5 Simple Tips to Combat Flight Anxiety and Help You Relax

Do you run horrific crash scenarios through your mind while you’re sitting on a runway? You’re not alone. If you’re more worried about flying these days than you used to be, it’s understandable. The two recent Malaysia Air tragedies and their non-stop news coverage could give even the hardiest traveler a case of nerves.
5 Simple Tips to Combat Flight Anxiety and Help You Relax

Research has shown that the repetitive nature of the news cycle amplifies garden-variety nervousness and gives passengers a skewed impression of relative danger. Luckily, the facts remain the same. Commercial flight is safer now than it has ever been in history and your odds of being in an airplane crash are extremely small. If you’re a nervous flyer, you’ll want to review our five simple tips for counteracting flight anxiety:

1. Trust the industry.

The truth is that a lot of flying anxiety is projecting and misplacing fears. Your worries are probably not based on whether or not you’re actually safe in your seat in an airplane (in the highly capable hands of the flight crew), but rather the incidental inconveniences and discomforts that disrupt your personal “control” instrument panel. An economy seat in 2014 is not going to be relaxing and comfortable in the manner that you are probably accustomed to at home. Even our most seasoned travelers over here at CheapAir headquarters don’t deny that the seats in coach are often cramped. Some of us even have mild claustrophobia, which, lets face it, can be exacerbated by sitting knee to knee with a couple of strangers on a full flight. It may take a little preflight concentration/meditation, but if you can manage to isolate your feelings of discomfort and loss of control, you’ll be able to better manage those feelings and separate them from feeling unsafe.

2. Go with your feelings.

Wait a minute, you might be saying. You say I’m starting to feel anxious just as we back away from the gate and I’m supposed to feed that rising sense of panic? Well, yes and no. Basically, science shows that fighting feelings of anxiety can actually inflate those feelings. When you start to feel out of control or panicked, the typical response is to dig in emotionally and fight to try and override them. Most of the time, this tactic just doesn’t work. You actually work yourself into a much more anxious state by battling yourself. If you’re on a flight and you start to feel anxious, take a moment to recognize these feelings and acknowledge them. It could be as simple as saying to yourself, “I am starting to feel very anxious. I am starting to worry about the plane’s safety. My heart is beginning to pound.” The next step is to accept these feelings and say something affirmative to yourself like, “This is going to be tricky but I can handle these feelings. I can get through this.” Finally, take some deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth, to combat the shallow breathing that can lead to panic attack and hyperventilation.

3. Drink responsibly.

If you’re feeling anxious, you’re probably planning to have a cocktail (or a few) before the plane takes off and a few more en route. While that does sound like a rollicking good time, we recommend that you do not get plastered on an international flight. Flying while inebriated? Totally fun! Finding your bags and orienting yourself in a city while inebriated? Not so much. Have you ever tried to describe your lost luggage to baggage claim staff while under the residual influence of six glasses of in-flight cabernet? Not a pretty picture. Also, a drunk tourist might as well be wearing a sign around his neck reading, “Rob Me.” If you’ve just landed in a foreign country and you’re tipsy, you’re catnip to thieves on the airport circuit. On the other hand, dehydration is also your enemy so do plan on drinking loads of water both before and during the flight. And finally, more bad news. Avoid caffeine and coffee if you’re prone to panic attack. Wean yourself off it for a few days before you fly if it’s too painful to do cold turkey. A stimulated mind can spin out in all kinds of jittery, panicky directions. Just. Don’t.

4. Hold fast to the facts.

Remind yourself that the most dangerous part of your travel day is the drive to the airport. Your chance of being in an air disaster is approximately one in three million. You would need to fly once a day for more than 8,200 years to accumulate three million flights. While you should avoid disaster news, it might not be a bad idea to read up on some basic facts and figures about what a normal flight will feel and sound like. There are reasonable explanations for many seemingly distressing noises on a plane. You can even watch a great video called Flying Without Fear on youtube from Virgin Atlantic that illustrates typical sounds and movements on takeoff and landing. Easy-peasy.

