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 [email protected] 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.


  1. I suffer from anxiety panick attacks adhd. It’s scary for me. But I love how you said being in an aircraft disaster is 1 out of 3million. Also I have been told your more likely to get strucked by lightning then plane crash.

  2. My fear of flying stemmed from my mother. My mother would always say she would never get on a plane because she rather die on the ground, as opposed to dying while falling 40,000 feet out of the air. Constantly hearing that as a young kid did a number on me. I’m petrified of flying. I keep telling myself that the odds of me dying in a car crash is significantly higher. As soon as I reassure myself with that fact, I think about the fact that plane crashes are nearly always fatal, and I have a greater chance of surviving a car crash. My niece is graduating from high school this year and the only thing she want is for me to take her to Miami Beach. I feel so bad that I’m to scared to go on a plane to get her there. The trip is only a 3 hour flight but it’s far to long for someone like me. It’s so bad I thought of taking Amtrak which is 27 hours, but she think I’m being ridiculous which I know I am. I want to give my niece the graduation gift that she want but fear is keeping me from booking the flight.

  3. I used to fly years ago and a few years ago I had a few bad flights one was storm related and the other was bad turbulence. Now in a few weeks I’m flying from Buffalo to Bakersfield and my chest is going crazy. The thought of not having control is driving me nuts and people say that flying is safer than driving. I’ve driven to Oklahoma 3 times this year from NY and felt pretty safe but work is not allowing me to do that. The biggest fear I have is turbulence, when it happens I have no control but friends say it’s like driving down a bumpy road and too me I feel like the seat is falling out from under and I have no control. Is it me or am I over thinking this?? Any advice would be great. Thank you

    • Hi Mike, thanks for reaching out. I once heard that it helps to accept that turbulence happens and to understand why. Turbulence is caused by a change in the airflow and not because something is wrong with the aircraft itself and it’s seldom troublesome. If you buckle up, you should be fine. Also, turbulence is less noticeable towards the front of the airplane or near the wings. The air is also, smoother in the mornings when the air is coolers so that we recommend booking an early morning flight. Best of luck!

  4. I am almost 50 and have never flown before as I have a fear of not being in control. This is affecting my career and I really need to get over this. My first flight is next week and I will print and take your tips with me as when I am in a situation like that I cant even remember my name. So these printed tips will remind me to focus. Thanks so much for your article.

  5. I am flying tomorrow from London to Sao Paulo. Flying terrifies me but the last time I flew internationally was from Singapore to London and while I waited to board I listened to Simon & Garfunkel’s first studio album. The flight was delayed so it looped a couple of times, and it really did help me to relax, because it’s generally full of soothing songs. So I recommend finding some soothing music to listen to. Mind you I also had vallium, so that helps too! I’m still not looking forward to the flight though.

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