Travel Safety Tips

How to Get Over Your Fear of Flying

How to Get Over Your Fear of Flying

First comes the shortness of breath. Then, the cold hands white-knuckling the armrests and the rapid heart beat. Finally, a complete sense of doom that you and your fellow passengers are all going to die. A feeling that feels more like a premonition with every “strange” sound the airplane makes and every bump of turbulence. And these feelings don’t just happen at take-off or during landing, they can start days, or even weeks before you even get to the airport. 

Despite knowing full well that flying is safer than driving, acute anxiety is quite common. Many people with a fear of flying, including myself, would happily globetrot the world if they could be beamed Star Trek-style from country to country. Somehow, the idea of having your molecules scrambled and re-assembled seems less frightening than the idea of flying 30,000 feet above the ground in an aircraft weighing over 300 tons. 

There are things you can do to reduce your fear of flight. And of course any steps you take toward conquering your flying anxiety are worth it.

After all, when you’re afraid to travel away from your home, you may miss out on all the wonders the world has waiting for you. 

Should I Be Scared to Fly?

Statistically speaking, being afraid to fly isn’t exactly logical. PBS’s Nova reports that annually, your risk of dying in a plane crash is 1 in 11 Million, while your annual risk of dying in a car crash is 1 in 5000. But when it comes to phobias, what you know intellectually and what you feel emotionally are two very different things.

So, it’s not a matter of yes, you should be, or no you shouldn’t be. If you are scared to fly, then you’re scared to fly. If you have a fear of flying, there’s no need to feel ashamed about it. Instead, take comfort in knowing that there are many things you can do to reduce this feeling

How Common Is the Fear of Flying? 

An estimated 40% of  Americans report some fear of flying, while as many as 6% have what would constitute a fear of flying phobia.

Airplane Fear Tips

When most people think of an afraid of flying phobia, they may not consider fear of being in the aircraft itself. It’s more the idea of being six miles above the ground that people focus on. Still it’s not uncommon to be afraid of planes, themselves. 

If your anxiety around flying comes from being in the aircraft itself, here are a few things to keep in mind and a few tips for keeping that fear in check. 

Choose your seat

This gives you more of a sense of control and power. Some people might feel better looking out the window to see the plane aloft on a bed of clouds. But others? Not so much. If your phobia centers on the idea of crashing, it might be good to know that statistically middle seats in the rear of the plane are considered the safest. A lot of airlines will automatically assign you a seat, but if they offer seat selection, even for an extra fee, you might want to take them up on it. 

Read up on the particular aircraft you’ll be using

Many airlines make it easy for travelers to find out what the make and model of their aircraft will be. Some airline-specific apps that allow you to easily check in for your flight also make it easier for you to find details about your flight logistics and the aircraft. 

Learn about the airplane’s safety features

As they say, knowledge is power. The more you know about all the safety features and fail-safes incorporated into the plane design itself, the less likely you are to feel anxious about being in one. For example, commercial airliners have several engines and built-in contingency plans.  

Reducing claustrophobia or agoraphobia

When we talk about fear of flying, many of us overlook the fear that may come from being inside a tight space with so many people shoulder to shoulder. This can be very difficult to handle for someone who is claustrophobic or agoraphobic (fears crowded places). If you suspect these fears are compounding your fear of flying, you can focus on reducing them before your departure date. This might involve getting help from a mental health professional who specializes in these particular phobias. 

You Don’t Have to Be Afraid of Turbulence

When you’re writing an article on fear of flying, turbulence always deserves its own section. While the odds are astronomical that you’ll die in a plane crash, if you fly at all there’s a strong likelihood that you’ll experience some manner of flight turbulence. Here’s what you need to remember when it comes to turbulence.  

What is turbulence? defines turbulence as “friction between the air and the ground, especially irregular terrain and man-made obstacles, causes eddies and therefore turbulence in the lower levels.”

Some amount of turbulence is simply routine

As the plane moves through the air at various speeds and altitudes, turbulence is almost inevitable. While everyone who flies more than a few times will likely experience some minor turbulence, for most of us severe turbulence is the stuff of Hollywood dramas.           

Your pilot isn’t scared of turbulence

This may seem obvious, but sometimes the most obvious things are the easiest to forget. While some pilots revel in medium turbulence (my mom was once on a flight with considerable turbulence and the pilot came on the PA and shouted “Yeehaw!”), to most pilots turbulence simply comes with the territory. And they deal with it the way a sailor deals with waves. Take comfort in the fact that your pilot knows a lot more about planes and flying than you do and if they’re not afraid of it, there’s no reason for you to be. 

Turbulence and jello

What does turbulence have to do with jello? Analogically speaking, quite a bit. The jello exercise is a thought experiment that seems to have been originated in 2013 by retired pilot and licensed mental health therapist, Tom Bunn, though a TikToker made it go viral in 2022.

The premise is this: Picture a plate of jello. Now picture a toy plane resting on top of the jello. Now imagine someone jostles the plate back and forth and up and down. The jello sways and the plane sways with it but it never falls into the jello and it never falls off the jello.

When you’re in the air, the plate is the ground, the air is the jello and your actual plane is the toy plane. As the pilot pushes through the air, imagine the toy plane pushing through jello. It may feel a little bumpy but the arm, like the jello keeps the toy above the plate, is also keeping the plane high above the ground.

In accordance with the laws of physics, as long as the plane is moving, no amount of jostling and shaking can bring the plane down. For more on this mental exercise check out Bunn’s video here.       

Fear of Flying Tips & Tricks

Though it may not feel like it, it is possible to get over your fear of flying. But it’s like what they say about anything involving mental health: you’ve got to want to change. Here are our tips and tricks to help you overcome your aerophobia when you’re ready. 

Take an air travel for beginners class

Though it may not seem like it, the more you know about air travel, the less likely you are to be afraid of flying. Take an air travel for beginners-type class to learn about the ins and outs of aircrafts, the fail safes built into every minute of your flight both in the plane and on the ground, and the physics of it all. There are some courses that even cater to people with aerophobia.  

Practice focused breathing exercises

Meditation, visualization and breathing exercises are all useful tools to help ease the physical symptoms of fear of flying. Many air travelers who overcame their fear of flying rely on the 4-7-8 breathing technique. You start by breathing in through your nose for four seconds. Next, you hold your breath for seven seconds, and finally, you exhale through your mouth for eight seconds. You can repeat this exercise until you feel more comfortable. 

Talk to flight crew members

The running theme of reducing your fear of flying is learning. The more you learn about planes and flight, the less anxious you’re likely to feel. So, talk to pilots and flight attendants (it might surprise you to know that many flight attendants have piloting knowledge and training). What these flight experts have to teach you may go a long way in reducing your flight anxiety. 

See a therapist who specializes in fear of flying

Sometimes the fear of flying can just get to be too much for you to handle by yourself. There’s no shame in asking for help. There are a lot of licensed mental health experts out there who dedicated their lives to helping people conquer their fear of flying. 

Consider Trip Insurance from VisitorsCoverage

It’s completely understandable to be afraid of flying. And sometimes all the statistics in the world about how safe it actually is aren’t enough to alleviate your fears.

This is where trip insurance with a Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) add-on can help. When you buy trip insurance with CFAR you can cancel your trip plans for any reason and still recoup prepaid nonrefundable expenses. It can help knowing that you’re not wasting your money if you decide that your anxiety around flying is just too much to deal with right now.

If your nerves get the best of you a few days before your departure date, you can give yourself an out and cancel your trip without losing your trip investment.

When you’re finally ready to take flight, the world and all its wonders will be ready to welcome you.