I have a confession to make. I’m a travel blogger with a fear of flying. Crazy, right?
It’s true! For around a week before I’m due to take-off, my anxiety level gradually rises and peaks on the day of the flight. By this point, my stomach is churning, my appetite has vanished and my finger nails are chewed to bits.
While externally I might look like a suave, calm and super-cool travelling millennial, internally I’m a nervous wreck!
Despite this fear of flying, I still fly a lot. The payoff of travelling somewhere new, exploring new cities and neighbourhoods, meeting new people and sampling different cuisines is so enormous that I’m willing (and somehow able) to cope with and, in some ways, minimise the anxiety.
In this post, I’ll run through the methods that I’ve employed to help me gradually overcome my fear of flying. If the above description of my fear of flying is familiar to you, hopefully you’ll find my essential tips useful.
At A Glance
Read through the article in order, or use this table of contents to jump to the bits that interest you the most.
- How to get comfortable when on-board
- Try to get some sleep
- Take frequent toilet breaks
- Keep clean with hand gel
- Wear your favourite slippers
- Take a blindfold and your favourite headphones
- Turbulence? Don’t panic!
- Wear flight socks, particularly on long-haul flights
- Indulge! Eat everything offered to you (and ask for more)
- If in doubt, ask!
- Enjoy the views from the window
- Remember, jet aircraft have been flying for decades
- Keep in mind why you’re flying
Things to do between flights
To begin with, let’s think about what we can do when we’re not flying. Most of us only fly a few times a year at most, so we only confront our fears and anxieties at a time when they’re most bothersome – when we’re actually flying.
In this section, I have a couple of tips that encourages you to take an active interest in flying and how planes get airborne, with an aim to help normalise the experience.
Learn about aerodynamics
Knowledge is power. The more you know, the more control you have.
This mantra is applicable to those wanting to overcome a fear of flying. Finding the answers to questions like, ‘what was that noise?’, ‘why’s that happening?’ and ‘is that normal?’ can help to remove the mystery behind how planes get into the sky. If you understand the science of aerodynamics, maybe that will offer you some reassurance.
The questions and answer website Quora is absolutely fantastic for finding answers. There’s an active community of pilots, engineers and cabin crew answering questions from curious passengers, so if you have a question where you feel the answer might help with your fear of flying, don’t be afraid to sign-up and ask! It’s completely free!
To get your started, here are a few questions that have received excellent, detailed answers.
- How do airplanes fly?
- What are some facts to make me believe that airplanes are safe, come rain, lightning or turbulence?
- Why do so few planes crashes occur?
Become a plane-spotter
If you take a personal interest in aircraft and airlines, the world of air travel becomes normalised and less mysterious. Luckily, it’s never been easier, nor more socially acceptable to become a plane spotter.
The FlightRadar24 app tracks almost all aircraft in the sky in real time, telling you where they are flying from/to, their altitude, their land speed and numerous other readings. The next time you see a plane in the sky, you can open the app and find out where it’s heading to.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll soon get pretty addicted to it. I find myself curiously jabbing at my phone every time a plane flies over to find out where it’s going. It’s actually really food fun!
Before you book your flight
Price is the single biggest selling factor, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you think about. Here are a couple of things for you to consider, both of which may help you to alleviate some of your anxiety.
How to choose an airline
When choosing an airline to fly with, there are a few things to take into consideration that might help to alleviate any stress and, hopefully, overcome your fear of flying.
- Safety record – Generally, this isn’t something you need to think about, as most airlines have a great or impeccable safety record. There are however a handful of airlines who operate slightly older aircraft or who’s safety standards are lower than average. The best place to check for safety records is Wikipedia.
- Customer reviews – This is one of the main things for you to consider. As with anything you pay for these days, customers are encouraged to leave reviews about their experience online. The best place to check airline reviews is Skytrax.
- On-board experience – Another thing to think about is what the on-board experience is like. What’s you seat going to be like? Will there be a personal entertainment screen and will there be a meal service? The airline’s own website will reveal the answers to all of these questions. Additionally, YouTube is a great place to find first-person review videos of the on-board experience of most airlines. Search for ‘airline name + reviews’.
Explore all travel options
Avoidance isn’t a great way for you to overcome a fear of flying, but for the sake of the environment, I’m including this tip.
Ask yourself, ‘do I really need to fly at all?‘
Overland travel (e.g. trains, busses etc.) is often a cost effective and environmentally friendly option and it’s one that’s always worth considering. Of course, for some routes, it’s a ridiculous or even impossible proposition. For many though, overland travel will save you money, will reduce your carbon footprint and allow you to see more of the world as you travel to your final destination.
Before the day of your flight
The time between booking a flight and boarding a plane is the perfect time to make preparations. Focus on thinking about what you can do to make the experience more comfortable and more enjoyable.
Pre-book your transfers
If all you’re focusing on is the flight and how awful that might be, it can be easy to forget what you might do when you arrive at your destination.
