Is there anything more embarrassing than being a travel writer with a fear of flying?
It sounds ridiculous, I know.
I mean, I travel for a living. I must get on a plane at least once a month, if not once a week at times. So why on earth has every flight I’ve ever taken felt like it was bringing me one step closer to death?
It didn’t used to be this way.
Back when I used to take a vacation once a year, I didn’t even think about the flights. I’d be mildly nervous during take-off, then spend the rest of the journey enamoured with the sensation of being so far above the ground.
Once I started boarding planes regularly, my fear began to grow.
It turns out exposure therapy was not the way forward for me.
The more I travelled, the more scared I became.
What started off as slight jitters during the first few months of my round-the-world trip turned into full-blown panic attacks by the end of the first year.
It reached the point where, during the week leading up to taking a flight, I’d have gruesome, graphic nightmares of being in a plane crash, which would then leave me convinced it was a premonition and I shouldn’t get on the plane.
Then, during the flight, I’d spend the entire time replaying my nightmares and just waiting for us to start plummeting. Over and over, I’d picture the plane breaking up mid-flight, the engines suddenly exploding, and us free-falling down to earth. Every time the fasten seatbelt sign turned on unexpectedly, I’d start staring around the cabin with wide, wild eyes, searching the faces of passengers for signs of alarm. Every bump of turbulence left me trembling, desperate to get back on the ground to safety.
And yeah, I’d have full-on panic attacks, too, spending many of my flights hyperventilating and crying behind sunglasses, digging my nails into my boyfriend’s arms — or my own if I was flying solo. Sometimes I’d ask strangers to hold my hand during particularly bumpy flights. And then I’d grimace and shudder and mutter about how I needed to get off the plane. Every time we landed safely, I’d resolve to never take another flight again.
I couldn’t even eat during the 24 hours leading up to a flight because my stomach would be so nervous.
The funny thing about all of this is that I have a masters in physics. I understand exactly how planes fly, I know how they stay up in the air, and I realise they’re far safer than driving. I knew all the facts.
A fear of flying, however, is entirely irrational.
Flash forward to 2023 and my fear of flying has all but disappeared. Yes, really. I occasionally get nervous before a flight, but my fears are on a 2/10 level rather than the 9 that they’ve been for the past few years.
I’ve even grown to enjoy it. I look forward to it. I think of it as a time to relax and rest and enjoy being disconnected from the outside world. And I bask calmly in the knowledge that sitting in a plane is one of the safest places I could possibly put myself.
I promise that if I can overcome such a debilitating fear of flying, you can do it, too.
Here’s how I did it.
I Better Educated Myself
It was at the airport in San Francisco when I decided to wander into a store and grab a couple of books for the flight. One of them was a copy of Cockpit Confidential, which sounded vaguely interesting. I’d never heard of it before.
I boarded my plane, opened it up, and began to read.
And before we’d even started moving, my nerves were fading away.
Written by Patrick Smith, a pilot and writer of the Ask the Pilot column for Salon, it covers basically every question you could possibly have about flying. And the fact that he’s so matter-of-fact about everything and makes even the most horrifying-sounding of situations appear as though it’s not a big deal in any way (because it actually isn’t) truly set my mind at ease.
I was enthralled on that flight and I didn’t look up once until we landed. Most importantly of all, I was so calm that I didn’t even have any butterflies during my flight. I was even starting to enjoying flying now that I understood it a lot more.
That was the first flight of my life where I hadn’t experienced any nervousness.
And so, I took that book around the world with me and I know it so well, I could probably recite half of it to you right now. I don’t carry it with me any more because I’m no longer afraid, but man. If there’s one thing I’ve done that’s eradicated my fear of flying, it’s that book. So, if you’re scared of flying, you need to buy it.
I mentioned above that I thought was reasonably well-educated about flying, thanks to my background in physics. But it turns out, understanding how a plane flies and stays up in the air wasn’t enough to keep me calm and rational. Instead, I found that having a pilot explain every single thing that happens when you fly and how none of it is scary or dangerous was exactly what I needed.
There are two additional books that have significantly improved my flying experiences, and they’re both so different to Cockpit Confidential, as well as to each other. I strongly recommend buying all three to give yourself the best chance of completely overcoming your fear of flying.
Soar: The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying: What I love about this book is it’s all about the psychology behind having a fear of flying. It teaches you exactly why you have this fear, what’s going on in your body when you experience anxiety in planes, and it shares some incredible coping methods for when you’re up in the sky.
This book is fantastic — and is particularly good at dampening down that anticipation anxiety when you’re wondering if you should cancel your trip. I recommend reading this book at least a week before your flight, if not longer, as some of the calming exercises can take a few days to kick in.
The Easy Way to Enjoy Flying: This book takes a totally different approach to Soar, and it’s one of my favourite books to read on the plane. Just a couple of months ago, I was flying from New Zealand to Australia and found myself starting to feel nervous on the plane. I picked up this book and within a few minutes, felt totally calm again.
This book is all about dispelling the most common myths around the safety of planes, and I benefitted a lot from reading each chapter as I experienced it on the plane. I read about take-offs during the take-off and turbulence during any bumpy bits.
I believe this three books work together to completely dispel a fear of flying. Soar teaches you why you have the anxiety and how to remove it, The Easy Way shares why flying is safe and why you shouldn’t panic, and Cockpit Confidential shows you exactly how amazing flying is and why you should be excited to step on board a plane.
I can’t recommend them enough.
