Even if you have a strong desire to travel, flight anxiety can prevent you from fulfilling your dreams. It can be debilitating, especially when thinking about a long-haul flight.
The most important thing that you should know is that you are not alone! According to studies, precisely 25% of Americans have some sort of flight anxiety. So, what can you do when you have a fear of flying?
Tips for Battling Flight Anxiety
1. Arrive Early
Recommended by Sarah of Life Part2 and Beyond
Allow yourself plenty of time to arrive at the airport and check-in. It’s far better to arrive in good time and be able to relax with a cup of coffee or a stroll around duty-free than find yourself caught in traffic or a long line at the check-in counter or security.
Ideally, check-in online in advance. If checking in luggage, most check-in counters open two to three hours before the flight departs, so try to get there as the counter opens. Allowing yourself extra time will make the whole airport experience less stressful.
2. Reputable Airlines
Recommended by Kassidy of Kassidy’s Journey
When you’re already nervous about flying, hopping onto a plane from an airline that you don’t trust will only make things worse.
When booking your flight, choose an airline that is reputable and well known, rather than going for the cheapest option. While these airlines may cost you a bigger buck, it may help your anxiety knowing that you’re flying with the best. Larger and more reputable airlines also tend to have larger planes, meaning that they’re less susceptible to turbulence.
Now remember, the budget airlines are just as safe as the larger ones. They may just have less legroom, no entertainment, and more turbulence.
These are all things that you can handle, but if you’re nervous, spend the extra money to fly with an airline like Delta, which is widely trusted.
3. Choosing a Seat
Recommended by Sydney of A World in Reach
One of the scariest parts about flying for anxious flyers is the turbulence. It can be nerve wracking feeling the shakes and bumps of a plane flying through the air. If turbulence makes you nervous, consider booking a seat where the impact of turbulence is felt less compared to other parts of the plane.
There are two areas of the plane with less impact from turbulence: the front of the plane and the middle, right over the wings. Because of the planes’ centers of gravity, these areas tend to suffer less turbulence than the seats in the back.
Since flying first class isn’t in the travel budget for most people, the over-wing seats will likely be your best choice. Choose your seats early to get the best chance of getting the seat you want so that you won’t be stuck in the back of the plane.
4. Travel Companion
Recommended by Karen of Outdoor Adventure Sampler
Having support from a trusted friend or partner is one of the best things for an anxious traveler to feel more comfortable on an airplane. The traveling companion can talk to the nervous flyer to distract them, hold their hand, and offer reassurance.
The anxious traveler might enjoy playing simple mental games or riddles, or listening to a story told by the support person.
If you are not flying with a traveling companion, alert the flight attendant of your anxiety. They are trained to offer help. Or get to know your seatmate, as sometimes just having someone who knows what you’re going through can be comforting.
5. Avoid Stressful Situations
Recommended by Delilha of OurTravelMix.com
As an anxious flyer, I find the most important thing to do is to get my mindset into a good place. For me, that means avoiding anything that can stress me out before I board the plane.
If you’ve ever been running late for a flight you know the anxiety I’m talking about. Watching the time tick down on your way to the airport, waiting in line to check in and sprinting for the gate.
All of these things add unnecessary stress before you even get on the plane. I’ve flown to Queenstown numerous times over the years, but there was one time where I was running late and by the time I was in my seat I was already freaking out. It was my luck that it was also one of the bumpiest flights of my life.
Now I always make sure to arrive exceptionally early for all my flights. Most airports aren’t too bad and can have some good spots to unwind or smash out some work on your laptop before your flight.
6. Airport Lounges
Recommended by Melanie of The Professional Traveller
Airports can often be nerve jangling experiences. The noisy, busy atmosphere can be quite stressful – that’s before you get anywhere near a plane!
One of the ways to make the airport a quieter and calmer space is to use an airport lounge. This can be particularly helpful for anxious flyers. For starters the seating is often much more comfortable and varied than in the main airport.
Lounges are generally quieter spaces, with fewer people and no announcements. The WIFI is often much better – making it easy to distract yourself with some work or streaming. Then there are the snacks and refreshments that are available. Who doesn’t love some cake and their favorite drink?
Airport lounge access is easy to organize. You can buy at the door, book in advance or buy a lounge pass for regular use.
Lounge access is a great way to upgrade the airport experience, making it feel like a treat rather than a trial. It’s a great way to reduce flight anxiety whether you are a first time or regular flyer.
