Dealing With Anxiety About Turbulence

Turbulence while flying is one of the main concerns people have while flying.
Many people can manage as long as it is a smooth flight from start to finish.

In this article Capt. Tom Bunn answers people’s fears about turbulence.

Dealing With Anxiety About Turbulence

The incident in which several people were injured onboard a Continental flight has caused undue anxiety. As an airline captain who works with people who are afraid to fly, I’ve received several emails from clients who are very upset by this incident.

Here is an example.

“This is precisely the kind of scenario that bothers me. A perfectly qualified crew on a well-maintained and modern jetliner was tossed about like a rag.”

The idea that the airliner was the airliner was tossed around like a rag is pure imagination. If you were flying nearby and watching the Continental flight, you would have seen absolutely nothing unusual. The movement during this turbulence was so small you would not have been able to see it.

“How can we be sure that the weather we may be in is safe?”

You are always safe in turbulence provided you take the simple precaution of wearing a seat belt whether the seat belt sign is on or off. Perhaps you saw photos of the plane parked at the terminal after the flight. That should be reassuring. Turbulence did no damage to the plane.

Turbulence is not a problem for the plane. Airliners are built to handle far more turbulence than Mother Nature can dish out. To see what airliners can deal with, see some of the Hurricane Hunter videos available online.

“I realize also that no one who was seated with their seat belts fastened got physically hurt. But, the mental jarring would have been unprecedented.”

If you are simply concerned about being frightened, that can’t be guaranteed. And, it is essential to recognize that emotional fear and physical danger are not the same. We all need to be able to tolerate being afraid, and then to use the mind to determine whether the fear is a false alarm or something we need to act on.

“I remember you saying that a modern jetliner barely moves more than an inch vertically even when in severe turbulence. But if as reported in the press, if some of the flight attendants hits the roof of the cabin, the aircraft must have dropped by at least several feet.”

Think of croquet. In something called “sending your opponent”, you place your ball against your opponent’s ball. You put your foot on your ball and strike your ball. Your ball moves only a fraction of an inch. The opponent’s ball zips off several yards.

Rotate that ninety degrees. The plane is like your ball. The plane moves up sharply, but only a fraction of an inch. The unbelted passenger is like the opponent’s ball. The unbelted passenger moves a greater distance.

Some passengers will not follow the most basic instructions and wear a seat belt at all times. Except in the rarest situations, passengers get away with not wearing a seat belt. This was one of those rare occasions when they didn’t.

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Capt.Tom Bunn LCSW

Licensed therapist and airline captain Tom Bunn LCSW has specialized in the treatment of fear of flying since 1980. He founded SOAR to develop methods to deal with moderate and severe cases of flight phobia.

SOAR was established in 1982 because no programs existed that could
help people with moderate to severe difficulties. Even today, no other
program offers help that is effective except for mild difficulties. No
matter how difficult flying is for you, SOAR can help visit :

Click Here for SOAR official site

5 replies on “Dealing With Anxiety About Turbulence

  • Sarel

    Your advice and understanding of the practical fear and mental trauma people with anxiety experience is absolutely astounding. I am 70 years old and I have played sport at the highest level in South Africa and still cycle competitively here and abroad. Whilst I am physically OK, I have suffered from clausterphobia since I was 5 years old and irrespective of this, I have been flying all over the world and despite flooding my anxiety, I have suferred all along. I found that listening to your explanation on how to rid oneself on a fear of flying applies almost directly to dealing with my clausterphobia. Once I plant a negative thought it grows as I keep feeding it and when it gets stronger it controls me.Thank you so much – it may sound srange but during the past week, I have benefitted more than I can ever explain to you.
    Would have loved to have been able to talk to you about this – brilliant. Take care. Sarel.

  • Gerhard Rauch

    This does help to calm the fear of turbulence, however, can you provide some measure of comfort when discussing the effects of wind shear on a plane. How does wind shear differ from turbulence and is it dangerous?
    Thanks for your insight and support.

  • Tony Kwan

    During the past 20 years, my job and personal businesses required me to travel frequently to many countries. I am a frequent flyer and had flown more than a million miles. I have encountered mildly turbulences to very severe once.

    I understand that modern planes are designed to handle adverse flying conditions. Air turbulences are just like road “bumps” and sea ‘waves’ which causes the carrier to move “up and down” momentarily.

    For your further information, I just recovered from a 4 months of Anxiety Disorder and during the 4 months, I realised that my fear of flying was unwarranted.

    Ultimately, all planes will land safely. I have no doubts about it. Happy flying and enjoy the flights.

  • Peter Corrigan

    Thank you for the explanation of turbalance however I have flowen in the Tropics,and experienced

    the sudden unexpected drop of the aircraft which lasted 1/2 hour or more.I think all the explanations

    in the world would not help me to not feel the sweat and sickness at such times.Although I realise

    logically I am not necessary going to crash.I do find breathing Techniques and Hypnotherapy helps

    one to accept the discomfort of the situation.

    Kind Regards,

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