I Headspaced My Fears Away
If there’s one thing that’s made a huge difference to my mental health, it’s regularly using the meditation app Headspace to create a tiny sanctuary of calm in my frenzied brain. I try to squeeze in a 10-minute meditation session with Headspace both as soon as I wake up and before I go to bed, and it’s led to a significant improvement to my mental state. Just having lower anxiety levels in general results in me feeling calmer and more rational when it comes to stepping on a plane.
Headspace actually has a fear of flying meditation program for nervous fliers, which helps to ground me and calm me down before a flight. I listen to it daily in the week running up to my departure and then during take-off. I seriously end up feeling like I’m on the verge of serene when the wheels lift up from the ground.
You can try Headspace for free for 10 days, so it’s definitely worth checking out to see if those sessions help to reduce the overall anxiety in your life.
I Took Dramamine or Benadryl for Naps
I get motion sickness on planes, so I usually take a Dramamine or Benadryl before boarding anyway. And one bonus to this? They make me pretty drowsy so I end up spending most of my flight snoozing. There’s something about drowsiness that takes my anxiety away. All I’m thinking about is how much I want to have a nap.
A glass of wine always helps, too.
I Love Checking Out Out Flight Radar 24 Before My Flight
While I’m still in the airport, I load up Flight Radar 24 on my laptop and spend a few minutes looking at just how many thousands of planes there are in the sky at that moment. When I checked the map just now, there were a whopping 16,500 up in the air.
It always makes me feel better, because it shows me how insignificant my flight really is. There are so many planes in the sky at any one time and so many terrified passengers — none of whom are actually going to die.
I love remembering that there are one million people in the sky on planes at any one time. Sometimes, I like to imagine all of those planes and passengers all travelling around the world in straight line, one after the other. Something about picturing us all travelling along together — and safely — makes me feel comforted.
I Imagine I’m Taking a Flight Every Day of My Life
You know what else helps? Imagining that I’m about to step on a plane during random moments in my life. Even if I don’t have a flight coming up for months, I like to pretend that I need to head to the airport in a few hours.
I imagine which flight it could possibly be for — Seattle to New York? Barcelona to London? Dubai to Bangkok? Perth to Cape Town? And I think about how, if I was about to get on any of those flights right now, I’d be terrified. I think about how I’d be panicking in the airport, convinced I shouldn’t step on the plane, worrying that something bad was going to happen.
The following day, I remind myself that there were no crashes, no air incidents, and no worries. I could have taken any one of 50,000 flights that day and landed perfectly safely. And that would be the case day after day after day.
I remind myself of this whenever I notice a plane up in the sky. I pretend I’m on board, I think about how panicked I’d feel if I was, and then I remind myself that it’s going to land without issues.
I Check the Fear of Flying Subreddit
I spend a lot of time on Reddit, so of course, I had to join r/fearofflying.
This subreddit is a community of terrified passengers and knowledgeable pilots and it’s an absolute goldmine of information. The pilots that give up their time to write thousand-word responses to nervous fliers, explaining exactly how planes work and why they shouldn’t be afraid, are truly some of the most wonderful humans. And so it’s a great place to spend some time reading through the posts.
But you know what helps me the most when visiting this subreddit?
The fact that nobody who has ever posted there has been in a plane crash. There are dozens upon dozens of posts a month from people who are convinced that getting on a plane is going to result in disaster. And it never. ever. happens.
Every single post is about how they’re terrified and they’re convinced something terrible is going to happen and what are the chances of x, y, and z. And then there’s always a reply a day later from the original poster talking about how they made it to their destination with no worries.
It helps me so much to see people feeling the exact same way that I do and every single one of them ending up perfectly fine.
What Are the Chances Of…?
I knew the stats: your odds of dying in a plane crash are roughly one in 11 million; your odds of dying in a car crash are one in 5,000. Ninety-six per cent of plane crash passengers have survived. I’ve memorised them all. But knowing the numbers never really helped me while I was up in the air, because I was always convinced the plane I was on was the one that was heading down. Anxiety doesn’t listen to logic or reason, unfortunately.
So I have this little internal dialogue where I start mentally going through the chances of me being in a plane crash:
“Right, so what are the chances of there even being a plane crash in the world today? That’s probably super-unlikely — there hasn’t been one all year. But let’s say there was a plane crash today — what are the chances that it would happen during the hour that I’m in the air? What are the chances it would be a Vueling flight? What are the chances it would be a plane that took off from Barcelona? What are the chances that it would be a flight that was heading to Lisbon? And even if it was a plane that was landing in Lisbon, there’s one of those every five minutes, so the chances even then are so low. What would be the chances of all of those things coming together and it being the flight I’m on?”
For some reason, going over and over the minuscule chances of random things happening massively helps to calm me down.
We’re all so insignificant.
I Remind Myself That Being on a Plane is the Safest Place I Could Possibly Be
It’s true: while you’re sat on a flight and freaking out about how dangerous it feels, you’re pretty much in the safest place you could possibly be. Safer than crossing the street, taking a bath, playing a video game, or walking down the stairs.
You’re so ridiculously safe on a plane — even though it doesn’t feel like it.
I Stopped Speaking About It
I used to spend the run-up to every departure constantly telling my boyfriend how nervous I was about having to get on a plane, but all that did was reiterate to myself that I was nervous about having to get on a plane.
Instead, I tried telling him that I was excited to fly again and I couldn’t wait to get on a plane. I told him that I couldn’t believe how little anxiety I had about flying this time around.
Having a much more positive mindset, even though I was absolutely lying, helped calm my nerves. Repeating over and over that I wasn’t nervous made me start to believe it. I highly recommend doing this in the run-up to your flight.
