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Fear of flying—aerophobia, in technical terms—is an extremely common phobia, affecting around 25 million adults in the U.S. alone. Some people grit their teeth and white-knuckle their way through their fear, while others find themselves unable to get on an airplane at all because of it.
Such a fear is understandable, really. Hurtling through the sky at 500 miles per hour, tens of thousands of feet above the Earth’s surface, isn’t exactly the way humans were designed to get from place to place. (We may have evolved with the brain power and ingenuity to make it happen, but that doesn’t mean we automatically go along for the ride without our sense of self-preservation kicking in.)
One of the triggers for people with aerophobia is turbulence—the occasional shaking and pitching of an aircraft when it hits certain conditions in the atmosphere. Even people who are comfortable flying can find turbulence disconcerting sometimes, especially when it creates a sudden dropping sensation. Turbulence is normal, but it doesn’t feel normal when you’re sitting in a chair 30,000 feet from solid ground. It feels chaotic and out of control.
Anna Paul, a popular TikTok star from Australia, has shared a helpful visual for people freaked out by turbulence in a video that has more than 19 million views.
Paul explains that a pilot shared the analogy of a plane flying through the air being like an object suspended in jello. There’s pressure on all sides, so even if the jello is shaken—and the object shaken along with it—the pressure suspends the object.
In other words, a plane is not going to suddenly drop down out of the sky due to turbulence, in the same way that an object won’t drop out of the middle of a bowl of jello.
Fear of flying tip ✈️❤️
The jello analogy is also used by aerophobia experts. Therapist Les Posen specializes in flying phobias, and he shows his clients a model airplane suspended in raspberry jello to illustrate the fact that turbulence won’t cause a plane to drop out of the sky. He even goes a step farther by having clients smell the jello, and then advises them to eat some raspberry candy or juice on the plane to remind themselves of the analogy, using their senses to calm their nerves.
At the end of her video, Paul said there’s never been a plane crash from turbulence, but that’s not quite true. In 1966, a flight (BOAC 911) coming out of Tokyo broke apart in midair due to unexpected severe turbulence. However, that was a very long time ago. Monitoring of meteorological conditions has greatly advanced since then, as have the designs of modern aircraft and the skill of pilots, so experts will tell you that turbulence is not something to worry about.
If imagining air pressure as jello doesn’t really work for you, it may be helpful to have a visual of what turbulence actually is. For that, Captain Stuart Walker, who has been flying for 30 years, explains the four main types of turbulence, what causes them and what pilots do to avoid them or reduce their impact. He also explains what passengers can do to minimize their chances of feeling turbulence on a flight, such as sitting over the wings or toward the front of the plane and flying earlier in the day when temperatures are not as likely to cause air disturbances.
Whether you prefer hospital-food-based analogies or no-nonsense, scientific explanations, the bottom line is that turbulence feels far scarier than it actually is. A shaking plane is not going to drop from the sky, modern aircraft can withstand a great deal of movement midair and pilots are highly trained to handle turbulence.
And remember: Commercial airline travel really is the safest way to get to where you’re going, statistically speaking. So next time you fly, kick back, relax and imagine you’re suspended in jello, knowing you’re in capable hands when the turbulence starts.