5. Distract yourself.

If you know you are going to be anxious, surround yourself with familiar pleasures from home. Load up the iPad with some old school Seinfeld or Friends. Listen to a few of your favorite, relaxing albums. Start a great book before you leave and pick up mid-read during the flight. Basically, don’t depend on the airline to provide you with a distraction that will work for you. Their in-flight programming might not be the medicine you require. The key is to keep these distractions to what you are already accustomed. Think of it as comfort food for your mind.

5 Simple Tips to Combat Flight Anxiety and Help You Relax

It can also help to alert a flight attendant if you’re feeling a bit unsure of yourself on the day of travel. In large part, educating yourself and arming yourself with some coping techniques can arm you against the unknown. If you follow these simple steps you will be well on your way to a less stressful flight. Remember, modern air travel grows safer every year.

Please let us know if this post was helpful by posting in our comments section or you can also email us directly at Ask@CheapAir.com or tweet to us @CheapAir.

This post is not meant to replace the professional advice of a mental health professional if you suffer from flight phobia. If your flying anxieties are not mild, you should consult with a physician or counselor trained to treat anxiety disorders.

86 Comments

  1. Booze is the best medicine for poeple afriad of flying like myself. I travel internationally once every year and the only way to get through it is lots of drinking then sleeping.

  2. Thank you for this post! The quote about the odds of being in an air disaster were incredibly helpful – more helpful even than working on coping skills for anxiety – and I wrote that entire quote down for reference when I embark on a 23 hour flight to Singapore in August.

    1. Out of all the online info I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot!) about this subject, this is the most helpful I’ve found!! The facts about the odds of “it” happening has really gone into my Brain and for the first time ever I’m feeling slightly less anxious. On Sunday this will be my 6th flight and I’m worse than ever about it. But reading this has most definitely helped. I’ve screen shot all the tips and I’ll be furiously going over them whilst on board! Thank you 🙏🏻

    2. Out of all the online info I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot!) about this subject, this is the most helpful I’ve found!! The facts about the odds of “it” happening has really gone into my Brain and for the first time ever I’m feeling slightly less anxious. I’ve flienn

      1. Returning from our last trip, I was super anxious during our last flight. I think it was a mixture of exhaustion, anxiety, and the thought of not making it bad home to our kids. Not to mention we were flying across the Atlantic. I swore off flying for a while upon our arrival home earlier this month. And then the Ethiopian Air crash happened the following week. We now have an opportunity to travel to Japan this summer, and I’m almost willing to just pass due to this new found fear of flying. It really is an amazing opportunity.. but I dont know how to handle my anxiety.

        1. I feel the exact same way. My fear has recently increased after learning about these 2 recent Boeing Max jets accidents and coincidentally i have a lot of flying to do this year. I pray before I fly and i freaked out so much on my last flight last weekend (because the plane was so small!), that i had to start humming songs in flight to cope 🙁

  3. Thank you for posting this! I have a fear of flying but do because it’s needed to get from place to place quicker….

    1. Hi Delores, Our best advice is to reach out to your family physician for specific recommendations for over the counter anxiety medication.

      1. If you have extreme anxiety, you may want to consult with your family physician to discuss options. Good luck to you!

  4. Thank you for the advice. I’m not a big fan of flying , and tend to get anxiety. 8 have a flight to New Orleans nov 18th with Delta from LAX , this will be my second time in an airplane and to be honest, I’m really scared , but feel a little better with your post. Thank you.

  5. I will be flying Tuesday (5 hour flight). Didn’t think I would get this nervous; my heart is racing and I still have 2 days left. To help calm my nerves, I decided to check into a hotel a day in advance of my flight…the hotel is less than 1/2 a mile from the airport so being close to the airport vs driving a few hours the day of my flight makes me feel a little better. I have several friends and co-workers that recently flew and everything was fine…praying my flights will be fun and safe as well. Thanks for posting this!!