I Surround Myself With Technology
I’ve found that one of the best ways to get over a fear of flying is to distract yourself like crazy on the flight, so I take it to the extreme by carrying all of my tech on the plane with me. After we take off and I’ve finished listening to Headspace, I throw my headphones on and listen to music, while also reading my Kindle or playing a game on my phone. Or I’ll watch a TV show on my laptop. Or I’ll write a blog post.
I’ll usually sit by the window and close the blind, too, and that way, I can trick my mind that I’m on a train instead.
I Give Myself Exactly 30 Seconds to Panic
For me, the most anxiety-inducing parts of the flight are the take-off and turbulence. Whenever I start to panic, I remind myself that I can’t change anything and then tell myself that I am allowed to freak out for exactly 30 seconds. As the panic rises in my throat, I slowly count down from 30, and when I reach 0, I take a slow, deep breath, drop my shoulders, unclench my jaw, and force myself to relax.
It really does help keep me calm at a time when I’d usually be grabbing at armrests and chewing my lip to pieces.
I Create a Flying Playlist
A flying playlist helps a ton, and I have an enormous one full of my favourite songs. They’re ones that never fail to pump me up and fill me with confidence and energy, which definitely helps me to stop focusing on whether an engine is about to explode or not.
I Visualise Where I’m Going
Finally, I love to spend my time in the air visualising my destination. If I’m feeling nervous, I’ll start picturing me lying on the beach or climbing a mountain or exploring a brand new city. If I do it for long enough, the excitement starts to overtake the terror.
Do you have any tips for overcoming a fear of flying?
Photo of Rome via: ambrozinio/Shutterstock
Like you, I used to be terrified of flying and it’s only in the last two-three months I’ve been able to get on a plane without Diazepam to calm me down. I agree with all of the points you’ve made here – knowing the statistics really helped me too! One thing I did do was to communicate my fears with staff which meant that when things happened which scared me, they were able to explain what it was and why! Glad you are over your fears – I have to say I am loving reading your blog at the moment too! I start on one post and end up finding tonnes more, it’s excellent! Next stop: your book!
I actually have only told a flight attendant once that I was scared of flying and she was useless! She just said, “oh dear, that must make flying really tough for you.” and that was it, haha. Yeah, thanks.
Thank you so much for the huge compliment! :-)
Lol oh dear this was funny . . Thats why i dont tell flight attendants anything 😂
Though I’ve never had a panic attack, I’ve noticed that I am much more tense during flights in the last year than before that. I love Headspace! It’s really helped me with PhD related anxiety, so I will have to try their section on fear of flying!
Headspace is the best! I use it for so many things and it’s put me in such a great, um, headspace! :-)
Thank you for posting this. I still really struggle but I’m hoping to take my first solo trip soon and I’d really rather not start my holiday almost passing out where I’m so nervous. The flight trader 24 website really helped and I’m going to buy that book for sure!
No problem! For a long time, I assumed I’d be a fearful flyer for life, but it’s definitely possible to overcome it :-)
I feel bad for everyone with a love to travel and a fear of flying. My grandfather never dared to get on a plane, he couldn’t believe planes stay in the air. He did, however, see everything there is to see near his home. It’s good that you pushed yourself and now you’ve overcome your fear though!
My grandmother was the same. She had a panic attack on a flight in the 80s and never stepped on a plane again.
Thank you for sharing. I don’t have a fear of flying but my daughter does. I’ll pass this on to her.
Lauren I am the same as you. I never used to be scared of flying but the more I started doing it, the more scared I became (having aborted landings because of high winds, flying into thunderstorms and even landing in a cyclone in New Zealand didn’t help). Everyone thought it was hilarious that someone that travelled as much as me could be so scared. I would also have nightmares and bad nerves for the week leading up to flying and have hyperventilated on a few scary flights and cried a lot. Since I flew in a small 10 seater plane last summer my fear is virtually gone, it really helped me overcome my fears, although I still get a bit nervous – just nothing like I used to. I’m glad to hear you have overcome your fears too
I will definitely need to use some of these tips.
I used to love flying, then I had a really bad flight from Auckland to LA and I was convinced I was going to die.
Now I am so anxious before flights. I have a flight in two months I’m already worried over.
I have read all the statistics but they have never seemed to help.
Maybe I’ll try out that book you have, and I like thinking of how many planes are in the air, because you’re right, it does make your flight seem insignificant.
Same!! I experienced a bad flight two years ago and I get so anxious now leading up to my flight. It’s hard to ignore!! When I’m on the flight though and there is turbulence, I think, “I’ve experienced far worse and I was fine!” or I close my eyes and pretend I’m driving in a Jeep. That helps too! It really is the safest but being so high up and not in control makes it scary for sure!
Honestly, it’s just comforting to know that there are other travel-obsessed people out there that are just as afraid of flying as I am! I have incurable wanderlust and an insane fear of flying – one of which had to go, and it wasn’t the travel. These are great tips, I’ve used a bunch of them myself. Thanks for opening up and sharing!
No problem! :-) I’ve been surprised to learn how many of my travel-loving friends also have, or have had, a fear of flying. I always felt like I was the only person who was terrified of it, because everyone else always looks so calm on flights!
I can’t say that I’ve ever been afraid of flying (but as I get older, I’m getting more and more scared of traffic when I’m not the driver). However, I’ve found melatonin on all long haul flights and a couple days after keeps my sleep night and deep.
And that’s actually a rational fear to have! :-)
My go-to book is Fly Without Fear by Carol Stauffer, developed from the US Air fearful-flyer program. My bugaboo is turbulence, and it does a great job of explaining why and where it happens. It’s out of print, however.
