I always tell people that I was flying before I could walk. In fact, as a lifelong expat, I’ve probably taken hundreds and hundreds of flights throughout my life. On top of that, my dad has been flying small planes for decades. But still, somehow, when I grew up, I developed a severe fear of flying. I’ve been a pretty anxious flyer since I started university, and it’s never quite gotten better.
Many times while flying, particularly when I fly solo, I feel alone. I never see anyone else panicking like me. I never see anyone scared during episodes of turbulence. I never see anyone reacting like me. And it makes me feel like the odd one out, the only one with a fear of flying. I had always been told that so many people suffered from fear of flying… so where are they? When would I finally meet someone who could talk with me, help me out, share their tips?
That day has yet to come. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to write this blog post, though. Over the years, in attempt to feel less scared, I’ve done an extensive amount of research on flying. And particularly about fear of flying, and how to feel better while flying.
I’ve finally found a somewhat manageable amount of tips, tricks, and advice to help get me through flights. After all, giving up flying was NEVER an option. So for all my fellow travelers looking for some help, for all my fellow flyers who sit there, terrified, feeling alone… this blog post is for you. I’ve put together all my best tips and tricks to help with your fear of flying. If even one tip helps you, or makes you feel seen, then this whole post will have been a success.
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How to get over fear of flying: my favorite tips
Many people are scared of flying, but their triggers will often vary. Maybe for you, it’s turbulence. Maybe it’s landing. Maybe it’s noises. Here are my best tips for fearful flyers, no matter the trigger, from one very nervous and anxious flyer.
Turbulence forecasting tools online
If turbulence is one of your biggest triggers, consider using a turbulence forecast tool online. I only discovered the existence of such magical tools in recent years, but I use them religiously.
These tools, like Turbli, can help predict what turbulence you might encounter during hour marks in your flight time and the strength of the turbulence.
Before I go any further, keep in mind that these are just prediction tools. They might not actually be accurate. In fact, I’d say they are approximately 60% accurate. Sometimes the forecast is completely spot on, but sometimes… it’s not.
One of my worst flights in recent memory, from Atlanta to Amsterdam, was actually forecasted to be a smooth flight. It was some of the worst turbulence I have ever experienced (and the reason I will probably never take that flight route again).
Long story short: use these tools with an understanding of flying and flight conditions. I like to think of them as a starting point: I also check wind speeds, jet streams, flight route, and weather forecasts. And keep in mind that pilots may change altitude as you fly – they may even change the exact flight path!
Count through the flight takeoff
The triggers for my flight anxiety are often emotional, but in recent years, news events have also heightened my anxiety when flying. You don’t work in breaking news for ten years without some repercussions.
I came across this tip recently, though, that had never occurred to me: counting. It seems simple enough, but the first time I tried it out (on a tiny 6 row plane), I felt an immense sense of comfort.
The logic behind counting comes from fears of taking off when flying. Many people struggle with takeoff as opposed to landing (me included!). I’m not sure if this is true, but I read online that the most dangerous part of takeoff – or, the part with the most possibility for error – lies within the first three minutes. So counting to 240 can help you pass that time faster. When you’ve passed 240, you may feel more comfortable.
5-4-3-2-1: from the SOAR program
The SOAR Fear of Flying book has been really enlightening for me. If you’re interested in trying to tackle your fear of flying from the psychological side, there’s honestly no better book or program. (Full disclosure: I started reading this during wedding planning, and never finished it or the program because, well, wedding planning).
One specific technique, though, has really helped me when I suffer from severe anxiety. It’s meant to be used when you’re sitting on the plane and you’re anxious or panicking.
I can’t tell you how many people have recommend wine and Xanax for my fear of flying. For many years, I avoided taking any medication at all.
But in 2020, I became so anxious about flying that I got a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. It’s been essential to helping me feel calm in the hours leading up to the flight, and it has helped me avoid many panic attacks on planes. If you feel comfortable taking medication, talk to your doctor – it can make a big difference!
Watch flight software with altitude statistics
That “My Flight” software on the screen in front of you? I am obsessed with those statistics. Because I’m based in Europe and most of my family and friends live back in the States, we often find ourselves on either short city hoppers or long haul flights.
Many of those longer flights have a flight statistics section on the screens in front of you. Use that! I will watch the altitude and plane speed, especially during turbulence, to reassure my irrational fear that the plane is falling from the sky. It’s been an absolute GODSEND, because many times, you won’t see the plane’s altitude fluctuate much at all.
If I have good stats to watch, I will always feel a thousand times more comfortable when flying.
Sit back in your seat
Over the years, I’ve realised that the way I sit when flying makes a big difference. Don’t slouch. Sit back into your seat instead. Why does this help? I have absolutely no idea. Maybe it makes me feel more secure. Maybe it helps reduce the amount of movement you feel. But long story short, it does help, trust me.
