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The Fearful Flyer’s Guide to Long Haul Flights

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fearful flyer's guide to long haul flights

Fearful Flyer’s Guide to Long Haul Flights

I’m scared to fly, but do anyway. I book flights lasting 7, 8, even 9 hours. This happens multiple times a year.

Say what?

Yup. Flying makes my stomach turn.

Yet somehow I’m always suffering on a plane, sailing across an ocean, to somewhere far away. You’re probably wondering how I pull off this amazing feat, especially if you hate to fly too and haven’t booked your first trip.

No, I don’t own a magic wand that destroys my flying fears upon arriving at an airport. I wish.

Nor am I (that) crazy. Trust me. Maybe.

Nor do I sleep through the entire flight. Again, I wish. If you can sleep on long haul flights, especially in economy class, you need to count your blessings and share your secrets. Now.

Fortunately there are many guides about how to survive a long haul flight  that can help you with your next trip. And I’m here to add my voice with my own “fearful flyer’s guide to long haul flights.” Yay!


fearful flyer's guide to long haul flights

Okay, so why do I torture myself? You’ve already guessed the answer. I endure these “long haul voyages of doom,” because travel is the bread and butter of my life.

Guys, I’m not willing to let my flying fear stop me from experiencing incredible international destinations. Sticking to my own backyard isn’t gonna cut it for me. Not now, not ever. Damn, wanderlust.

Risks are a part of life. My anxiety hates this fact but it doesn’t make it any less true. My flying phobia follows me, like a dark rain cloud, but I still realize the chances of me dying in a blaze of fiery glory are minuscule.

At the end of the day, temporary discomfort is a fair trade-off if it means hot sunbathed mountains, cinnamon-smelling markets, laughter ringing in my ears, and pastel cities are waiting for me on the other side.

fearful flyers long haul flights
Taking a long haul flight to Scotland was worth it.

Nonetheless, the mere thought of taking a long haul flight, especially alone, makes me weak in the knees. And not in a pleasant way.

Trust me, I’m angsting about flying to Madrid right now.

So what’s a girl to do? Here is my “fearful flyer’s guide to long haul flights” to save the day! Hopefully my suggestions inspire you to print your boarding pass and wander overseas for your next upcoming adventure.

Full disclosure: Medication helps me fly. but I still rely on these tips to beat anticipatory anxiety at home and in the airport terminal. I won’t endorse or disparage medicine in this post because it’s a personal choice.

Moving on.

calm nerves before flying ASAP

How to Survive Long Flights With Anxiety

I firmly believe the way to survive long flights with anxiety is to control what you can and let go what you can’t. Of course, the simplest ways to conquer a long flight require doing whatever is in your control. Methods to combat fear include arriving to the airport early, choosing your own seat, bringing your favorite books and movies, and wearing comfortable clothing.

Honestly, I think that anyone can fly to any destination in the world with the right amount of preparation. 

fearful flyer's guide to long haul flights

1. Go to Flightaware For an Exact Flight Time.

When you book your ticket, you can log onto the airline’s site and see a time, which estimates how many minutes you’re trapped alongside a bunch of strangers, some who may smell like bad perfume or body odor.

However, these times are inaccurate a lot. You could have a shorter flight than you bargained for! Awesome, huh? I especially love seeing a shorter flight time when I’m ready to take a ride over water.

Go to flightaware and plug in your flight number. You’ll see a list of all the previous flights and their corresponding journey times. Usually, the average time is lower than what’s written on the airline’s official website.

In my experience, this is especially true for European flights! There’s nothing like being told on American or United’s website that the time to reach London is roughly 7 hours, but in reality, the average flight time is only six hours and fifteen minutes.

Knowing you’ll spend 45 minutes less on a plane helps. A lot.

fearful flyer's guide to long haul flights

2. Take Control of Your Seat.

Do not let the airlines choose your seat. I repeat do not let the airlines choose your seat!

Seriously, there’s no reason to do that especially with the creation of the internet. If you don’t plan ahead of time, you’ll totally end up in the middle seat, in the last row, right next to the bathrooms. Don’t risk it.

Instead go to the carrier’s site and change your seats to suit your personal needs. For example, I always opt for an aisle seat, so I can walk around whenever I want without bugging my neighbors to move.

I also aim for a seat located in a row over the plane’s wings, so turbulence is minimized. Sure, sometimes I gotta pay extra for the arrangements, but the peace of mind is worth every penny.

Book your seat ahead of time. Usually the airlines don’t screw up the reservation. Usually. No promises.

fearful flyer long haul flights

3. Bring Your Own Entertainment.

While some airlines feature all three Lord of the Rings movies and every HBO series known to humankind, other planes have dated systems causing you to suffer through an 8 hour transatlantic flight with only Smurfs reruns to distract you. It happens.