I also use the Turbulence Forecast app, which gives me an idea of where to expect trouble. Maybe it’s too much information, but I’m better when I know more.
After some 30 years of white-knuckle flying, some thing appended about five years ago … it just went away. I’ve thought about it frequently and I still don’t know what happened.
I like the idea of the Turbulence Forecast app! I think that if I knew to expect turbulence, I wouldn’t be as nervous when it did strike.
Glad to hear your fear of flying has also faded away!
Generally I am not a fearful flyer. I have had some “Oh Sh*t” moments though. One time leaving Vegas I swear the pilot shut the engines down and pointed the nose down just to get a rise out of the passengers before he pulled up again. The adrenalyn I released did help with my hangover…
Nowadays I also fly at least once a month if not more. Over the years of flying I’ve developed and perfected my own little superstitious routine to keep the nerves at bay. And it obviously works because I haven’t been in a plane crash yet. Unfortunately I cant reveal my secrets here because that may dilute the effectiveness.
Flying has always been a very touchy subject for my wife, and we were curious about how you would get over that fear. I love that you say to learn more about the planes, and how they work. It would be nice to know the science behind them, and that they won’t let you down.
Yep! Cockpit Confidential was great for that. It reassured me so much that I wasn’t going to suddenly just fall out of the sky :-)
I especially love that you mentioned headspace, what a great substitution for worry and anxiety! There are few times in life where we are obligated sit still and be without electronics. This is a great opportuity to become relaxed and focus even in the most stressful of situations.
Yes! I love Headspace so much :-)
Hi Lauren! Thanks for this article. I love travelling and when I was younger loved getting on a plane too. But somehow over the years I have acquired a fear flying that seems to be getting worse. The last flight I took left me terrified of ever flying again as I was sat in the very last row and we had an hour of clear air turbulence. To make things worse nor the pilot nor any of the crew explained what was going on or tried to reassure us. I love travelling and want to travel more and more. Even if I didn’t travel for fun, I would have to fly at least twice a year to visit my family in Italy. I am really frustrated by my fear of flying and am scared of having panic attacks (I have suffered from them in the past) but reading how you got over your fear of flying has given me hope and I will try your strategies, i.e. the book, the app and Benadryl. Fingers crossed I will get over my fear too!
Love your post & it’s inspiring to hear you’ve gotten to a place of comfort with flying. I wasn’t afraid to fly until I started having panic attacks in my mid 20’s. Then the idea of being stuck on a plane and feeling panicky terrified me. Flying still makes me very anxious, but I do it anyways.
I totally get that, as I know I’ve had panic attacks just through the fear that I might have a panic attack before. Glad to hear you manage to still get yourself on a plane, though — that’s amazing!
Great tips Lauren! Have you ever considered taking a fear of flying course to help you get over your anxiety? I’m thinking about doing one later this year and would love to get your thoughts.
They’re pretty pricey so I don’t think I ever seriously considered them in the past. But I have no doubt they can help with your fears, so if you have the cash to spend, I think going would be a good decision.
I developed a profound fear of flying over the past 5 years despite being a regular trip taker. I too suffered the more I flew to the point where I was inconsolable even with benzodiazepines, I wouldn’t eat or sleep through the anxiety. Yesterday I flew with the same amount of trepidation as I took my first ever flight at 17. I decided to only think positively of the experience and just enjoy the time in the sky. Whilst the only time I sort of clung to my seat was the lurch up off the runway (where your stomach drops and head goes dizzy) I found the actual flight and especially the landing particularly enjoyable.
If you are worried these are brilliant tips, and I know I won’t be cured until I regularly fly again so I will be using these in the future! Thanks!
Yay! I’m so happy you managed to successfully handle the flight, Hannah, and that you were able to do so so calmly :-) Fingers crossed the next flight will go just as smoothly!
It’s so helpful to read of other people who have a fear of flying, especially travel writers!
I absolutely love to travel, it’s all I ever think about & would love to become a full time travel blogger.
I used to love flying, and once wanted to apply to be a travel crew. What a perfect job I thought! Until, in the last year I am suddenly petrified of flying! The most awful thoughts run through my head for the full flight, and it’s starting to ruin the run up to, and my trips themselves.
I have recently been offered a job to live abroad for a few years, and I’m dreading the flying part! In fact, I’m flying tomorrow! Arghhhh!!!
I hope I can overcome this fear and be safe.
The headspace app sounds like a great start, I will try that! Thank you ?
I am happy Lauren that these techniques really worked for you. I too had the fear of flying. Initially i took medication to control the anxiety but it didn’t worked for me for too long. Then finally i took hypnotherapy sessions . I must say hypnosis really helped me. Phobia is rooted in our subconscious. where our mind tries us to protect from flying. Hypnosis is also a great way to conquer your fear of flying.
That’s so great to hear, Angela. Thanks for the recommendation :-)
the same for me, I’m terrified on takeoff and turbulence. So what I do is I film it! On takeoff and any turbulence we encounter, I always pull out my phone and start recording. For some reason I find this always helps. For one thing, I’m distracted because I’m using my phone, and looking through a lens makes it less scary for some reason. Turbulence and takeoffs never look as scary on a phone Plus the thought of uploading it or showing it to someone else later on reinforces the idea that the plane has to land safely for me to show someone else the footage. Of course, I never do show anyone. but it always seems to help me.
I do the same, too, actually! It really does help, doesn’t it? That’s a great tip.
You described exactly how I feel and I have been a digital nomad for 4 years. I still have the fear. This one will sound weird but I imagine that I am on a bus . In my head ,I sing that annoying kid song “wheels on the bus”. Though in reality a plane is much safer than a bus. I think it all has to do with the fact you are not in the air and can see the reason for bumps .
