Airplane Noises: Is This Sound Normal?
If this is your first trip by airplane, you might be wondering what airplane sounds are normal, and why does everyone act like these strange sounds are OK. Well, even though most people act nonplussed about flying, some people become anxious about the unfamiliar sounds that they hear and worry that they might not be normal. Some people worry about their flight so much that they cannot enjoy themselves, or they end up bargaining with God. For someone who flies a lot, fretting the entire flight about some sounds is not a good coping mechanism. Don’t waste your mental energy. Learn how to deal with the thumps and bumps of air travel.
On my last flight on an Airbus A321, I noticed that the engine sound on this plane was significantly different than what I was used to hearing on other flights. That difference made me wonder: is this normal? I worried a bit and tried to relax, but it did freak me out on the way up until we were steadily cruising. After landing I did find out that the answer to my question ended up being “yes, that was a normal sound” for this type of engine/aircraft. Whew!
Dealing with anxiety
Ignore it or distract yourself. One way to deal with anxiety about flying is to put in ear plugs or listen to music to block out the sounds. In other words what you can’t hear, won’t bother you (so much). You can also pretend that the sounds don’t bother you. Make some mental noise by reciting a mantra to yourself, focus on your breathing (not to control it but be aware of where you feel your breath and pay attention to it) or think of something comforting or pleasant, such as lying on warm sand.
Educate yourself. In the moment, ask someone, such as the crew or an experienced traveler sitting around you. Just knowing what’s coming next (or is possible) can be comforting. You can ask someone, such as a travel companion or seat neighbor with more experience flying, what the sound is. Another way is to prepare yourself in advance about what sounds you might hear during takeoff, flight, and landing. Learning takes more time and effort, but over time it can take the “unknown” aspect away and that indirect experience can help you be able to calm yourself. Like mindfulness, you can control your thinking to a large degree and that can help you experience life fully and more enjoyably.
YouTube is a great source of video clips and sounds from aircraft. Enter the type of aircraft you will be using and watch a few take offs and landings to get an idea of what normal is and whether or not you’ll need some ear plugs.
To get you started, you can watch these three representative clips:
- Boeing 747 takeoff from SFO
- Boeing 747 landing from the cockpit
- Airbus A321 takeoff from Mumbai
Note: The engine sound is much different than that of a Boeing 747. That sound is normal for that engine.
Note: I avoid watching the near-miss and trouble videos because they are the exception to flying, not the rule.
You are not alone if you still have questions about airplane sounds. Read this Q&A with a pilot to learn more about the beeps and thumps.
When you have a fear of flying
If you have serious episodes of anxiety or panic attacks when you think about a flight, you might need some professional help. A cognitive behavioral therapist can help you overcome a fear of flying. Consult your doctor for more information.