Again, you need to come prepared.

Download your favorite movies onto your phone or tablet, and bring a portable charger in case your plane doesn’t have USB plugs.

If a plane has lousy entertainment, I doubt they’ll have plugs built into the seat. As a precaution, I use Tumi’s wireless power pack and it works beautifully for all my cheesy movie needs.

For me, watching a comforting film takes my mind off funny engine noises and turbulence. Personally, “Romeo + Juliet” and BBC’s 1995 “Pride and Prejudice” cure all air bumps. Don’t judge.

The sillier, the better. And I shouldn’t have to tell you, but avoid movies featuring plane crashes.

Buy a portable charger for your phone.

fearful flyer's guide to long haul flights

4. Dress in Super Duper Comfortable Clothes.

I love me some fashion.

Whenever I visit my brother in New York City, I “accidentally” waste too much money in Saks Fifth Avenue and swanky boutiques in Soho. And no, I really shouldn’t overspend on Yves Saint Laurent beauty products, but my embarrassing lack of self-control is a different rant for a different day.

Here’s the actual point: Clothes are awesome and everyone wants to look beautiful, but you’re walking down a boarding bridge, not a catwalk. Sorry. You’re not Victoria Beckham or Kate Upton (neither am I). Opt for comfort! Slip on shoes, soft yoga pants, leggings, anything! I personally love super soft microfiber socks. Who wants to walk around barefoot? Not me.

Furthermore, if you wear pajamas that don’t look like pajamas, who really cares? I know wearing, say fluffy pink pants and fuzzy socks with bunnies on them, would raise few eyebrows, but if you’re super comfy and relaxed, who cares what the other passengers think? It’s not like you’re seeing their faces again anytime soon.

Bring an eye mask and ear plugs too. Especially ear plugs if you hate the engine’s funky noises.

fearful flyers long haul flights

5. Nag the Flight Attendants.

Okay, don’t really “nag” them. Flight attendants work hard. And a lot of nonsense is thrown in their direction.

As a teacher, who happens to put up with her own share of work-related stress, I sympathize with flight attendants facing aggressive customers. So you don’t wanna act bratty toward them and act like your flying fear is their problem. It isn’t. It’s yours. Harsh but true.

However, flight attendants have seen and heard it all, so if you’re dreading your trip, then speak up and let them know you’re anxious!

If you’re polite about it, they’ll have a few reassuring words and will check in with you every-so often throughout the flight. Having a person on your side, especially when you’re flying alone, means the world on a long haul flight. I promise.

Suffering in silence never helps anyone.

Need more packing tips? Check out my fearful flyer’s packing guide!

fearful flyer's guide to long haul flights

6. Plan your First Day of Sightseeing.

Instead of focusing on the “now,” zero in on your nearby exciting future. Your treasure of a trip waits beyond those clusters of clouds. Be happy!

Bring your kindle or Lonely Planet book for the ride. Read about your destination’s museums, restaurants, city neighborhoods, and any other points of interest. Watching a video about your trip might not be a bad idea either.

Not only will your dazzling future occupy your mind, but you’ll have a solid plan for your first day and therefore can stay busy, possibly avoiding jetlag, once your feet are on the ground again.

fearful flyers long haul flights

7. Spurge for Premium or Plus Economy.

This tip depends on your budget. My broke behind still can’t swing premium economy on Qantas or Air New Zealand.

However, if your bank account is happier than mine, then it might be worth spending the extra bucks to book a premium economy ticket.

On occasion, premium economy ticket-holders sit in a smaller cabin and receive more individualized attention from flight attendants. Being addressed by your name makes you feel human again, for sure.

Also, having plushy seats that recline further may help you sleep or at least doze off, which makes the minutes slip away. These cabins are usually toward the front of the plane, and this location helps lessen the effects of turbulence.

As for economy plus, I’ve spent the money for extra leg room, and the space helps me feel less claustrophobic.

fearful flyer's guide to long haul flights

8. Remember: The Flight Time isn’t Actually that Long.

Are you facing an eight hour flight and now feel like your world is ending because it’s so horrible? Remind yourself that eight hours really isn’t a lot of time.

Think about it. There are twenty-four hours in a day. Eight hours isn’t even half that. For me, eight hours is roughly what I spend at work if you throw my boring commute on the Expressway into the mix.

Going to Australia and have a 15 hour flight taking off from LAX? You’re still crossing the Pacific Ocean in less than a day. Less than a day.

Here’s another way of looking at the situation: if the weekends, 48 hours long, feel short (ha ha) compared to the dumb work week, then why the hell can’t eight, ten, fifteen hours feel short too?