Yes, exactly. You feel more in control when you’re on the ground, even though it’s far more dangerous.
I also do this or imagine it being a train.
I’ve been afraid of flying since I could remember. I’ve had panic attacks on the airplanes that I’ve scared other people (which I am ashamed of). After I grew up I stopped having those “visible” panick attacks and only keeping it to myself. Usually when someone is with me I feel a little bit better but I still have the fear. I usually try to listening to music or even shake my legs when there’s turbulence so I can feel I am moving with the plane, this makes it feel a little better. Or even take a sleeping pill. When I did my first solo trip I was so relaxed that even today I don’t know how I managed that. After I moved away I started to solo travel more and I thought it was getting better, but I was really mistaken. After not flying for 7 months my anxiety kicked me this time really bad. When I knew I was going to fly on December I was getting prepared but I week before my trip I started getting anxious (first time that this happens) and it made everything worse because I wasn’t enjoying of the idea that I was going to have a nice vacation or anything. So, literally yesterday I had my flight and I couldn’t get into the plane. 5 mins before boarding I got a big panic attack and i just bailed out. After talking with the airline, they changed my flight for today (if I decided to give it another shot) and i was mentally prepared for the flight and when I woke up today I just couldn’t do it again. I felt super sad that this fear of mine is going to keep me away from doing a lot of things, especially seeing my family. I was planing to spend Xmas with them but my fear got me on the way. They’re super understanding of what I am going through, but it just hard not to get disappointed of yourself. Hopefully I will get over this. Thank you for this post, it made me realize that I know I am not alone and I could try some of these tips (if I decide to travel).
Oh Andrea you are not alone! Please don’t feel shamed because you are fearful of something you don’t do frequently! I have the same irrational fear and the more I don’t get on a plane I feel the more my fear wins. I just don’t like flying. It scares me. Be kind to yourself. You are not a failure!!
Thank you for posting these wonderful tips.
I am absolutely terrified to fly and I used to fly all the time. I have a trip coming in September of next year and Ive spent all morning crying and having a panic attack over it and its a year away. I cant even get on the subway anymore with out completely freaking out. I will definitely have to check out this head space. I will try anything. Thank you
Ack, I’m so sorry to hear that, Amanda. Try to keep in mind that when you’re on a plane, you’re basically more safe than you’d be anywhere else. You have more chance of becoming president than being in a plane crash! I know that anxiety is irrational and tries to convince you that flying is dangerous, but it really, really isn’t. Best of luck!
That is one of the funniest most reassuring statements I have ever heard: you have more chance of becoming president than being in a plane crash. Brilliant!
So grateful to have found your posts. I have made a list on all of your tips. I’ve flown regularly all my life but anxiety has grown against if for the past 3 years along with the reoccurring nightmares and this year on a flight home from holiday we hit extreme turbulence over the course of half hour. The plane was swooping left then trying to get back right. It was awful alot of passengers were left shaken and upset and I ended up having a huge panic attack that I thought I was going to die from, and it left me so upset I didn’t leave the house for over a week, its left me never wanting to see a plane or go on one again.
I’ve had cbt therapy but it didn’t really help.
Hopefully thanks to you all this list I’ve made will help me.
Much love to you all, we’re all in it together.
Oh man, that’s definitely tough. One thing that helps me during turbulence is reminding myself that it’s never brought down a plane. As long as you have your seatbelt on, you’re totally safe, as terrifying as it feels in the moment. I’d definitely recommend the book I mentioned in this post, though, as it really helped me understand what turbulence is like from a pilot’s perspective, which is not really ever a big deal.
This is the EXACT article I needed to read before my trip to Iceland in 2 days. While I want to see the world-the fear, panic and anxiety make it not worth it. I will certainly get that book and I already stalk flight radar!
thanks so much for this
No problem! Just keep reminding yourself that flying is one of the safest things you can do, however unnatural and terrifying it feels to be up in the air.
I’ve never flown. I have a life long fear of heights that has worsened steadily over the years. I’ve just avoided flights and we tend to travel by car , train and boat. The problem is our youngest son has moved to Japan and my wife is desperate for us to visit. I’m a doctor and understand the medicine behind fear and panic. I also understand the physics of flight. I would go on a ‘fear of flying’ course but I know it wouldn’t help with subsequent flights. It’s fear of crashing that’s the problem.
I’ll never fly and feel ashamed that I’ve let my wife and son down. It’s room 101 to me I’m afraid.
I am definitely gonna give this a go as I haven’t flown for 5 years now due since i’m ABSOLUTELY CONVINCED I am going to die on a plane and spend the whole trip anxious whether it’s a 2hr flight or a 12hr flight! It got to the point I would start panicking from the moment I booked a holiday… even if it was months away. I decided going abroad wasn’t worth the anxiety but wow I miss it so much! I have tried cruises and trains but it’s just not the same. My husband is 30 next year and I wanted to do something amazing for him and that includes taking him away to somewhere in the US (I’m in the UK) so it’ll be a long flight. I want to enjoy flying again like I did when I was younger and not be hysterical!
Lauren, I am sitting here in tears and thanking God that I found your post. You have perfectly described what the experience has been like for me recently.
I have always loved to travel and I’ve never had anxiety about flying up until my sons were born in 2016. This will be my first major trip apart from them (flying from Atlanta to London for a week). I am PETRIFIED. I keep replaying all of these awful scenes in my head about the plane crashing and leaving my sons behind. Terrible, I know. One thing that helps is simply knowing I’m not alone.
