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.

36 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!

  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!

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