Feel jittery before flying? Here's the one thing a pilot wants you to know.

When you think about it, feeling nervous while ascended 40, 000 feet in the air, aboard an apparatus that weighs more than 400, 000 kilos, really doesn’t seem all that irrational.

It is estimated that as many as 40 per cent of us feel a “little jittery” before boarding an airplane, and about 10 per cent of the population suffer quite serious anxiety.

My 89-year-old grandfather was a pilot for more than 40 years, most of which he spent at Qantas. Recently, I asked him how many times he thinks he has flown over the course of his career. He laughed and then paused for a moment, before replying “It’d have to be pretty close to 100, 000”.

One hundred thousand. At 26 years old, that is significantly more times than I’ve gotten out of bed.

"My 89-year-old grandfather was a pilot for more than 40 years." Image via iStock.

As part of his job, my grandfather ran courses for people who were exceptionally afraid of flying. And here is what he told me.

For someone with a fear of flying, no amount of statistics are going to help.

You can tell them that their chance of being in a fatal accident is no more than one in 11 million, or that you are far, far, more likely to die in a taxi on the way to the airport than suffer a plane crash. Unfortunately, anxiety isn't cured through a barrage of statistics.

"Generally what frightens people is that they don't know what's going on," he explained. "We fear what we don't understand".

Mia Freedman talks about how she manages her anxiety. Post continues below. 

Video by MM

There's one analogy that he said helped people more than anything else.

Flying is profoundly similar to sailing.


"The air is fluid just like water," he said. "The way they [a plane] catch the air provides life for the plane just like a boat in the water."

Many people find turbulence scary, but it's no different to a boat on the sea. Just like water moves up and down, in the form of waves, so too does wind.

"Just like water moves up and down, in the form of waves, so too does wind." Image via iStock.

"The wings are sitting on air, and that becomes bumpy," he said. "Turbulence is just caused by temperature differences, and the wings of an airplane are literally built to bend. They move with the wind."


He laughed at the prospect of a wing breaking off mid flight, explaining that the engineering of a plane simply wouldn't allow that to happen.

"Turbulence is not going to pull  the airplane to pieces."

As obvious as it sounds, often imagining a plane as a sailing boat, moving gently along the air, calms anxious flyers.

He added that all airplanes are designed to fly with a failed engine, and thus "engine failure is really a non event". You could suffer two engine failures in one flight, and would still land safely.
Image via iStock.
Pilots themselves are tested once every six months, and are prepared for circumstances most of us couldn't even imagine.
Fear of flying handbooks emphasise that "No other form of transportation is as scrutinised, investigated and monitored as commercial aviation."

I spoke to David, who suffered crippling aviophobia (fear of flying), and recently managed to fly to the other side of the world.

I asked him what helped him the most, and he explained "I remember when I did the fear of flying course with Qantas they showed me a long exposure photo of planes taking off at night and they basically are just going down the road in the air. Even with all the statistics it doesn't always helps as you fight other negative thoughts of 'what if', but understanding all the procedures and training helped the most for me."

He added "...planes don't just fall out of the sky, pilots wouldn't do it if it was so dangerous."

David's sentiment was echoed by my grandfather, who said there is no way a pilot is taking off if he or she is not entirely confident with the plane they are flying.

As scary as it may seem, perhaps imagining a big, loud plane as a quiet sailing boat, could make anxious flyers feel that little bit more confident.