Tips for Coping with the Fear of Flying

Last updated on 03/27/2023

How to Cope with Fear of Flying

How to Overcome a Fear of Flying

While it’s not uncommon for travelers to have a fear of flying, it’s very hard to rationalize with people shaking from the nerves. Not even the right travel insurance plan can reduce the fear of flying, if you have one. It’s 100% a personal struggle that each person deals with individually. However, there are ways to cope with a fear of flying, so you don’t have to sacrifice traveling due to a fear.

1. Stay Away from Caffeine Before a Flight

Choosing the right beverage prior to flying is extremely important if you are nervous. Stay away from any beverage that is going to make you jittery; it could increase your stress level, making it more difficult to stay calm. Instead look for passion fruit drinks or non-caffeinated herbal teas. They may help calm your nerves and possibly even help you sleep.

2. Meditate or Use Breathing Techniques

While this isn’t for everyone, meditation and breathing techniques can actually help "remove" you from the situation. If you can focus on your breathing and come into a state of meditation, you would experience the flight completely differently. It could help you cope with a fear of claustrophobia as well.

3. Distract Yourself with Technology or Puzzles

Bring things on the flight with you that you can complete without a large amount of focus. Reading a book, watching movies, editing work-related items or even solving easy word or number puzzles allows you to focus on something besides the flight, all the while not being frustrated with the task. Pick a task that you can do over a long period of time, or bring multiple things to do while you are flying.

4. Try to Sleep as Much as Possible

While some flights are short, others can seemingly last forever. Sleep is a great way to pass the time. Don’t worry about missing the drink cart or the snacks, they are usually available throughout the flight – just hit your call button. For particularly long flights, like those with flight paths over the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, you may be able to upgrade to a sleeper seat for an additional cost.

5. Don’t Overreact if Turbulence Occurs During the Flight

While it’s easy to tense up when a flight starts to get a little bumpy, do your best to stay calm. Allow yourself to flow with the plane. Think of turbulence as potholes in the road. If you think of it as a completely normal occurrence while flying, which it is, then it may help you better cope with the flight.

6. Choose Your Seat Wisely

Although some airlines no longer assign seats, most still do. When booking your flight, choose a seat toward the front of the plane to limit the amount of motion and noise. Additionally, you'll want to consider which seat gives you the most comfort. Choose a window seat if you'll benefit from the reference point of seeing the ground during takeoff and landing. Choose an aisle seat if you'd like to remain blissfully unaware of what's happening outside or need to visit the restroom frequently. Pick the middle seat if you need two armrests to grip.

7. Get Acquainted with the Flight Staff

As airline passengers, we often forget that the flight crew does a lot more than simply serve drinks and check seatbelts. Flight attendants are professionals who help thousands of passengers per year, so they are no strangers to the fear of flying (some even suffer from the condition too). For this reason, it can be very helpful to alert your flight attendants about your fears while boarding. This way, they'll know to keep an eye out and can offer some tips to keep calm during takeoff, the flight, and landing.

8. Educate Yourself About Aircraft Technology & Safety

Sometimes gathering facts and information about a topic you're fearful about can help you combat anxiety. Knowing how airplanes operate and familiarizing yourself with the various safety systems and features that prevent accidents can be an effective way to rationalize your fears. Additionally, if you notice your anxiety is creeping up as you prepare for takeoff, it may help to know that flying is actually considered safer than driving. Deaths are more likely for all other major modes of transportation, including motorcycles, cars, ferries, trains, and buses, one of which you likely already used to get to the airport in the first place.

9. Consider Enrolling in a Clinic or Program for Fearful Flyers

These tips for overcoming your fear of flying may be enough to get you to your destination, but if your fears are especially debilitating, you can take it one step further by attending a workshop or clinic specific for fearful flyers, like the Fear of Flying Clinic. Some classes and programs even offer a virtual reality (VR) course to help you prepare for flying in advance.

10. Talk to Your Doctor Prior to Going on Your Trip

Anxiety is a serious condition, no matter the reason. Talk to your doctor or therapist to explain the level of your fear and they may be able to suggest medical techniques to calm yourself during the flight. They are your best bet for advice for medication to help relieve anxiety as well.

What is "Fear of Flying" Called?

The fear of flying is commonly referred to as "flying phobia," "flying anxiety" or simply "flight phobia." Proper names for the condition include "aviophobia" or "aerophobia", although the latter can also refer to a general fear of fresh air/drafts.

What are the Most Common Reasons for Aviophobia?

While there are many factors that can contribute to a traveler's fear of flying, some of the most common causes include:

  • Fear of heights
  • Claustrophobia
  • Turbulence
  • Bad weather including strong winds, rain, thunderstorms, etc.
  • Specific flight paths including over large bodies of water
  • Time of day (e.g. red-eyes & night flights)
  • Medical conditions (e.g. IBS)
  • Life events including pregnancy, new babies, young children, etc.
  • Smaller sized planes & aircrafts

If you suffer from aviophobia, you may be thinking that this list will only add to your fears. However, we've highlighted these common factors for two reasons. The first reason is that those who have a fear of flying will know that they are not alone. Feeling alone often adds to the stigma of having these types of fears and can exacerbate your aviophobia, especially if you're traveling alone. However, knowing that others suffer from similar conditions is often encouraging for aviophobes. After all, many people with aviophobia have overcome their fears through therapy, medication, and experience. The second reason we've listed these contributing factors is that identifying the root cause, or trigger, is a great first step and may help in overcoming your fear of flying.

Is Flying Safer Than Driving?

Yes. Statistically, you're much more likely to be injured or killed in an automobile accident than a plane crash. Additionally, commercial planes are the safest of all aircrafts. According to Wikipedia, the number of people citing a fear of flying following the September 11th attacks skyrocketed prompting more people to travel by car. However, this increase is estimated to have resulted in an additional 350 traffic accident fatalities.

Going from Fearful Flyer to Fearless Flyer

While there is no "one size fits all" approach to overcoming your fear of flying, many fearful flyers have made significant progress using some or all of these tips. Don't let your aviophobia prevent you from taking a flight to Hawaii, Australia, Japan or any other distant destination. Use these tips to take control of your flying anxiety and start seeing the world!