  6. I am terrified of flying, and on Tuesday I found out I would be flying from London to Tokyo on Sunday by myself. I’ve cried everyday and even thinking about it now is making me choke up. I know air travel is the safest way to travel and the odds of any incidents are incredibly small, but it doesn’t stop me constantly worrying about the “what ifs”. Thank you for your advice about reassuring myself I can do it, I’m going to try it tomorrow and hope it works for me!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Siobhan and good luck to you. Try our relaxing tips as well as utilizing any distractions that may keep you from focusing on on the flight.

      1. Hi another Siobhan here. I’m petrified of flying. I’ve been anxious about my flight for the last 2 days and it’s only a 2 hr flight. Reading the above has helped but also knowing that other people feel the way I do makes me realise I’m not alone. Thank you.

  7. I am flying to Mexico in October and have those “what if” thoughts everyday. Mostly the thought that if I freak out I can’t just get off the plane. Now my biggest fear is ruining our wedding because I am working myself so much about then flight. I like the idea of notifying a flight attendant that you are feeling anxious. Hopefully, these tips and a Xanax with a cocktail will make me comfortable enough to realize I have flown dozens of times before without issue and this is anxiety is a new unrealistic way of thinking about travel.

    Thanks for the tips!

  8. Iqim going on a 2 hour flight and I’m freaked out I went to the Dr. And got prescribed Xanax gonna try this with plenty of sleep before hand. Also I’m gonna listen to Marconi union weightless look it up it might help. Hope this helps some of you

  9. I’ve always been a nervous flyer but my oldest daughter is studying abroad in France and we want to go see her. Yesterday, my husband booked a flight on XL Airways which I’ve never heard of and after reading reviews of other passengers, I’m more nervous than ever and the ticket is no refundable. Help! I need encouraging words.

    1. You’re going to be fine. Stay off the review boards, bring some relaxing music or reading materials and stay hydrated. You’re going to see your daughter – keep your eyes on the prize!

  10. I have flown many times in my life. When i was younger it didn’t bother me. I never thought about bad stuff happening. Then as i got older ( probably saw one too many movies with disasters) that i now think about what could go wrong. Statistically it unlikely but i guess we tend to wonder if we are going to become the statistic. lol. But i have to get from usa to england and i refuse to let fear stop me.

    What has helped me in the past is reminding myself that my heart could stop at any second. That is out of my control. So is flying. So no point getting anxious about not being in control as we aren’t ever in control.

  11. I have a big issue with the plane going down the runway since I hate speed, I fly today but does anybody have any tips for me because I’m shaking like a leaf.

    1. Hope your flight went well. I’m with you…taxiing is always the most unnerving part for the flight for me. The only thing that works for me is a little audio distraction. I just try to keep some soothing music going while resting with my eyes closed. I take deep, cleansing breaths…usually that’s all I need (the whole taxiing period is relatively short, after all). Hope this helps for your next flight.

  12. The first time I flew I was 2 weeks old. I have probably flown on hundreds of airplanes in my lifetime (almost 30 years old). But I still have MAJOR preflight anxiety. It starts as soon as I book the ticket. Watching a show on my iPad with the sound up really loud or listening to music has always helped me. As soon as turbulence hits though I am a mess. Now I travel with my 2 year old son, and just looking at him and how much fun he’s having on the plane makes me feel so much better. He trusts me that I would never put him in an unsafe situation, and I should put that same trust in the pilots and the years and years of people developing flight safety. It’s hard though for a control freak like me to relinquish that. But the statistics and the coping skills you mentioned are great reminders for my flight on Monday! Plus most of my trips are to see friends and family. Just need to focus on the wonderful reunion and *this too shall pass*. Thank you for taking the time to write this!

    1. Thanks for the feedback Laura. Its a process for sure. Glad to hear you’re focusing on the positive. That’s a great tactic.

