Frequent flyers reveal their bizarre inflight rituals for a safe trip

Roz Zurko's picture

Look around you the next time you fly and if you see someone with their feet off the floor, or their armrest up, they could be doing an inflight ritual, which is more common than you might think.

The sky is full of superstitious flyers who practice strange and bizarre rituals on takeoff, landing and while in the air. You might be surprised to know what the person in the seat next to you may be doing to assure a safe flight, even if the ritual is done privately in their own mind. Flyers and their rituals are more common than you’d think, according to Alyson Camerota on “Fox and Friends” Sunday morning show.

A recent survey done by USA Travel revealed the little idiosyncrasies that go on daily when people take to the air for their travel plans. "As the plane begins the takeoff roll, I whirl my finger around in a small circle faster and faster as the plane accelerates down the runway," James Stinhagen tells USA Today. He believes that this little whirling action will help keep the engines turning for the long climb into the air. He jokes and says, "Fortunately, I have not had a situation where this didn't work — at least not yet."

One of the more common rituals is lifting one's feet as the plane is preparing to take off. Carl Steinecker says that he and his wife always do this as the plane picks up speed going down the runway. The 64 year-old flyer from Michigan says it “helps the plane get into the air.” Another flyer says he lifts the armrest on his seat until the plane gets into the air to help the plane takeoff. This ritual is performed by a 53 year-old psychiatrist, Dr. Thomas Harding, who is perfectly aware that whether or not the armrest in raised the aircraft will get off the ground, but it gives him the feeling that he has control over the takeoff.

The one thing airline passengers give up when climbing aboard a plane is control. These little rituals help people feel like they have some measure of control over the situation. The man from Michigan knows that even if he and his wife kept their feet flat on the floor of the plane, the aircraft would still get off the runway.

Tom Bunn is both a psychologist and a pilot and he says, "Since people look into the air and see nothing holding the plane up, it all seems like magic anyway, right? So if you lift up on the armrest, it might help the plane rise." Bunn runs the program SOAR, which helps people conquer their fear of flying. Fear and rituals are not the same thing, however. The people who partake in a ritual are not in a state of panic like people who fear flying might experience.

Bunn, who is a former commercial pilot, says that even airline pilots might think of a favorite song or prepare the cockpit in the same way each time they get ready to take off. Bunn says it has a calming effect on them.

Some people remember their first flight as a pleasurable and safe experience, so they do as many things as they can to re-create that situation each time they board a plane, like Michael Konesko who started listening to Bonnie Raitt on a cassette when he first started flying. Now he listens to Raitt on his iPod. Konesko tells USA Today, “I have never been on a plane that crashed while listening to her." "So why risk it?"

Some of the rituals include items that flyers need to take with them on a plane. Thirty years ago Lisa Moore from Boston boarded a plane as a teenager and she wore a charm bracelet. Her first flight went fine and she wasn't frightened a bit. While that charm bracelet looks like one a kid would wear rather than an adult business woman, she never boards a plane without it. It is her “good luck travel charm,” she says.

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