I leave one week from tomorrow— I’m going to take many of your suggestions to heart. Thank you so much for all of your advice.
You can do it, Holly! Just try to keep reminding yourself that being on a plane is probably the safest place on earth you could ever be. Like, safer than being in your own home. There’s around 100,000 flights a day and how many crash? One or two per year? The odds are so ridiculously small of anything happening, even though it feels like a dangerous activity.
So glad I’ve stumbled on your article Lauren, it’s reassuring to see that I’m not the only one having these exact feelings and thoughts.
I travel quite regularly, usually solo, and my fear of flying has tremendously increased in the past 5 years to the point where I cry during take-off (hoping no one would notice), my knees shake uncontrollably every time there’s turbulence and I’m constantly alarmed.
I’m travelling to Japan this week with my mom, and the thought of being in the air for 14h is paralyzing me. But it would be a shame to let my fear get in the way of having an amazing vacation with her. The book you recommended as well as the Headspace and Turbulence Forecast app sound like a good start, so thank you very much!
Hi I suffered panic attacks for many years and had a really bad one 10 years ago on a small plane when I just wanted to get off and got in a real state. I have flown 3 times in the past 2 years but not enjoyed it, feeling really panicky. Yesterday and today I did a fearless flying course, the ground course was really good and we did the flight today. I had two panic attacks but managed to keep calm and deal with them on my own When I got off felt tearful. I really thought my panic attacks would go after the course. I have a flight in June. A friend has suggested hypnotherapy which I am going to try.
Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your experiences! I am a “white-knuckled” flyer, with an “incurable wanderlust” as a previous post so accurately described! For me, even looking at a picture of an airplane creates a pit in my stomach, and like you used to feel, I am sure the plane is going down. I notice every sound, every smell, every look on the flight attendants faces.
I am even more afraid now that my flight was to be on a Boeing MAX 8 (on Norwegian) and it looks like they may be trying to get them back into service before our flight. This girl is NOT getting on one of those planes, even if they say the are safe. I don’t trust them. I have decided I will try to book a different flight or not go if they put them back in to service by mid May. I am going to try some of your techniques as we have a flight to Europe coming up ( I live in Pennsylvania) and I am dreading it.
Hello! I am absolutely terrified of planes but I had to conquer my fear in order to go to Puerto Rico. Early morning flight and I was crying as we waited for the plane to takeoff but the flight couldn’t have been better. Close to zero turbulence and it was amazing. I was not nervous at all for the red-eye flight back home (3h45m) so that made me nervous. I felt as if something was going to go wrong. 20 minutes into takeoff , I am extremely comfortable (enough to put my bible away) the turbulence was so bad that the attendant couldn’t stand on his feet. I am freaking out, crying , everyone is making noises (Oh! Woah!). The plane dropped and the pilot not once messaged us over the intercom reassuring us. My boyfriend (who is a frequent flyer and is never nervous) was extremely scared and thought he was going to die. I thought our plane was the one to crash, I couldn’t stop crying.We had 3 more hours to go until we reached our destination and I was on edge the entire time. I vowed to never go back onto a plane but I love Puerto Rico so much I want to go back. I don’t even have a trip booked but I am on edge even thinking about boarding a flight. I know all the facts but those two Boeing plane crashes freak me out. I am going to check out that book but I am still terrified.
Thank you so much for posting this. I’m a frequent flier because my family lives in another country and my husband loves to take one nice vacation a year to exotic destinations and even though I feel miserable thinking about flying and when inside the plane, I still go, I try not to let the fear win but reality is, it wins every time because what I feel is actually painful. Reading what you wrote have given me hope. I dream to be fear free. I have ordered the book, hopefully it will arrive soon. My anxiety is so severe that not even Xanax helped me.
I am so scared of flying. I have a flight tomorrow morning, two in fact, and I am sick to my stomach and have been having pannic attacks all day. It’s always helpful to know some people go through the same thing.
Hope I make it.
Thanks for the article!
You can do it, Robert! I hope you made it on to the flights :-)
Thanks for the article. I am flying tomorrow and am also in panic attack mode. I was totally fine flying until 1999 when I had a bumpy flight back from a difficult family event. I know those 2 things are now conjoined and no amount of therapy or meds seems to quell my enormous anticipatory anxiety. I have a 7 year old son and he loves to fly – I’m glad he hasn’t picked up any of my issue and I don’t want to let him down…
I used to enjoy flying as a kid until I had a bad experience in a small plane when I was 17. For some reason the fear was there in the background, but manageable, until it began to intensify over the past few years and now I CANNOT fly without heavy sedatives. I am now 32. My question is, if I am somebody that HATES roller coasters or anything scary, can I learn to be a calm flyer again? Is the turbulence manageable for somebody like me? I hardly remember anymore… I know flying is safe. I am not scared that I will die. I am scared that the turbulence will be so bad that I will feel scared, panic, and want to get off the plane but the ride won’t end. It was that bad in the small plane, like a horrible roller coaster. Should I avoid big jet planes for that reason or is it unlikely to be that bad? I suppose I can handle some motion since I am fine in the car. Any advice would be appreciated and helpful. I don’t want this to control me anymore.
Flying many flights in a row during one week could make passenger more used to flying. If course, quite stressful method and not environmental friendly
I take 4 klonopin and have about 10 beers before I board and keep drinking until I pass out once boarded. Problem solved
That’s… one way of dealing with it, I guess.
