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.

21 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.

  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.

  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.

  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!

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