Mumbai’s T2 terminal has an adorable response to the fear of flying: golden retrievers! Therapy dogs Goldie, Pepe, and Sunshine are the fluffy new recruits at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, trained to be stress-busters for white-knuckled passengers.
The dogs, which have been trained by Animal Angels Foundation for six months, greet travellers near the departure gates from Friday to Sunday, between 7p.m. and 1a.m. They provide canine cuddles while their human companions are professional counsellors who can answer your questions about taking a flight or enduring the long haul.
Petting a dog for even a few minutes calms us down, said Aakash Lonkar from Animal Angels Foundation that runs the airport programme. “The brain releases a hormone called oxytocin which has a soothing effect on an individual,” he said—just the shot of sunshine that nervous passengers need. The canines are also terrific with children, help relieve the stress that comes with long layovers, and just anyone who needs to unwind, Lonkar said. From May onwards, the program hopes to have the dogs at the airport on all days of the week.
Around the world, airports are coming up with solutions for stressed-out fliers—from free yoga studios to paid courses with tips from psychiatrists.
In 2012, San Francisco International Airport opened the first ever yoga space within an airport. Initially written off by some as just another hipster trend, the next few years saw airports in Europe and more in the US open similar studios where travellers can perform a few asanas or meditate before takeoff. You can now practice your downward dog at Dallas-Forth Worth Airport, Burlington Airport (Vermont), O’Hare and Midway (Chicago) in the US, as well as Helsinki Airport and at the SkyTeam Lounge at London’s Heathrow Airport. Yoga mats, instructional videos that play on loop, relaxing soundtracks and occasional instructor-led classes are standard amenities. The studio at Helsinki Airport is especially serene, with an open floor plan, a moss-green carpet, and furniture made from salvaged wood.
All the yoga rooms, except at Heathrow Airport, can be accessed for free by passengers. The SkyTeam Lounge at Heathrow Airport charges a fee of £27.50/₹2,690 which includes access to their oxygen bar.
Sometimes a nap is just what the doctor ordered to calm those frazzled nerves. New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport has sleep pods (tiny cabins, really) equipped with Wi-Fi, a TV, DVD player and charging points where you can pass out (or count sheep) in peace and privacy, without the fear of someone running away with your belongings ($12/₹817 per hr for single occupancy and $22/₹1,497 per hr for double).
Helsinki Airport in Finland was the first European airport to offer sleeping pods to travellers in 2015. Each of their GoSleep Pods is an ergonomically designed seat that can be used as a bed and comes with a pillow and blanket. Passengers can pull down a shutter to afford themselves some privacy and respite from light and noise. Hand luggage can be stowed under the seat, which also holds a charging point for a phone or laptop (€9/₹686 per hr). Dubai too offers a similar facility run by Snoozecube, where passengers can unwind in small soundproof rooms with a nature-themed mural and a twin bed, a TV and Wi-Fi (AED75/₹1,390 per hr for single occupancy and AED100/₹1,853 per hr for double).
Other airports that offer a similar service include Munich, Heathrow, Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam Schipol, Atlanta, Dallas Fort Worth, Berlin (TXL), Hanoi, London Gatwick, Narita, and Philadelphia.
If being prepared is half the battle won, anxious passengers might benefit from signing up for a course before the day of their flight. British Airways has a day-long course, Flying with Confidence, for anxious flyers in four airports in the UK, and also in Dubai and New York. These paid courses aim to dispel your fears by putting a face to your flight: you hear firsthand about the experience from airline captains and cabin crew. The captain addresses common questions, such as what happens if lightning strikes, or if turbulence is cause for concern. A psychologist is also onboard to help you understand and deal with anxiety. Both courses also take participants on a short flight to put the tips and coping mechanisms to practice. Virgin Atlantic runs a similar course at a few airports in the UK called Flying Without Fear.
Flights are only available at courses taking place in the UK. Prices vary depending on the course and number of flights. Virgin Atlantic charges from £150/₹14,780 for an on-ground course (no flight); British Airways charges from £215/₹21,188 for a course with one flight. EasyJet also offers a similar course in the UK. In the US, courses are available at Phoenix and Milwaukee Airports.
For many passengers, the anxiety begins long before the plane’s wheels go up and doesn’t end upon landing. Checking in, running through security and immigration, finding the right gate in transit, and collecting baggage can all feel nearly as angst-inducing as the flight itself. Even more so if you don’t speak the local language. To this end, airports around India and the world offer concierge services for a fee. A well-trained professional will take you through all airport formalities and even provide fast-track services. Apart from nervous first-time flyers, the concierge is particularly helpful for senior citizens and unaccompanied minors.
Airport concierge services are available at airports across the world for a fee. Check if your credit/debit card or loyalty program offers you a discount or deal.
Mihika Pai is a freelance writer who has worked for NGT India, ELLE India & L'Officiel India. She loves checking out airport departure boards when she's travelling. They make her dream about the places she one day hopes to visit. She tweets as @mihikapai.