  13. I took on a new job now I got to travel on a plane never ever been on a plane I don’t know what to expected I feel anxious and nervous ii don’t think I can do this but I don’t want to lose this great job how to keep myself calm with out freaki g out on plane .please help I will be scared

    1. Hi Joann, if simple techniques outlined in our post don’t help you, we might suggest something a bit more aggressive. There are classes you can take that are specifically designed to curb flight anxiety, but you might also benefit from some counseling. There are inexpensive counselors you can find online now that can sometimes help with these anxiety problems. Good luck to you!

  14. I’ve flown more than 40 times none of them took more than 3 hours. I become very terrified during the take off! Especially climbing part, I am constantly feeling plane is falling down… I feel emptiness up in the air. I think if I move plane will lose its balance:) Also I am avoiding long flights, I rejected many opportunities of flying to US or South America.
    Thanks for your valuable advice..

  15. I have flown several times and everytime I fly am still always anxious. My last flight was just a 45mint local flight. I was terrified to an extent that the passenger beside me noticed and had to hold my hand and started praying and speaking in tongue just to help me conquer my fear. I was ashamed of myself. And I tried to think back of what is it that could have caused so much anxiety whenever am flying. And I was able to arrive at my first flight experience when the plane was descending and it had to take off again. I was so relax without any fears. But I noticed everyone around me was screaming and calling the name of Jesus. Then I asked what happened since it was my first time. Then a man told me that the plane missed the runway and it had to quickly take off again so as to land properly which nearly caused a crash. So since then it has registered in my mind that anything can happen. Now I have to fly fro Nigeria to the USA in October 22hrs flight with my 6year old boy. his first time. My son that I am surpose to protect and make him feel comfortable. And i have been thinking that how do i achieve this without me not instilling this my own fears into him as well. I have read through this article and I hope that it helps. I also saw in the comment session where someone said he took ‘Xanax’ a tablet. And it helped. Does this medicine really work? Can I try it. Please i need more tips to help through this journey. I dont need any anxiety as an hypertensive patient. Thank you

    1. It’s possible that a doctor might prescribe you medication to help alleviate your anxiety. Some of our tips may also help you without medication. Good luck to you!

  16. Hi, I am having flight phobia which already reach serious level, I even had cancelled my flight twice due to scare of fly in very last minutes, eventhough my last flight had experienced bad shaking due to turbulance in cloudy weather when descending. I had bad experiences of turbulance that shaked the cabin like roller coaster. I am really need help as I need to fly again due to no choice

  17. Hi , I have a flight Phobia .I have Flown 6 times 5hrs flight in Night . That time I use heavy Drinks before flight & In Flght Too. But Now I am Travelling Mum – SIN & SIN – BNE first Long flight . And MUM -SIN Flight is in Day . I am Depressed & InToo much fear . Still 1 Month to Travel . Should I go for drinks OR Medication. Pls Reply. Tickets R Not Refundable. What Should I do .

    1. Hi Yuvraj, It sounds as though you might need a bit of counseling to help combat your fears. I would reach out to an online counselor who may be able to give you some simple coping techniques to help with your anxiety. Good luck to you!

  18. Hi, my flight anxiety is acting up and giving me panic attacks because of my upcoming flight to Washington DC. I’m just so nervous about the risk of crashes, so reading up on the stats did help out. I think I’ll bring a book to distract me during the flight, because my mind will just start focusing on those fears if I don’t. Thank you for the tips.

  19. Great advice, will watch Virgin Atlantic video later as I am a real one for airplane noises and then thinking the worse !. I hate flying but it is a necessity.

  20. I’ve been on planes before, many times, and it never used to bother me. I used to get excited to get on planes, but I’ve since developed anxiety and I guess air travel is one of my anxiety triggers, yay! Anyway, I’m usually okay while in the air, it’s while sitting at the terminal that I have an issue. This article helped a lot though, and I keep looking over the line of the odds and it brought me great comfort. Thank you so much for this article!!!