The last thing you want is for you to arrive in an entirely new place and have no idea how best to get to your accommodation.
When researching what to do upon arrival, Tripadvisor’s forums* are a great place to start. Typically, there are FAQ pages or pinned threads that answer the basic arrival questions. If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, do a quick search first before you create a new thread.
Another great place to do some research is on the official website of your arrival airport. You can find the website relevant to your arrival airport by running a quick search.
Once you’ve found out how best to transfer to your final destination, you can start pre-booking. Some useful resources are;
- Trainline* – If your arrival airport is served by a railway station, you can pre-book your train tickets here.
- Busbud* – Busses are almost always a viable transfer option. Busbud can help you find fares and timetables.
- Skyscanner* – For car rental, we like using Skyscanner to find the best deal.
Find things to look forward to
When you have a fear of flying, it’s very easy to focus purely on the negatives. I know, I’ve been there.
On thing I found useful was allowing myself to switch out of that mindset (even just for a few moments) and think about what I might enjoy from the experience. Some of the things I think about are;
- The views – Looking out of an aeroplane window never fails to disappoint.
- Meal service – What’s not to like about having a tray of food delivered to you?
- Entertainment options – An opportunity to catch-up on all those blockbusters you missed (see more below).
- The destination – This is why we’re doing this in the first place. Don’t forget about where you’re heading to.
Familiarise yourself with the entertainment options
Most of the major airline allow you to browse what’s on the in-flight entertainment system on their website before boarding. Doing this, you’ll know exactly what to expect when you’re in your seat.
I’ve always initially gone for comedy shows that bring me comfort such as The Big Bang Theory and The Office. I’ve seen all of the episodes several times before, but that’s the point. The familiarity helps to ease the anxiety and to alleviate my fear of flying.
Think about your comfort kit
Before you fly, think about the things that bring you the most comfort whilst at home. Make a note of these things and bring as many of them with you on your flight.
The idea here is to have familiar stuff with you whilst on the plane. Perhaps think of it as recreating what it’s like to be curled up on the couch at home.
Here are some of the things I like to take with me when I fly:
- Hand Gel (less than 100ml of course)
- My favourite hoody
- Flight socks
Some flyers choose to really embrace this idea by bringing a set of pyjamas with them. Don’t be afraid to make yourself as comfortable as possible, particularly if you’re on a long haul flight.
Choose your seat carefully
Whichever seat you choose very much depends on what you think will bring you the most comfort. Some like the snugness and security of a middle seat. Some like a window seat for the views, while others enjoy the added control one gets from an aisle seat.
I always choose an aisle seat if I can get one. I find it reassuring to know I can get up whenever I like without disturbing anyone. I once took a flight from Doha to Hong Kong and was stuck in between two strangers. The person to my left in the aisle seat cocooned himself in so much, I felt trapped and increasingly anxious.
Top tip: SeatGuru is a great resource for finding out which are the best seats on your particular flight and which are best to avoid entirely.
Another thing to consider when choosing your seat is the location. The consensus is that the rear of the plane is the bumpiest part of an aircraft (this Quora page explains why). I always try to get a seat on the wing as this is generally thought to be the most stable section of the plane. Bear in mind though that there’s not much of a view from a wing-side seat.
How to get comfortable when on-board
You made it! You’re on the plane and you’re flying to your destination. Now’s the time to focus on relaxing and enjoying yourself.
Try to get some sleep
Wouldn’t it be lovely if you could just instantly fall asleep the moment you sit down and then wake up at your destination? Well, short of buying a first class ticket with a flat bed seat or taking a pill, sleeping in an economy seat is not an easy task.
In the past, I’ve tried getting some sleep on flights in order to make the journey pass by quicker. To help, I’ve tried two of those U-shaped neck pillows you commonly see in airports – one inflatable and the other bean-filled. Since they’re so common, I expected them to be comfortable and to ease me to sleep. They didn’t. The inflatable one constantly deflated, while the bean-filled variety made me feel like I was wearing a neck brace.
Thankfully, some former students of the University of Dundee have invented a clever alternative. The Trtl Pillow is a lightweight, super-soft, hypoallergenic fleece scarf with an internal neck support system hidden inside. Wearers simply wrap the scarf around their neck and affix the velcro to make it snug. The wearer is then able to lean their head to one side and feel completely comfortable and supported.
We’ve tried the Trtl Pillow out ourselves and can attest that it is indeed very comfortable, significantly more so than any U-shaped pillow. We’ll definitely be taking them with us on our next trip.
Take frequent toilet breaks
I don’t know why, but whilst in the air, I always feel better when I’m on my feet. Perhaps I think I’m less likely to feel turbulence when I’m walking about. Perhaps it also brings me a sense of control.
Visiting the toilet to freshen up or going for a stretch and a mini-workout is a good excuse to go for a wander. Depending on the aircraft, you might also be able to wander up/down to the next level or browse the self-service snack bar (airlines such as Qantas have these).
