Fear of Flying: Odd sights, bumps, vibration & sounds are normal

Aviophobia, the fear of flying, is very real to many people. Studies have shown that as many as 40 percent of air travelers experience some anxiety about flying. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 6.5 percent of the U.S. population, about 20 million people, have such an intense fear of flying that it qualifies as a phobia.

According to the “Freedom to Fly” program, created and led by Dr. Martin Seif, aviophobia stops people from flying for vacations, family gatherings, and “other priceless experiences.” It can put a career in jeopardy for those who must travel for business.

People avoid flying due to many issues, including a lack of knowledge about how a plane flies, what happens during flights and flying’s true dangers. According to Dr. Seif, “Anxiety loves ignorance,” and education can eliminate many fliers’ concerns.

When flying, I often see passengers holding on to their armrest so tightly they have white knuckles. I’ve seen them gasp when they hear typical flight noises and become pale from fear at the slightest change of engine noise.

If that’s you, I’ve got some information you can use to stay calm and fight your anxiety.

• The hole in the bottom of your airplane window is a safety feature. There’s no reason to be anxious about it. It’s a “breather hole.” It’s used to regulate the pressure between the outer and inner window panes of aircraft windows. It also keeps the windows fog-free.

• While your plane is at the gate, it’s okay if you hear banging from underneath the plane and a shake or two. It’s the luggage being loaded, along with any cargo the plane’s hauling.

• It’s normal for your plane’s lights to flicker just before the engines start roaring. The lights flicker when your plane switches from airport power to internal power. When your plane’s jet engines are started, they will initially roar. You might simultaneously hear the plane’s air conditioning go silent and air flow stop at engine start. The plane is merely using all its power to start the engines. The air conditioning will turn back on quickly.

• Rhythmic light bumps and sounds are typical during taxiing prior to takeoff, and after landing. Aircraft landing gear shock absorbers are designed to handle the impact of landing. They aren’t designed to be like automobile shock absorbers to give a smooth ride. As a result, you’ll often hear and feel light bumping while your plane taxies, and sometimes during takeoff and landing.

• Before takeoff it’s normal to hear a whirring sound coming from the wings. The sound comes from the flaps being extended. The flaps, located at the rear of the wings, are used to increase “lift” for takeoff and landing.

• At takeoff, the engines will make a loud roaring sound as they are powered up to get to takeoff speed quickly. That may cause some noisy vibration in the cabin. Anything that’s the least bit loose in the cabin will vibrate and make noise during takeoff. On my last flight, a pair of coffee pots were clanking in the galley.

• Until retracted, the landing gear will typically produce noise from wind hitting them. You may hear a thud when they retract and the doors close which cover them.

• It’s normal to hear different sounding chimes during your flight. They’re signals for the flight attendants.

• It’s okay for the engines’ noise to subside when a plane levels off. At “cruising altitude” less power is needed to maintain your plane’s speed, so the engines run quieter.

• When your plane begins its descent, its engine noise will diminish. The pilot is slowing the plane by reducing engine power.

• During landing it may appear as if part of the wing is flapping. It’s not. It’s the wing’s flight spoilers being deployed to slow the plane. When used, they make a rumbling sound and cause some vibration.

• Don’t be startled by a sudden loud roar of wind as the plane nears the airport to land. It’s the landing gear being deployed and the wind hitting it. You’ll also hear the whirring sound of the flaps being extended again, to give the plane more “lift.”

• During landing, close to the airport, at low altitude, it’s okay if the plane shakes a bit. The engine noise may vary, too. It’s because the plane is going slowly and the pilot is adjusting engine power to maintain proper speed.

• The bump you feel at landing is normal. You should feel reassured by a bump or two. That means the plane is on the ground. You’ll then quickly hear a loud engine roar. It’s from the thrust reversers quickly slowing the plane. You may hear some brakes squeaking, too.

The strange sights you see in planes, like the hole in your window, the bumps while the plane’s taxiing at the airport, the vibration you might hear or feel, and all those strange sounds are typically normal and nothing to fear. In fact, when you see, feel and hear them, you should be comforted that your flight is proceeding normally.

(Image: United Airlines flight landing at Philadelphia International Airport – Copyright © 2015 NSL Photography. All Rights Reserved.)