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April 17, 2017

The Psychology of Air Travel

With United Airline’s passenger debacle flooding the news, one has to wonder, how did we get to this point? A near 70 year-old man refusing to get off the plane after United overbooked their flight was forcibly dragged off the plane. He was left with a concussion, a broken nose, and two missing teeth, along with the promise of reconstructive surgery to right this severe lapse in judgment on the part of the airline staff.  Flying, once a luxurious experience with staff catering to your every need, has evolved into a dreaded pastime in which you have to pay for even the most basic of amenities.  For those fortunate enough to fly first class, air travel can still be an enjoyable experience; however for the majority of people, even food and legroom have become an exorbitant added expenditure.

The deterioration of customer service in air travel has manifested clear psychological results.  Packed in like cattle with inevitable delays, travellers are much more agitated and prone to aggressive outbursts than in the years past.  We shuffle through the airports with our heads down, pushing past our miserable cohorts in an angered fury, just in an attempt to get to our next destination.  Airlines were clever in how they stripped us of our amenities though, as they did not do it all at once.  First we started paying to check, or sometimes even carry on our bags.  Then the airlines packed more seats in their coach sections, taking away what little space we had already been given. Even the overpriced, poor quality plane food is an added fee for passengers.  Now we are often filled with rage as we are treated like cattle being herded through to our departure gate.  Even the trauma of getting through TSA is enough to ignite your stress and anxiety, spending over an hour in line as the employees yell at us to strip our jackets and shoes off and remove our laptops from our suitcases.

However, there are ways that we can improve what seems like a hopeless situation to preserve our own psychological well-being and optimize the chance that we will have a pleasant flight experience. The goal is to reach an optimal psychological state prior to embarking to your local airport.  By following these steps, you can dramatically reduce your stress levels and improve the experience of air travel:

  1. Make sure to leave enough time so as not to add the fear of missing your flight to your list of stressors.
  2. Meditate before your flight, making sure to mentally prepare and visualize for the experience you are about to encounter, strengthening your ability to deal with the stress.
  3. Purchase a pair of noise cancelling headphones.  By silencing the outside world, there is less external stimuli that you have to mentally process.
  4. Uber, take a taxi, or have a friend drive you to the airport. Fighting through traffic and parking can create increased levels of stress.
  5. Hydrate before, during, and after your flight!
  6. Bring your own foods. The quality of the airline food is not ideal, and this will allow you to give yourself the proper nutrition needed to combat the effects of air travel.
  7. To combat jet lag, simulate your new schedule before you leave, and adapt to your new time zone while in-flight. It also helps to move around on the plane rather than staying stagnant. Melatonin can also be helpful as a natural sleep aid. There are new apps that help a traveler accommodate to a new time zone such as The Entrain App.
  8. As a conscious consumer, patronize the airlines that provide the basic comforts that we deserve in our traveling experience. Although they may be more expensive, it can force the other airlines to meet this standard in the future.

The combination of stress and sleep deprivation from jet lag can wreak havoc on your mind and body. Stress is known to be detrimental; the stress hormones released will adversely affects your mental operations and immune system, and will most certainly exacerbate pre-existing psychological conditions.  By taking these steps to reduce your stress levels,air travel can become a more positive and possibly enjoyable experience while also ensuring the betterment of your psychological well-being. When you are at your best, you are less likely to end up in conflict with another passenger or airline staff member and you can avoid a potentially embarrassing or dangerous situation that may end up on youtube.

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