  21. This article was very helpful. I will refer to it next time I fly. Thank you for your comforting words written in a smart non-condescending way.

  22. this is condescending nonsense – “easy peasy”. Flying courses don’t work and hypnotherapists don’t work. I cant relax on a plane, so I don’t fly (which annoys me more than anything, being confined to Europe only and endlessly filling out my details to book a flight, then not doing it, for years and years and year) ..its not natural that humans are in a 500mph metal coffin 40,000ft above the ground. Im the sensible one. A door opened in my mind, and now it wont close. I used to Love flying.

    1. Hi B. So sorry to hear about your troubles. It’s true – this post is meant for very mild cases of slight anxiety, not for people with more serious cases. Apologies if we came off condescending.

    2. You need to go to church. You Ms./or Mr have no faith whatsoever. There’s no two ways about it. Your heart can stop any time and you can’t do nothing about it.

  23. I’m going on a 24 hour flight to Asian from US in a couple of weeks. My first flight after 20 years and I am freaking out. My anxiety is getting worse the closer I get to my flight date and sometimes I would wake up sweating and scared. Help.

    1. Hi Jen, So sorry to hear this! To begin with, your situation sounds a bit more serious than garden variety jitters. It’s probably a good idea to consult with a counselor or your family physician. It’s possible they can prescribe some anti-anxiety medication for you or offer some more substantial exercises to help keep your stress in check. Good luck to you!

    2. Hi I’ve always been happy to travel on the plane but since 2016 on a 1 hour flight I had panic attacks on the plane and since that I’ve always been scared of flying just imagining how the plane would take off and in the air so my anxiety is getting worsen everytime i travel? I’m planing on traveling next week for holidays,so I’m thinking how can I cure my panic attacks for planes?

      Taa

  24. I have to go to Haiti to visit dad & am scared to death now but used to love being on the plane. Now i have anxiety, panic attacks & gad. Doc gave me valium so hopefully i won’t dig my nails into a stranger’s arm again.

  25. I have flown many times also when I was in the military. Long flight no problem, massive power naps. Now I had to get off planes twice this year because I got anxious and nervous to the point my breathing was out of control. I’ve tried real hard to look back in the past how I usually deal with this issue, but I’m leaving for a flight to California from Texas soon and I get nervous thinking about it. Please advise.

    1. If the tips we’ve laid out in our post don’t assuage your concerns a bit, it may be time to consult with a counselor or doctor (who may be able to prescribe some mild anti-anxiety medication for the flight).

  26. I am 72 and I have MS
    My problem is getting out or the Airplane seat if feel the staff may not have the strength to lift me

    I am a male and going to Gatwick from Toronto
    Thank for your IN put

  27. I have not flown in 17 years and as my date approaches I cannot help but to be anxious. Thank you for the straight forward tips and honesty!

    1. Thank you Natasha! Good luck on your flight. So many people struggle with flight anxiety – being proactive can make a difference!

  28. I am 43 and have recently flown for the first time in my life, and I was terrified, the fear was completely overwhelming but I tried my best to stay to appear outwardly calm. I unfortunately have experienced a terrorist attack which myself and my daughters luckily escaped unhurt (at least physically), this was the Manchester arena attack and we were very close to the blast, the odds of being in a terror attack are more than being in a plane incident and I kept trying to say to myself that something bad like this can’t possibly happen to us again, but the fear is so strong, I would like to travel abroad again and I shall try and keep some of your tips in mind if I do.

    1. Good luck to you, Karen. You’re very brave and it sounds like you’ve been through quite a lot. Thanks for reaching out. We’d love to hear how your journey continues.

  29. Hi, the article was good. My problem is I am ok with the actual flying it’s the turbulence that sets me off. We are off to Mexico on 3rd December and I am starting to get a bit wobbly.

    Karen

    1. Hi Karen, Turbulence is the worst! I always try some deep breathing – also keep in mind, you might luck out and get a flight without any.