Hey this post helped me so much ! I felt not alone and I also baightvthe book . I just flew last week and it was the least anxiety ridden flight I can remember I gonna read that book another 100 times lol thanks a lot
I also read Cockpit Confidential and a lot of what he said was reassuring, but some of it was unsettling as well. I don’t remember the exact words, but he says that realistically there WILL be more airplane crashes at some point, because it is inevitable. Yeah, well, that’s not helping! As for the visualization, that is my best trick, too. It helps me to visualize every step of disembarking from the plane, trudging through the airport, claiming my bags, finding a taxi, arriving at my destination and unpacking my bags. I try to see the flying as part of a series of events that end with me at my destination (rather than in a fiery heap on the runway.) Also, if I’m at a gate where I can watch take-offs that really helps. Once in Newark I sat for over an hour watching a plane take off every 30 seconds until it seemed so common and innocuous that I wasn’t nearly as nervous during the take-off as usual.
Hi Lauren! I’ve read this post a couple of times this week to reassure myself. I’m 23 years old and have travelled quite a bit. I’m from South America, and have been to the States regularly, Europe a couple of times so I know the drill. At first all I had were simple nerves, which over time developed into full-on fear and it’s been getting worse. I’ve gone to a therapist to see what can be done. Thank you very much for your post, it’s being really helpful to calm my anxiety; I’m going to London on Saturday (one 2hr flight and another 11 hr flight) so I plan on reading the book you mentioned and other techniques to make it less excrutiating.
What works for me: The thought that the pilot and airline staff want to get home safely as well, that comforts me a bit. Also, whenever I’m panicking, I look around to see if anything in the environment is giving me a reason to panic. If not, I try not to read into it and discard the thought completely.
Once again, thank you!
I just wanted to say thank you for this post. I’m planning to study abroad in Japan next year, and I’ve been panicking once every few days thinking about the long flight even though I haven’t even applied for the program yet. I used to not even care about flying as a kid since I flew at least once a year, but now I’m just terrified thanks to a video that Shane Dawson made about his anxiety of flying and a few scary episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. Ever since then my fear got worse on every flight.
Just reading this blog post allowed me to relax and think more positively about my trip. I will definitely use your tips, thank you so much!
Thanks for this blog post! Many of these tips have helped me manage my fear of flying in planes, especially the one about listening to a good, calming playlist. Another way I manage my fear is to read articles about airplane safety, kind of along the same lines of being educated- like you mentioned. Reading all the different types of mechanical tests and other standards airplanes have to meet reassures me of their safety. I’d suggest that others try it out- it’s an underrated technique!
THANK YOU! Thank you so much Lauren. I used your tips on my most recent flight and I’ve never felt so calm before in my life. Your book recommendations are amazing, and I made sure to look at all of the planes in the sky right before my flight and keep in mind how insignificant mine is while I was up in the sky. This post may have just changed my life.
I can’t thank you enough for this post. Genuinely, thank you. It was thanks to this post that I was able to fly to Europe with my wife after thinking I wouldn’t be able to make it onto the plane. I was calm throughout the journey and had a great vacation on the other end.
Thank you for this article and that book recommendations. I will purchase right away. I want to overcome my fear of flying so it can stop limiting my travel experiences. I haven’t taken any flights over 6 hours. I’m ready to take control of this fear and enjoy flying for once.
thank you so much. it’s currently 23:21 and i’m in a hotel room with my mum dad and brother just outside the airport and i’ve been freaking out. i full on lost it when i got into bed, telling them i wanted to go home. but then i just found this blog post. anxiety, immediately gone. i don’t even know why i associate my anxiety with flying now, cuz i used to enjoy it so much like how you used to till it went downhill. i’m gonna get those books and read them at the airport tmrw. i feel like corona and all the precautions has heightened my fear a bit more but reading this reminds me, i’m not alone. thank you so much. i know this is an old blog post!!! hope you’re still doing amazingly now xx
You’re a life safer. Your article gave me hope ! You have no idea how much I enjoyed reading this article. I cried a little, knowing I was not the only one feeling I should cancel a trip due to a feeling I had. Seriously thank you 🙏🏽 can’t wait to read the books you recommended
I am so thankful I came across this post! I have a fear of heights so bad that even looking at tall buildings has made me tremble before. Last year my family and my parents flew a few hours to catch a cruise. I had not even thought about the fact that flying would leave me incredibly mentally drained (I flew once when I was 8 but don’t even remember it)! We got on the plane, I situated my kids, took a seat next to my mom and out of nowhere I started shaking. I had not prepared myself AT ALL! I didn’t have any headphones, had taken no medicine, read zero books and couldn’t even spell breathe at the time. I held my moms hand and sobbed (I was 35 years old with 4 kids mind you)! We flew over 2 storms and hit horrible turbulence. The more the pilot came on the speaker, the worse I got! Soon as we landed I told my husband I would rent a car and drive home and was not getting back on a plane!! We had a great cruise but the day before we got off the ship I was a wreck! I couldn’t get over the fact that I had to get back on that plane! I did have headphones and took a nausea pill on the flight back and we didn’t hit near the turbulence but I still cried some from fear. I didn’t know how else to express it. Now we’re cruising again in January (if COVID don’t stop us) and I’m determined to get through the flights and not let them ruin a single day of my vacation. I am going to buy the books you suggested tonight and already bookmarked this blog post. Thanks again!!
I have always told myself that the ups and downs in flights and the turbulence you feel is just potholes in the road. No different then you are driving down an interstate that has a couple divets in it.
That helps me to rationalize that I am experiencing something that is normal amd happens for every trip and on every plane
This is a great post – thank you so much. It somehow reassuring reading about other people experiencing the same things that I do, it makes me feel less silly and less alone.