In any case, going for a wander might help if you’re feeling anxious.
Keep clean with hand gel
Banish those concerns about aircraft hygiene and pack a small bottle of hand gel in your hand luggage (ensure you adhere to baggage restrictions). Aeroplanes aren’t the most hygienic places, therefore such precautions are essential to preventing you from catching something nasty from your fellow passengers.
Wear your favourite slippers
Do you have a favourite pair of slippers? If so, take them with you. The association of curling up on the sofa in front of the TV with your slippers on will be triggered if you wear them when onboard and may bring you some extra comfort.
Take a blindfold and your favourite headphones
Airlines on long distance routes normally supply blindfolds, ear-plugs and headphones, but they’re always pretty flimsy and cheap. For familiarity, take your own with you.
In order to use your own headphones with in-flight entertainment systems, you might need to buy an adapter (run a quick search to find out whether this applies to your airline). These are available on eBay and don’t cost very much.
Blindfolds are always available in stores or online.
Turbulence? Don’t panic!
Turbulence is just part of the flying experience and you should expect it to happen on every flight.
This is the reason why you’re told to keep your seatbelt fastened whenever you’re seated. It’s worth keeping in mind that airlines consider turbulence to be an issue of comfort much more than an issue of safety. Therefore, you really shouldn’t be concerned about a bit of occasional bumpiness.
The cabin crew experience turbulence frequently, so watching their reactions can bring some relief if you feel anxious. For them, it’s just a normal part of their work day, so watch how they react to turbulence and it should remind you that you’re perfectly safe.
Planes are designed to withstand extremely high levels of turbulence, much more than they do under normal circumstances, so sit back and try to relax.
Wear flight socks, particularly on long-haul flights
The chances of experiencing deep-vein thrombosis is slim, but I always wear a pair of flight socks whenever I fly long distances. It’s just one less thing to worry about.
Indulge! Eat everything offered to you (and ask for more)
Eating makes everyone feel good, so eat as much as you can get.
It’s worth finding out whether your airline provides extra snacks on request. I once discovered Singapore Airlines provide free Cup Noodles on request! Other airlines provide complimentary self service snack bars while others hand out bags of food after the main meal is served.
By the way, don’t be afraid to ask for more if you’re hungry. I’ve had great success in the past when I’ve asked for more, particularly when it comes to deserts. There are normally leftovers and the crew have always seemed happy to get rid of them.
If in doubt, ask!
There’s no harm in talking to the cabin crew if you’re feeling worried. As seasoned fliers, they’ll be able to give you tips and advice. Their calm attitude will also help to normalise the situation. Either hit the call button above you or get to your feet and find someone. They’ll be pleased to help you, particularly if you tell them you have a fear of flying.
Enjoy the views from the window
Even if you’re sitting in an aisle seat, make sure you look out of the window (just lean across if you have to), particularly during take-off and landing.
Take off is the most worrying part of a flight for me, but I try to look out the window and the sheer spectacle of seeing the ground fall away offers an unexpected distraction from my fear of flying.
During the cruising stage, skies are blue and the clouds are bright, white and fluffy. It never fails to be impressive and always makes enduring the anxiety worthwhile.
Landing is the best part for me (as you might expect). Seeing the ground arrive after even the shortest of flights brings very welcome relief.
Remember, jet aircraft have been flying for decades
The first Boeing 747 commercial passenger flight took off in 1969. That’s over 50 years ago! Since then, technology and safety has improved significantly. If a massive passenger jet could fly safely around the world back in the sixties, it’s highly likely they can do the same now in a much safer fashion.
Keep in mind why you’re flying
It always helps if you justify why you’re doing something. Whilst you’re in the air, see if there are any articles on your destination in the in-flight magazine. Occasionally, in-flight entertainment systems also have ebooks or tv shows on a variety of destinations, so have a click around.
As a fail safe, make sure you keep your guide books in your hand luggage so you can make some plans.
Don’t be ruled by your fear of flying
In this guide, I’ve covered a wide variety of tips and suggestions for overcoming a fear of flying. Ultimately though, the most important piece of advice I can impart is that you shouldn’t allow your fear to determine whether or not you travel. Travel opens doors, builds relationships, expands your mind and is good for the soul and you therefore shouldn’t deny yourself these opportunities.
Not all of the tips in this guide will be useful to you. Indeed, you might end up trying all of the advice in this post and still find that your fear of flying is holding you back. The key component to overcoming a fear of flying is inside you. You’ve got to want to beat it! Your desire to see the world has got to be all encompassing and has to rule your decision to book those flights and get in the sky.
I hope you’ve found this guide useful and that you manage to overcome your fear of flying. I hope all of your forthcoming flights are safe, comfortable and enjoyable. Happy travels!
Did I miss anything? Do you have any tips or advice for fellow travellers? Also, have you overcame a fear of flying? How’d you do it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.