Keep your feet off the ground
The sensations of the flight, from turbulence to engine noise, are normally big triggers for me. One way to reduce the sensations? Keep your feet off the floor and instead perch them on the bar under your seat.
Yes, this technique takes some muscle. I will hold my feet off the ground for a long time, if I have to. However, it has honestly helped reduce my anxiety a lot, especially during periods of turbulence.
Noise cancelling headphones
My now-husband purchased my noise cancelling headphones during his research into flight anxiety. At first, I scoffed at the cost. But they have since become one of my most trusted tools when flying. As I said, noises and sensations can trigger me, so good noise cancelling headphones can block out all of that noise. Essential, essential, essential. If you don’t have a pair yet, invest in them – you won’t regret it.
Downloaded videos explaining turbulence by experts
Listening to people talk about turbulence when you’re on the flight might seem a little counterintuitive.
All I will say is: don’t knock it until you try it.
In the past few years, I’ve spent a great deal of time finding videos that comfort me. If I can’t speak with a pilot in person, why not have them talk to me when I’m scared? I’ve found this super helpful, so I’m going to share some of my favorite videos I watch over and over to help me in the air.
This one below is another one of my favorites!
Your favorite upbeat music
Don’t laugh, but my go-to favorite song for turbulence is Prince Ali from Aladdin (the Broadway cast recording, of course!). I don’t know why, but it’s one of those songs that just helps me feel happier. Playlists don’t always put me at ease, but it’s a nice tool in my arsenal and I’ve been using music to calm me down for many, many years now.
I always recommend people with fear of flying out together a playlist with upbeat, positive songs that bring back happy memories. For me, Aladdin brings back memories of my childhood and singing to show tunes in my car. The rest of my playlist has a variety of show tunes that just make me so, so happy. Whatever works for you, throw it on the playlist.
Talk to the flight attendants
I often read fear of flying tips online, and many, many people recommend talking to flight attendants. I will be honest with you: this mostly has not worked for me, but there have been a few very kind flight attendants along the way… so I’m including it on my list.
When I board a plane, I will tell a flight attendant about my fear of flying and ask about the flight plan. Most of the time, I have found flight attendants too busy to care (and who can blame them – my silly fear is not as important as their jobs!).
On one recent flight with Qatar Airways, I spoke with a lovely flight attendant who came to check on me several times during turbulence. I felt so grateful that he reassured me, even when I was pretty deep into my own head. It’s nice to have someone aside from your friends and family reassure you sometimes!
Fly with an airline you feel comfortable with
This tip took me years to realise. Have you ever flown with an airline and thought: I would never fly them again. Maybe their planes are old and don’t have TVs with flight stats. Maybe you just don’t feel comfortable with the seating options. Whatever it is, know it’s okay to say no.
It doesn’t matter if X airline is the cheapest. If you don’t feel comfortable flying them, try and look for an alternative. Of course, this might not always be an option. But if you do have the freedom to pick, do it.
For years, I flew American. They were the cheapest and most convenient. But they had older planes and that level of noise in the older planes used to scare me a lot. I kept flying them because I thought I had to fly them.
Now, for the most part, I tend to fly specific airlines that I trust and feel safe on. Plus, if you fly a lot, it helps you reach status faster!
Positive thinking – seems easy, right? A lot of my own fear of flying will manifest with pre-flight anxiety. I will often spend the 24 hours before the flight in a bundle of nerves, spiralling through unhelpful thinking.
Thinking positive thoughts is always easier said than done. But I’ve found that at least stopping my negative thoughts as they are happening can help stop the spiral.
In all honesty, though, I’m still working on this one!
How to Get Over Fear of Flying: My Takeaways
As a fellow fearful flyer, I know it can seem like an impossible mountain to climb. I can’t even count the times I’ve cried on planes, surrounded by strangers, whether that be during a totally smooth flight or crazy bumpy flight. Sometimes it seems as if I will never overcome my fear of flying.
The first step? Feeling less alone. There are so many resources and tips online now. You can find a whole community that will help you understand and work through your triggers, including me. If I can get on a plane, furled only by my strong desire to see new places and travel, then you can do it too!
Did I miss any fear of flying tips? Let me know in the comments!
Samantha Tatro is a Czech-American third culture kid who grew up living and traveling abroad. Many years later, after living in California and working as a journalist, she decided to take the leap and move abroad again…this time to Prague, Czech Republic. Samantha started Undiscovered Path Home to help couples and solo female travelers find the courage to visit countries – and locations – off the beaten path. Her work has appeared in Bon Appetit, NBC News, The Adecco Group, and more.