7. Breathing Exercises
Recommended by Erica Riley of TravelswithErica.com
One of the best tips for staying calm before and during your flight is to learn breathing exercises. Simple breathing exercises help keep you stay relaxed and keep your mind off flying.
Sit up straight in your chair and inhale deeply and slowing through your nose with your mouth closed. Hold the breath for a second and then slowly exhale through your mouth. Repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times, and you’ll instantly feel calmer and less anxious about flying.
Do this exercise before you get on the plane, during takeoff and landing, and during any turbulence you experience.
It may sound simple, but you’ll be amazed at how much this breathing exercise helps reduce your flight anxiety.
8. Talk to Your Doctor
When flight anxiety or nervousness becomes debilitating and prevents you from flying, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor. You and your doctor can come up with a game plan to battle those nervous thoughts. In severe cases, medication is often prescribed to help you feel less anxious. Always follow the recommendation of your physician.
9. Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Recommended by Carley of Home to Havana
One way of the best ways to let go of your surroundings and ease anxiety while traveling is to make sure you bring along a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
Not only can these help block out noisy neighbors on cramped flights, but they can also help block out background airplane noise, leaving you to visualize yourself already in your destination.
While in-ear noise canceling headphones can help, go for an over-ear pair to really get the best quality of noise cancellation. A great pair can also help you sleep while on a long-haul flight, which itself can help decrease anxiety and make time pass more quickly.
10. Watch Your Favorite Movie
Recommended by Dymphe of Dym Abroad
One of the best travel tips for an anxious flyer is to download a movie in advance. When you are going on a flight, it is great to get something to distract you! This makes flying a much better experience as it makes you less aware that you are flying.
Watching a movie with earphones is a great way to distract you. However, often there is no internet on your flight. Because of this, you should download a movie in advance. That way, you can see a movie even if your phone is in airplane mode.
What’s great is that many streaming platforms support this. For example, there is a section in the Netflix app where you can find your downloaded content.
To make sure you have something to distract you, you should download a few different movies. In that case, when you don’t like the current movie you are watching, you can switch to one you like more!
11. Listen to an Audiobook
Recommended by Sarah of Costa Rica Vibes
Sometimes, as an anxious flyer, listening to an enthralling audiobook is the very best distraction from the flying experience.
Audiobooks give you a chance to still look out the window or down the aisle (whichever makes you feel more comfortable) while attempting to put your focus on a story. I often find that non fiction audiobooks are the best because usually the authors talk in a calm way that encourages relaxation.
To save money, download the free app Libby. On Libby it is possible to connect to your local library and check out audiobooks that can be listened to without using data. Just make sure you have plenty of charge on your phone!
Bring noise canceling headphones to block out all the sounds of the plane and fully embrace the story.
12. Listen to Music
Recommended by Cris of LooknWalk
Music is extremely effective for relaxation and stress management. Upbeat music can make you feel optimistic, whereas a slower tempo can quiet your mind.
Before any flight, take time to create several playlists. The first playlist I make is made up of well-known songs from the destination I’m visiting. This helps me get excited about exploring.
Then, I always create a “soothing” playlist. For me, this includes Argentine Tango music that I love to listen to. If you aren’t familiar with this music style, then you add any songs that make you feel calm. Or look up some relaxation music (there are plenty of ideas online).
All I need to do during the flight is to pop in my headphones and allow the sound to relax my mind.
13. Listen to Podcasts
Recommended by Alex of Travels and Baffles
When it comes to flying, it is great to keep your mind occupied. That is why listening to podcasts is one of the best cures for an anxious flyer.
In the world of podcasts, there is a show for EVERY niche. Therefore, discover what puts your mind at ease and search for a podcast that suits you. Whether you prefer comedy, true crime, self-help, pop culture, or news, you will be able to find someone talking about what you want to hear.
Podcasts are also easily accessible, and you can find them on most of your favorite streaming platforms. Before hopping on your flight, make sure to download a few episodes, so you can listen to them offline!
Photo Credit: [@luckybusiness/Canva]
Alexandrea Sumuel is a travel writer and the founder of Wander With Alex, where she provides vacationers and travel enthusiasts with trip ideas, travel guides, news, and itineraries. She travels to experience, eat, and explore-- and, on occasion, escape! Alex’s mission is to help people travel a little easier.