How To Cope With A Fear of Flying

Flying Fear

Travel is my life. I spend hours researching faraway lands. UNESCO sites. Quirky neighborhoods. Hostels and couchsurfing. Street food. And yes, bookstores. … But wait. How long is the flight to my final destination? 11 hours? …. damn it.

I wasn’t always afraid of flying. Actually, when I was a child, I loved turbulence because the sudden bumps reminded me of carnival rides. Then, back in May 2012, my family and I boarded a flight to London. Roughly an hour passed before crazy turbulence hit, striking out of nowhere. Overhead compartments sprung open. My mom’s wine slammed into the ceiling. My butt came at least two inches out of my seat. Thank god I wore a seatbelt.

The turbulence lasted ten minutes. I don’t think it was “severe” turbulence (at not least by the FAA’s definition), but it was enough for me to dig my nails into the armrests for the remaining 5+ hours of my flight. The pilot announced an apology after we safely landed at Heathrow.

The rest is history.

For me, flying is torture. I experience anticipatory anxiety if I know a travel day is approaching. However, I try not to allow my fears take full control of my life. So I still fly – sometimes for 9 hour flights – and often I travel alone.

Here are a few suggestions to cope with your flying fear.

Flowers in Lisbon.

Flowers in Lisbon.

Soul Search

A fear of flying is common. Many sources suggest 20-30% of adults feel some apprehension about boarding a plane and taking to the skies. However, a fear of flying is a very individual phobia. You need to ask yourself why you are scared to fly. Do you fear a plane crash? Are you claustrophobic? Do you worry about terrorism? Are you prone to motion sickness? For me, the fear stems from a lack of control. The sooner you know the reason(s) behind your phobia, the better equipped you are to address it.


Research the cold hard facts. Airsafe is an excellent resource that compiles statistics for each carrier and airplane model. For example, let’s pretend I’m flying with United in a few days and experience awful anticipatory anxiety. According to airsafe, United has had 21.9 million flights from 1970-2005. How many serious incidents? Only 11 out of those 21.9 million. The last major incident was 9/11/2001. These numbers plainly show that commercial airlines are extremely safe.

Yet my fear of flying is irrational, and I suspect the same for many others. Numbers may work to soothe nerves on the ground, but they don’t help me much on a rough ride through thick clouds.

Pick you seat. Photo Christopher Doyle

Pick your seat. By Christopher Doyle from Horley, United Kingdom (easyJet A321 Cabin Uploaded by wexcan) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Choose Your Seat

If you can, don’t allow the airline to pick your seat for you. Trust me, you’ll probably sit in the very last row near the bathrooms. A lot of major carriers allow you to select and reserve your seat online for free. I always choose an aisle seat close to the wings. It’s been proven that turbulence is less forceful over the wings. Use seatguru for assistance on selecting the best seat.

Exposure Therapy

This tip may not work for all of you.

Random noises frighten nervous fliers. Prior to take-off, my mind always asks if the engine is supposed to sound like a dentist drilling a cavity or not. Sometimes, before a long flight, I watch airplane clips on youtube to re-accustom myself to common sounds heard on-board. This reinforces that planes are supposed to make noise, and those weird buzzy groans at take-off aren’t ominous.

Take A Class

Many airports and carriers offer “fear of flying” classes for customers. One day I hope to take a class for my anxiety. Here is an example of a British Airways course:


I hate turbulence. If humans magically controlled air patterns and could offer a guaranteed “turbulence free” flight for $200, I would hand over the extra cash with zero regrets. Alas, we cannot control nature.

Check out turbulence forecast for a rough (ha) idea about conditions. This site is not 100% accurate and depending on the person, could possibly ramp up anxiety. For me, I like having a rough idea of what to expect in the air. The “fear of flying” courses also discuss turbulence in great detail if that’s a specific concern of yours.

Become friends with this Viking prior to your flight!

Become friends with this Viking prior to your flight!


I do NOT recommend getting drunk. If you are visibly intoxicated, the airline has every right to deny you from boarding. Plus 35,000 feet in the air is not an ideal place to puke all the contents of your stomach. However, one or two glasses of wine may relax you for the duration of the flight. If your fear is mild, a drink could quickly calm your nerves.


If you’re unable to reduce your anxiety, then visit a doctor and request a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. Xanax (Alprazolam), Ativan (Lorazepam), and Valium (Diazepam) are a few of the prescribed drugs given to fearful fliers.

Most doctors are very understanding toward fearful fliers. My doctor does everything in his power to help me. Remember: this fear is common. In addition, don’t feel embarrassed about taking medication to fly. If pills help you fulfill your traveling dreams, then they are worth every penny and no one should judge you.

Note: Be responsible. Do not mix any medication with alcohol. For example, Xanax is extremely safe if appropriately used, but serious complications occur if you throw alcohol into the mix. Also, if this is your first time taking any drug, try it at home prior to your flight. These pills affect everyone differently so it’s important to know if your body can handle the dosage.

Be confident! Let others know about your fear!

Be confident! Let others know about your fear!

Don’t Suffer In Silence

Don’t allow your flying fear to embarrass you. Upon boarding, I immediately mention my anxiety to the flight attendants. They are always responsive to my concerns. For instance, on a flight to Dublin, we hit a patch of rough air. The flight attendant immediately came to my seat and told me that “turbulence is uncomfortable but not unsafe.” Her words reassured me that everything was fine.

Are you afraid to fly? What are YOUR tips for fearful fliers?

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3 Responses to How To Cope With A Fear of Flying

  1. Megan Funck June 4, 2015 at 3:24 am #

    These are some good tips… I never used to have anxiety about flying but after some crazy turbulent flights , I hate hate flying. It’s a fear I need to overcome though (or else ask my doctor for medication.. Actually in pretty sure before my next big trip in going to discuss it with my DR haha). That’s a good idea telling the flight attendants… There have been so many flights where I’m hyper sensitive to any sounds, sensations of slowing down or speeding up and bumps, and I sit there in a state if panic the entire flight. I think my fear is I don’t want to die before I feel like I’ve accomplished what I want to do in life, and the total lack of control over anything.

    • Rachel Elizabeth June 4, 2015 at 4:38 am #

      Hello, Megan! Thanks for visiting!

      It’s so funny how a few bad flights can spark an intense phobia. I’m so sensitive to noises and speed and bumps too; I always try and listen to the different engine sounds. At this point, I need medication to take my mind off the plane’s movements, but one day, I’m hoping to entirely conquer my fear. I want my desire to see new places to win over my flying anxiety.

      Wishing you the best of luck on your upcoming trip!! Enjoy every second of it!

  2. Jane Ambrose August 4, 2017 at 10:37 am #

    My family has been planning a trip to Hawaii for the last few months, but my oldest daughter doesn’t want to come because she has had a huge fear of flying for as long as I can remember. I hadn’t thought of sharing statistics with my daughter, but considering an airplane crash is so rare, I’m sure that seeing some true numbers would make her feel better. In my opinion, overcoming your fears is a hard but rewarding thing to do. I’ll be sure to share this with her to convince her to come with us!

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