Becoming Cabin Crew with a fear of flying

When I explain to people that I had a fear of flying before becoming a flight attendant, they are baffled. I find myself having to assure them:

Yes. I am cabin crew. Yes, I was afraid of flying the day I applied to become cabin crew.

The fact I became crew with this fear is somewhat mind boggling to me too, but it’s something I am also really proud of – I decided not to let the fear hinder my desire to see the world. By tackling it head on, I was able to break free of the 9-5 job that was making me unhappy.

(NB: This is a pretty drastic way to deal with a fear of flying and I’m not suggesting it will work for everyone, although it definitely worked for me!)

I still feel a certain level of anxiety each time I fly. It is by no means as bad as before, but it’s there. The difference now is that I understand what it was that made me fearful in the first place and have armed myself with knowledge to help me keep this under control and ensure I can perform at my best for my colleagues and customers. Nevertheless, I think I will always feel a certain level of anxiety because:

Humans are not designed to fly.

But I refuse to let this get in the way of exploring the world.

Feel the fear and do it anyway

Susan Jeffers

From a relatively young age, my parents made sure that myself and my siblings were treated to incredible family holidays (during one of these holidays I would meet my future fiance!). This meant we were able to experience flying quite early in our lives.

My first ever flight was to Rhodes and I distinctly remember the feeling of force as the plane sped down the runway. I also tried my first profiterole and thought the flight attendants had one of the best jobs in the world. I was about 9 and I was loving my first experience of flying.

The family holidays continued almost every year until I was about 14 and, from what I can remember, we never once had a problem. Yet by the time I was 21, I had developed a fear of flying. On a flight back from Egypt with my boyfriend in 2013, I cried and hyperventilated on take off and worried about every possible thing going wrong for the rest of the flight.

Where did this come from? I’m not afraid of heights! Why was I so different from the excited 9 year old I once was? Why was I afraid of flying?

I believe, in part, it was due to the fact I had not flown for about 8 years and was very unfamiliar with it. I think it was also to do with a growing awareness of my own mortality. As I grew older, I began to realise that I wasn’t invincible – things can and do go wrong- and being in an alien environment, such as a pressurised metal tube at 35,000 feet, was perhaps not the best way to go about preserving and prolonging life.

I also distinctly remember watching the film Airport ’77 as a child in my Nan’s spare bedroom with my sister, who also happens to be cabin crew. In it, a plane crashes into the ocean (miraculously intact) but begins its watery descent into the depths with the passengers making a valiant attempt to escape. I don’t remember much else of the film, but it definitely had an impact on my view of flying, perhaps subconsciously at first.

On route to Mexico

I realised my own fear of flying was essentially to do with two things:

  1. A lack of control over and understanding of my surroundings
  2. An irrational fear of the plane breaking mid flight and crashing into the ocean in a spectacular fashion like in Airport ’77

This manifested as general panic, jumpiness at any noise heard, tears or a constant feeling of imminent doom.

I won’t lie, applying to be cabin crew wasn’t my own choice. I had mentioned I was unhappy with my current job in insurance and wanted to see the world, but had no funds to do so. My sister had always maintained that I should try being cabin crew, even if only for a few years, but I responded the same way every time: I’m scared of flying so, thanks but no thanks.

I honestly never gave it any more thought but my sister, being the persistent individual that she is, signed me up to the recruitment page without me knowing. When she told me what she had done, I was both excited and extremely apprehensive. The thought of travelling the world was enticing but I couldn’t see myself flying at all.

I didn’t have to take it any further than that either, but I had a niggly voice in my head telling me I’d regret it. So, I completed the psychometric tests, answered the competency questions and clicked submit.

Life takes off when fear is left on the ground


During my first ever flight as cabin crew, I felt physically sick beforehand. I didn’t eat. I hardly slept the night before. Both of which sounds so silly to me now, but I was really nervous.

I was flying to Pisa and back and would be finished by midday. I got on board, did my supernumerary checks with the manager to make sure I was legal to fly, and off we went. I clenched my fists so hard on take off, they were white by the time the seat belt signs went off. But as soon as we were up, the work began.

Unless you work as crew, you will never truly understand how busy and hectic the job can be. Behind the curtain, a huge amount of multi tasking is done to get the service done correctly, safely, and in a timely manner. Alongside the service, you are doing safety checks, cleaning, doing PAs and dealing with any issues that arise: medical problems, customer queries etc. There’s so much that passengers don’t see. And for this very reason, my first flight was a complete whirlwind. I had no time to worry about where I was, I had so much to do and learn. I forgot I was even on a plane at one stage.

Before I knew it, we were landing into Pisa, cleaned, refuelled and heading back to London. Getting through the first sector without really realising I was flying was a huge confidence boost. It’s the first time I thought, I can do this.

Somewhere over the Atlantic

Another way that being cabin crew has alleviated my fear of flying is by helping me understand what it is I’m hearing and how a plane essentially works. During training, the phases of flight and anatomy of a plane were explained. When I finally got in the sky after my exams, I’d ask questions all the time. Every noise, clunk, click, thud and bang I heard, I wanted to know what it was. And this is important if you want to be crew – becoming familiar with the in flight environment means you can actually identify when something doesn’t sound normal.

It took a few months to work out what each sound was, and it can vary on every aircraft, but gradually, through exposure, I got used to what the sounds and smells were and I am now able to confidently reassure my customers.

That smell? That’s the de-icing fluid. That clunking noise? That’s the gear going up. That rumble? That’s the air resistance as the spoilers go up. Reassuring passengers and helping them overcome their own concerns has gone a long way to overcoming my own. It helps to help others, basically.

Knowledge gives you the power to overcome your fears and I can’t stress this enough. Ask those questions, do your research, complete a fear of flight course. Anything and everything you can find.

What flying teaches you is to overcome fear with knowledge

Oliver Smithies

It’s difficult to stop your mind straying towards doom and gloom when you’re afraid of flying. Sometimes, an unwelcome thought just pops into your head for no reason whatsoever. But the truth is, it’s so rare to have an in flight emergency of the technical kind. With any luck, the worst thing I will ever have the misfortune to experience in flight is a lightening strike which, due to the way an aircraft is designed, is of no huge concern either!

And the views. They are simply incredible and I feel privileged to be able to see them each and every time I fly.

Storm clouds over Mauritius

Overcoming a fear of flying takes courage and practice, but it can be done.

It can obviously be caused by any number of things: a medical condition, claustrophobia, a previous ‘bad’ experience and so on. All of which may require their own ways to overcome them, and some more challenging than others.

Nevertheless, becoming cabin crew was perhaps the best and only way I could overcome mine, and now that I have, the world is my oyster!

Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.

George Addair

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