Scientific American presents Savvy Psychologist by Quick & Dirty Tips. Scientific American and Quick & Dirty Tips are both Macmillan companies.

A full 40% of Americans don’t like to fly.  It makes sense if you think about it: hurtling across time zones in a metal tube at the height of Everest isn’t something our ancestors evolved to face.  We get by on white knuckles, a Xanax, or a pre-flight pit stop at the terminal bar.  But about 3% of us are grounded, refusing to fly at all, even if it means being left out of family vacations, spending multiple days on interstate freeways, or never seeing Paris in the springtime.

Fear of flying can grow from many different roots—particularly harrowing turbulence, knowing someone who was in a plane crash, learning to be afraid as a child from a fearful parent, or media images of crashes, hijackings, or terrorist attacks.

So what to do to keep fear at bay?  Here are 5 tips to deliver you safely and sanely from jetway to jetway:

Tip #1: Learn About the Physics of Flight
Learning accurate information is the quickest way to calm your fears.  There are a number of extensively detailed and very reassuring websites available explaining how airplanes work, so I won’t reinvent the wheel—an online search will land you on an explanation that works for you.  But here’s a quick primer on some common fears:

Falling out of the sky, The plane cannot fall out of the sky any more than you could fall out of a swimming pool of water.  Air has mass, just like water.  It is also continuous and secure, just like water.  Indeed, you’ve never walked down the street into an “air pocket” where you suddenly couldn’t breathe.  Such it is at higher altitudes as well.  Therefore, picture the airplane “swimming” through supportive, continuous air, much as you would swim through water. 

>> Continue reading on