have your boarding pass and any baggage destined for the hold should have been checked. You can now proceed to security for departures. A basic security circus will consist of metal detectors and X-ray machines. Your hand baggage goes through the latter, you go through the former, not the other way around. Do not try to play around with security, they're not interested in stupid jokers. You must put your bags on the belt. You may be required to remove a laptop or tablet and place it in a tray that is available for this purpose. Also, any coats and belts must be put in a tray and any items in your pockets and jewellery. Sometimes, you are even required to remove your shoes and send them through X-ray as well, but this is variable. You will be directed when ready by a security person to step through the metal detector. It is not uncommon to be give a New Age treatment with the magic magnet wand to double check you aren't carrying a gun or anything and possibly given a patdown. Some airports have nude-o-vision machines for additional checks. When you and your baggage have passed your respective screening, you can redon your apparel, re-pack and collect your bags and continue.

After that, you are in departures and can enjoy the shops, restaurants or just sit down or maybe watch aircraft through the windows taxiing around. Banks of monitors positioned frequently across the departure lounge should display the departure listings. Keep observing them for your flight to know when the time is right for you to go to your gate. Most airports don't make lounge wide announcements for all departures, unless it's a really small one and they only have like one flight a day. The exact sequence of instructions varies from airport to airport. You should probably be at your gate by at least 30 minutes prior to departure, but observe the monitors. They may give the instruction "Go to gate" (in Dutch of course) a short while prior to commencement of boarding.

At the gate there may be additional security checks. In Schipol in fact, I think this may be the only security check. Have your boarding pass ready for inspection, possibly multiple times. Board when your seats or class are called. Sometimes boarding can be done directly from the building use a jetty, or sometimes it requires walking outside and climbing some steps to the aircraft. Other times, if the aircraft is on a remote stand, you may be led onto a bus for a short ride.


Find your seat and stow your hand baggage. It must either be in the overhead bins above your seat or under the seat in front of you. You cannot have it in your lap or under your legs for take-off and it must not impede your exit if you need to do it in a hurry. Sit down, fasten your seat belt and relax. In a short while, the aircraft will prepare for departure.

You may hear the squealing sound of the hydraulics being limbered up while waiting for pushback. The aircraft is pushed back by a tug vehicle so it will initially be silent. As the pushback is taking place, the engine start begins. You'll hear the humming of them as they spool up, possibly accompanied by more sounds of the hydraulics. In addition, the sound of the air conditioning may cut out once or twice as the power system is changed from ground power, to auxiliary power, to main power. The aircraft will probably taxi under its own power, so you'll hear the engines running up and down and taxi goes on. You may also hear the droning sound of the flaps, parts of the wing that move for different phases of the flight, being lowered for take-off. The cabin crew will deliver a safety demonstration around this time, so pay attention to that for your own benefit.

When the aircraft is about to take-off, there may be a dinging sound, which is a signal to the cabin crew. The takeoff roll is naturally bumpy since the nose wheel is running over the runway centreline lights. After rotation, things will feel smoother, but will get even smoother a few seconds later when the sound of a thud or two marks the raising of the undercarriage and the closing of the undercarriage doors. There will be droning sounds in the following few minutes as the flaps are raised. You may hear additional dinging, which some people misinterpret as the sign they can take off their seat belt. The first dinging shortly after take-off is a signal to the cabin crew that they can get up and do their duties, but not the passengers. Depending on traffic, the climb to cruise may not be continuous. If air traffic tells the the aircraft to level off at an intermediate height before continuing the climb you may hear the engines spool up and down.

Usually, about 10 minutes into the flight, the fasten seat belt sign will be switched off, but this is dependent on conditions. I had one flight where it was on the whole flight. The lights above your head will indicate this and an announcement will be made. The smoothness of the flight is naturally weather dependent. Sometimes there's a bit of bouncing. It can be fun. Otherwise, read a book, watch some inflight entertainment if there is any or sleep.

You'll probably notice when the engines roll back for descent. During the descent, intermittent spells of slightly increased bumpy noise may be felt. That's the speedbrakes being raised to help bleed off the energy. You may hear it but not feel it. This doesn't happen on every flight anyway. As the descent continues, the engines may once again spool up and down to regulate the descent to fit into the traffic. Within a few minutes of landing, the flaps will start to be lowered. This is marked by the same droning from the departure. It happens in multiple stages, so you'll hear it repeatedly. Then with a minute of two to go, the undercarriage will be lowered. There will be thuds and a large increase in noise with some increased feeling of bumpiness. The landing can vary in softness. Sometimes it is quite thuddy. The noise will increase considerably shortly afterwards as the engine thrust reversers are deployed to help slow down the aircraft. After vacating the runway, the flaps will be raised, so you'll hear the familiar droning sound.

