Virgin Australia has announced a new way for anxious passengers to self-identify with the airline before travelling — and all it takes is a tick of a box.
Virgin Australia has announced a new way for anxious passengers to self-identify with the airline before travelling — and all it takes is a tick of a box.

Virgin Australia is making flying a lot less stressful

FOR one in seven passengers, stepping onto a plane and enduring a flight is a terrifying experience they often deal with in silence.

But a new initiative by Virgin Australia will soon let those anxious flyers get extra support to cope with their flying nerves.

Virgin Australia announced the initiative today as Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson joined the carrier to launch its new partnership with not-for-profit group Smiling Mind.

Smiling Mind has developed meditation programs now available on Virgin Australia's in-flight entertainment to help all flyers practice mindfulness in the air.

And in-flight meditation is especially useful for travellers with flying anxiety, Virgin Australia's public affairs manager of operations Libby Armstrong said.

"Seven people on every single one of our Boeing 737s experience overwhelming levels of anxiety," she said.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, that's a 8 to 10. That's something like 2600 people every single day who are crippled by fear.

"We see it every day. Panic attacks … it can be that serious."

In-flight meditation can help travellers practice mindfulness and calm at 30,000 feet. Picture: AAP/Virgin Australia, Nick Cubbin
In-flight meditation can help travellers practice mindfulness and calm at 30,000 feet. Picture: AAP/Virgin Australia, Nick Cubbin

From early next year, anxious travellers can discreetly self-identify with the airline by ticking a box while booking a flight. (Until then, anxious flyers can continue to alert crew at the boarding process.)

They will then get extra support to cope with their flight, from dedicated information about easing flight anxiety, to having cabin crew drop by their seat to make sure they're OK.

Ms Armstrong said there was a range of ways anxious travellers could be assisted in-flight, depending on their needs.

Sometimes, anxious passengers wanted to know when the aircraft was last serviced. Others found comfort being assured they wouldn't be moved from their seat.

"Travelling is stressful, and I think it's the lack of control people have about travelling," she said. "If we can give back a bit of control, that will make all the difference."

 

Richard Branson joined Virgin Australia on a world-first meditation flight over Sydney on Thursday.
Richard Branson joined Virgin Australia on a world-first meditation flight over Sydney on Thursday.

Anxious passengers will also be directed to Smiling Mind's in-flight meditations on the Virgin Australia in-flight entertainment app, which are now available to all travellers.

The collaboration with Smiling Mind was launched today with the world's first meditation flight over Sydney, with Sir Richard Branson among the passengers on board.

After the one-hour charter flight, Sir Richard admitted he wasn't very good at meditating.

"I've tried and I generally fall asleep," he said. "My son is going to try and teach me properly. But I'd love to learn, and actually, flying on commercial planes and attempting to learn there is as good a place as any.

"I know lots of people who have been struck by anxiety and it's a horrible thing to have to suffer. Hopefully (the in-flight meditations) will introduce more people to meditation as well because it could be an added weapon for people to overcome their fears."

Clinical psychologist and Smiling Mind chief executive Addie Wootten told news.com.au sitting on a flight with nothing else to do was the perfect time for everyone to focus on mental wellbeing.

 

Smiling Mind is the not-for-profit organisation behind Australia's top mindfulness app.
Smiling Mind is the not-for-profit organisation behind Australia's top mindfulness app.

 

"Often people talk about (a flight) being their one bit of downtown in the day, so if we can help them cultivate that mindfulness and hopefully end the flight feeling calmer than when they started, that's a win for us," she said.

Dr Wootten said everyone could benefit from just 10 minutes a day of mindful meditation.

"I think we still hold the view mental health is a dirty work and a negative, but we have to move towards an understanding that places mental health alongside physical health," she said.

"Our recommendation is about 10 minutes a day and most of us could probably achieve that, especially when we think of how much time we spend scrolling through social media, or sitting in traffic or on public transport. You can do it anywhere."

She said in-flight meditation was a useful technique for managing flying anxiety.

"Often people who are nervous flyers are fearful of what might happen - what if we hit turbulence, what if we don't make it on time, what if something happens," Dr Wootten said.

"Mindfulness is a practice that helps us learn to not worry so much. To notice those things are happening, but bring our minds back to what we're doing right now.

"It will help them connect with their body, regulate their breathing and slow down the heart rate - which we know is accelerated when people are anxious - and then learn how to stop the thinking or the worrying."



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