  30. I didn’t use to have a fear of flying when I was younger, then ten years ago I have a short flight to New York from Ohio and I was bugging out a little. Now I have to fly four flights in one week in February and I’m totally freaking out. I’ve had several dreams of being on a doomed plane and didn’t think I’d ever try to fly again…if I make it onto the first plane I might be alright after that. Alcohol seems my best option.

  31. I have been on many flights but it seems that the older I get my anxiety is getting a lot worse. The last couple of flights I have been on flights I have had bad experiences ei. abort takeoffs at the last minute and storms. My brother has bought us airline tickets from Toronto to Hong Kong to travel with his family. My husband wants to go but I am scared to death of the 16 hour flight. I have 2 months to go and already losing sleep.

  32. This article and the video was extremely helpful for me and I recommend for people who deal with anxiety and stress on planes. I read this and watched the few a little while ago, but my flight isn’t for a few more hours. Therefore I still love ❤️ this article and think it was helpful and informational. -AH

  33. I have anxiety and I have been on a plane 6 times but I went and got some xanax today I will let God take the wheel

  34. Flying to Morocco tomorrow from D.C. and feeling very anxious. I tend to travel a lot, because I love traveling and seeing new places (completely voluntary). I unfortunately have a fear of flying that comes with that. I start to feel anxious days before my flights, but then I read articles like this and feel a lot better. Thinking about the statistics really helps. Some of my own helpful methods include having a few drinks, taking Dramamine, connecting to WiFi, and making sure to avoid caffeine. I also like to close my eyes when there’s turbulence and visualize being in a car on a cobblestone road…it helps a lot!

  35. My husband and I are flying back to the UK in May, and with the recent Ethiopian Air crash and all of the constant news coverage about it, I’m feeling anxious even this far out. We aren’t even flying on the 737 Max (we are flying on the 787 Dreamliner), but it’s like my mind can’t stop thinking about the worst case scenario.

    Has anyone else here flown on the Dreamliner? Was it a more comfortable flight than others you’ve been on? I’m usually okay until turbulence hits, and I read that the Dreamliner is a bit more smooth. I’m hoping that’s true.

  36. None of this is helpful. It’s stuff I already know. I still feel like I can’t breathe, despite all the info I have. I feel trapped, out of control. Nothing stated above changes any of that. Fail.

    1. Hi CL, We’re really sorry to hear that this post wasn’t useful for you. Maybe others in the comment section can offer you suggestions. We also (as a minor disclaimer) often suggest people with more than mild flight anxiety consult with a medical professional. Thank you for the feedback.

  37. This article was so helpful..I almost missed out on a trip to Ireland just because I was so terrified of flying!! I Loaded my iPad with episodes of Friends & The Golden Girls and took a Zanax. I was cool as a cucumber the whole flight. Oh and I always say a little prayer and put it in God’s hands. I am leaving for Disney in a few days and even though the flight is only a couple of hours..I still get anxiety…which will probably never change…

  38. There’s this incredible CD I bought that has helped me with flying. I have terrible anxiety flying but I found something that finally works it’s called flying with confidence from British airways.
    I would highly recommend it it will help you to be completely relaxed when you’re in an anxiety situation on the plane. It really has done wonders for me I went from not flying at all to getting on six flights last year because of this.

  39. So so want to get to some amazing places in the world . It’s so frustrating that I developed a really bad fear of flying in my early 30s when I was the opposite before!. I don’t want to take drugs and would love to overcome it to the point where I feel I can cope with the fear. Any suggestions/ support and just reading this is appreciated . I’m going through a phase of trying to be honest with myself …. and start to address some of my fears …..

  40. thank u for the tips! i will still take precaution and ask my doctor for emergency medication. iam terrified of flying especially since i will be flying for the second time in my life . note that i was 2 since my last flight. lol it makes me feel even better knowing that im not alone on this.

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