You can do it. Trick your mind.

fearful flyer long haul flights

I hope you enjoyed my fearful flyer’s guide to long haul flights. How about you? Are you scared to fly? What tips did I miss? How do you endure long haul flights?

For more information, I have a comprehensive post, covering 43 tips for fearful flyers, that will help you get into the sky again. 

Note: Some links are affiliate-based. If you make a purchase, I earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. 

10 thoughts on “The Fearful Flyer’s Guide to Long Haul Flights

  1. Matt S says:

    This is great advice. I’m flying back from Sydney in a week and dreading it, but it was worth it to come down here so I’ll manage the flight back! Keep up the good work!

  2. Kayleigh says:

    Omg I love this post. It’s so simple and straight to the point, something my brain does the opposite of, which builds up my anxiety and causes me to overthink..and vice versa.I am going to read this over and over again like a mantra!

  3. Rachel C says:

    Omg. Seriously I’m meant to travel and the fear of flying has ruined it for me. I try to hype myself up, but even thinking about it gives me so much anxiety! Honestly this post that was supposed to help… lol I mean it’s positive, but you mentioned funny engine sounds twice… and no, I just can’t. I know you said the drug part was a personal choice and I know you seem like the person who isn’t going to tell someone to do drugs. So, that’s fine. I have a Xanax prescription for anxiety. I don’t abuse it, only when I need it. Mostly when flying. But sometimes that doesn’t even help. Maybe I’m not take enough. Is there another drug better when you fly that you could talk about? I’m not even kidding lol thank you.

  4. Laura says:

    I take Lorazepam when I fly, but even then, I can’t handle flights much over 8 hours. When I want to travel further than that (If time allows), I make a stopover halfway for a few days to break up the flight time. I find this helps a lot!!

  5. Zeeshan says:

    I travel a lot but the flights that I take a for a very short time like 1.5 hrs. Today I took a 3 hr flight and I felt anxiety for the very first time. I thought what would I do for 3 hrs. Felt claustrophobic. Just when they were closing the door, I felt like running and asking them to let me go out of the plane. But then I held back. I felt terrible. My heart beat raced and I had a panic attack. I had a clonozepam but that didn’t help immidiately. This was the most disturbing thought : if something happens to my mid air, how will they fetch help… I deep breathed and settled down in an hour, I guess.
    I felt terrible till the time I looked up for this and came across this post where I found it’s not uncommon and that brings me relief. I am happy that I am not the only one who has felt like this. I will definitely try some tips you have shared here like looking forward to what is waiting on the other side.

    • Chris says:

      I know what you go through, and I experience almost the same symptoms. Literally feel like I’m helpless and everything is falling apart. Ask your doctor about Hydroxyzine Pamoate. It’s a sedative that is fast acting and works on the central nervous system. This kills also most all my anxiety symptoms. I still take my Celexa everyday, but I use the Hydro when traveling or if I feel a panic attack coming on.

    • Niq says:

      Wow this is amazing ! I am not the only one. I had pretty much the exact same experience, symptoms, and thoughts just like you and they were for the first time as well!

  6. Brittany says:

    I’ve incorporated some of these things, and they help a lot. One big help has been working on my anxiety in advance. I had to fly 4 times in 3 weeks recently, mostly for work. So I wrote a note card of positive thoughts about flying, and on the back, a list of things to do called, “My Job.” I looked at that card when I felt nervous, and it made a big difference. I flew again this last week for our honeymoon. Traveling out of the country made me want to see more of the world. Every flight gets easier, but they’re still hard to board, which is how I found this post. I agree 100% about talking to the flight attendants. Just knowing I have a “buddy” has helped a ton – as has a meditation app on my phone if I’m struggling to focus my thoughts on my own. (I take medication too and may drink a glass of wine, but both of those are definitely a personal choice and a chat with a doctor for the medication part.)

    Thanks for this encouraging post! I feel a bit more confident about one day seeing Europe!

  7. Lisa says:

    It’s funny that you particularly dread flying alone. I am the opposite! I think maybe it is because when I’m alone among strangers, I can “pretend” to be something I’m not – a savvy, seasoned traveler who jets all over the globe without a care. It is also a little thrill to be off on my own, so that kind of carries the day for me, too. When I’m traveling with a family member, then I’m just me, the nervous flyer, and the person who has to help them find their charger and snacks, figure out travel details, or talk about mundane family matters when I want to just tune everyone out and go into my zone. Most of your tips are good to make long haul flights more comfortable, but I don’t know that most of the ideas will really alleviate a fear of flying. Like you, I just do it anyway, but the anxiety is always there.

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