At the arrival airport

The aircraft will taxi to the stand and in time, you will be deboarded in a reverse of what happened before. You will be directed to arrivals, which may or may not be segregated from departures, depending on the airport. Follow signs for arrivals and baggage reclaim. Because this flight was within Schengen, there will be no immigration to worry about so the only step is to reclaim your checked baggage, if you have any. If you don't you can go straight to the exit and continue your onward journey. If you do have baggage to reclaim, follow the signs to the baggage reclaim hall where banks of monitors will advise your which of the possibly numerous carousels with circulating baggage will have the bags from your flight. Just wait patiently until you see them come out and pick them up in a calm manner. If it takes more 20 minutes before you start seeing them, someone has fallen asleep so prod some of the staff about it. You can then leave.

2013-May-30, 07:07 PM
Excellent description.
I'll just add that even if it's schengen, if you do have a passport bring it anyway.

2013-May-30, 08:55 PM
I am terrified of flying and have actually gotten worse over time. For relatively short flights, I take Benadryl (diphenhydramine) an hour or so before my departure time to knock myself out. Longer flights (>3 h) require stronger stuff. Just before takeoff, I look out the window and say (under my breath), "There's a man on the wing of this plane." (Twilight Zone reference)

2013-May-30, 09:11 PM
In addition to glom's very comprehensive description, I add only the following. You are not required to take your shoes off for security at many airports. However, even if you are not, there will be passengers in the queue who voluntarily take theirs off, and they may also demand (quite aggressively) that you do the same. These people will only speak English, and you do not have to listen to them. However, they may become quite hostile and aggressive if you ignore them. Call airport security if necessary.

Ara Pacis
2013-May-30, 09:54 PM
I do sometimes get the jitters before a flight. I just take a deep breath and tell myself that I've made a decision and it's too late and whatever happens will happen, and that every time that I've made that decision in the past, I lived, so I will this time too.

2013-May-31, 01:33 AM
I'm the only driver in my immediate family. So, 99.9% of the time I'm in a car, I'm doing the driving. The other 0.1% of the time, I'm a terrible passenger, worrying about the real driver's steering, turning, braking, etc. No matter how bad the conditions, I have to deal with 'em, and it keeps me occupied. It figures that I get nervous on a plane. Not that I'd want to be flying it, nor would that be any safer, but I do.

2013-May-31, 09:10 AM
I normally do take off my shoes, but that's because my regular shoes has steel toe caps and I don't demand others do the same.

For me, I treat the security check as a game I win if the metal detector doesn't go off.

2013-May-31, 09:20 AM
My advice to a first time flyer? Bring headphones (even though they make you turn off electronics during takeoff) because sometimes there are crying babies. It'll also help block out the engine sounds.

Bring a book or two to read (not just on the flight but while waiting to board)

Also you might want to bring along chewing gum, as the air pressure changes can block up your hearing and chewing or yawning can help equalize them.

Go to the bathroom before takeoff.

Leave yourself plenty of time to go through security-- an hour at least, but two is usually better.

Paul Beardsley
2013-May-31, 02:54 PM
Bring a book or two to read (not just on the flight but while waiting to board)

Yes, an actual book. When they ask you to turn off electronics, that generally includes Kindles.

Ara Pacis
2013-Jun-01, 04:20 PM
My advice to a first time flyer? Bring headphones (even though they make you turn off electronics during takeoff) because sometimes there are crying babies. It'll also help block out the engine sounds.

You might try a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. I personally don't like them because they seem to cause me pain, discomfort and make me feel disoriented. Of course, the last time I tried on a pair I was having vestibular-ocular (balance) problems from post-concussion syndrome, and the silence also make my constant double-eared tinnitus even more annoying than normal.

2013-Jun-02, 03:22 AM
I would note that the OP didn't mention a fear of flying for the regular reason (fear of crashing), but rather in relation to a fear of heights. As a few others have said, I would reemphasize that being afraid of heights doesn't seem to affect you on an airplane. I also get scared from being on a high diving board, and get scared from standing near a window on a tall building, but don't feel anything like that on an airplane. I have a feeling, as one other person already said, that "fear of heights" is actually "fear of falling," which is understandable evolutionarily since we have a monkey background. I've heard that monkeys have a fear of heights, which they need to prevent their children from letting go of the branches.