Something else that I do, is tell myself (especially in the weeks before my flight) what good does feeling anxiety do. Like will it change things? I have to take that flight, so why torture myself about something I cannot change?
When the anxiety creeps up, I just tell the anxiety (for real) “so you think you can change things?” I almost challenge my anxiety, and if I repeat it long enough the anxiety eases.
I fly tomorrow and I’m freaking out. Doc gave me some Xanax for nerves, but your article is comforting
This article and all of the comments are exactly what I needed today. I used to love flying until I had one really bad flight in a small plane in stormy weather. I’ve never enjoyed it since. Tomorrow I have to do a cross-country flight and I’ve been super-anxious for a couple of days. Now, I feel all the stress starting to leave my body. Many thanks to you and EVERYBODY in the comments section. I loved the comment about turbulence being “potholes.” I think that’s the only part of flying that scares me. But, I’m feeling much better now.
Thank you!!! I’m near 40 and have missed out on so much due to my fear of flying. I’m planning a solo trip to Ireland next year and really needed this article. I have all three books in my Amazon prime account, downloaded the Flightradar24 app and I feel like I am preparing myself. Education is liberation. Thank you so much!
It annoys me when people say that a fear of flying is irrational – it really isn’t. Sure, it’s safer than any other mode of transport but it’s also completely alien. Humans should not be sitting 35,000 ft up in the air!
I have a flight in a few days, I tend to be fine during the day but when I go to bed I start to panic and have bad dreams. I have flown a handful of times before and enjoy it once the takeoff is over. That feeling when you’re jolted back in your seat and that whirling noise of the engines spooling up, well it fills me with dread. I’ll buy that book, thanks for your suggestions.
Well, I guess it’s more that it’s irrational because it’s one of the safest activities a human can undertake — not just one of the safest modes of transportation. It’s safer than walking downstairs, having a bath, and playing video games, for example! So the fear of flying is irrational — a rational fear would be something that would genuinely put you in danger.
Hi! I’m in the airport, waiting for my Flight home in 2 hours and reading your post really help! I’ll buy one of your recomended books! I remember took my first flight alone and felt super calm about it, but slowly things get worse. Until one day landing from Paris there was a big storm on my city, the plane try to descend but then come up since the turbolence where too much. At some point I think the pilot decided to give it a serious try, maybe the gas was finished or he was late for another trip. He basically go through the coulds in the tunders and we all jumped and screemed, and I may have got few moments of panic attack there. Then was all fine and we landed smoothly. But it took me a while to be able to calm my self once out of the Airport. Now I still fly, because I don’t want let my fear conquire me! Sometimes is smooth and sometimes I feel like I’m diyng, even if there are no turbolence! I asked help to the hostess once and she say that she didn’t know how to help me. Cool. Very prepared. Well, my only solution is playing calming video games, listen to relaxing mantra and try to think about what expect me on earth! Send you love from the airport!
I haven’t seen my family in over 25 years because I am too afraid to fly to Europe. I haven’t flown at all since 2008 but I thought I was ready almost 4 years ago when my parents headed back to Europe and once they were there my husband said let’s all go. He bought 4 tickets for us and our kids and I wanted to go so bad but as soon as he confirmed it my anxiety got a hold of me and for a week I was so sickened with it, I lost 10 Ibs. Our kids ended up going on their own and even tho they had a great time, to this day I blame myself. December 2019 I decided enough of that, I want to be able to take them places again and I thought 2020 was going to be the year I would start working on myself. Unfortunately 2020 started the worst possible way. No it’s not pandemic although that didn’t help either… I mean the worst way for someone who’s afraid of flying.
January 8, my son’s best friend and his parents were flying home to Canada from Iran after their Christmas break when their plane got shut down and we watched it on CNN not knowing they were on it. Only an hour or 2 after my son mentioned his friend was in Iran. We thought, what are the odds. And then he didn’t respond. The next day we found out they were gone. I was shuttered for 2 months, Even though it’s been 2 years and I don’t cry every day, I can’t get those images out of my head. I can’t take his last words in the last message he sent out of mind. I see his picture and new pair of soccer cleats in my son’s room and my heart breaks. I know this wasn’t supposed to happen but how am I now to board a plane as someone with terrible travel anxiety that now also includes a related PTSD. I watch You Tubers travel and every time they show them sitting in a plane or boarding I see our friends. I think of them in those last moments and I don’t know how I will ever not think of that.
I want to say thank you for this blog post. It was great in and of itself, but the reference materials you mentioned were exceptionally helpful. I have had so much anxiety surrounding flying dating to an incident that took place more than 20 years ago. As I read Cockpit Confidential I found that I was way more relaxed, actually into wha ti was reading and interested in finding out more. The way the book explains al aspects from the pilots perspective helped me to understand what was taking place in real time as we were flying. No more sewers foot shaking multiple rows of seats, forehead in my hand, awkward looks from other flyers being made more anxious because of my behaviors. I actually sat back, relaxed and enjoyed what I was reading and experiencing.
I often thought of things you mentioned in the blog (number of planes in the air, number of people above the ground etc) and it helped put my mind at ease. I feel that knowing how the airplane is designed and how it works mechanically from the pilots perspective is what helped to calm me. Simply knowing and understating what was once so foreign and complicated (I’m sure it still is) helped to put my mind, and my nerves, at ease.
I just simply wanted to say thank you. I stumbled upon this blog in a pre-flight panic attack 24 hours prior to my flight. Sitting on my be wondering if I should just unpack and call it a day. I’m so glad I didn’t. And, I vowed upon safe return, that I would write a note to thank you.