How to help overcome your fear of flying

For some of us, flying is all about kicking back with some movies before our hard-earned holiday truly begins. But for others, flying is all about sweaty palms, shaking hands and spending every second wishing you were back on solid ground.

Whether flying makes you slightly uneasy or seriously uncomfortable, just know that you’re not alone. Fear of flying is actually a fairly common condition, and can sometimes be enough to deter would-be travellers from ever leaving their home country.

Thankfully, there are some simple strategies that nervous flyers can use to alleviate their fears and travel with confidence.

What is fear of flying? 

Passengers about to board a plane

Officially called aerophobia, fear of flying is a condition of anxiety triggered by air travel. According to psychologist Grant Amos who runs ‘fear of flying’ courses, over 15% of Kiwis will experience fear of flying at some point in their lives.

Many of us find takeoff, landing and periods of turbulence uncomfortable. But for some travellers, even stepping foot in an airport is enough to invoke feelings of panic and dread. Common symptoms of flight anxiety include:

  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irritability
  • Skin redness
  • Disorientation
  • Upset stomach


Tips before you fly

So what can nervous flyers do to alleviate their fears? Here are seven tips for reducing flight anxiety before you board.

Tip 1: Talk to your GP

A visit to the doctor

Whether it’s about vaccinations, medications or even flight anxiety, talking to your GP is always a smart first step when it comes to any travel-related health concerns. They may recommend consulting with a mental health specialist, or prescribe over-the-counter medication that can help calm your nerves.

Tip 2: Know the statistics

Did you know that air travel is among the safest modes of transport in the world? Or that there are over four billion aeroplane passengers every year? Understanding the incredible safety record of the airline industry should boost your confidence before you fly.

Tip 3: Understand turbulence

An airplane about to encounter turbulence

While it can be an unpleasant experience to travel through a patch of rough air, regular turbulence isn’t necessarily dangerous. Turbulence can be caused by several things, including wind, thunderstorm activity, proximity to mountains and jet streams from other aircraft; and the vast majority of it can be predicted by pilots. In fact, almost all turbulence-related injuries result from passengers disobeying seatbelt warning signs.

Tip 4: Learn common noises

Unexpected and unexplained noises can easily set you on edge while you’re up in the air. Being able to identify routine aircraft noises, like the cargo doors being closed or the engine noises changing, can put your mind at ease.

Tip 5: Sit near the wing

Airplane wing seen from a passenger window

Aeroplanes can be much like see-saws, with more movement at the nose and tail of the aircraft. Seats over or near the wing are the most stable choices.

Tip 6: Familiarise yourself with the plane

A fear of flying can often stem from a fear of the unknown. Researching images of your plane prior to boarding, including the cabin layout, can make the experience feel more familiar when it comes time to board.

Tip 7: Arrive at the airport early

Man waiting at the departure lounge

Why add unnecessary angst to an already stressful process? Ensure you arrive at the airport early, locate your gate and give yourself the best chance at a smooth travel experience before flying.


How to reduce anxiety while flying

Whether you’re taking a quick trip across the ditch or an overnight journey to the other side of the world, here are seven tips to help calm your in-flight nerves.

Tip 1: Stay hydrated

A passenger drinking water while on a flight

Dehydration can worsen your anxiety by causing increased irritability. Remember to drink plenty of water, even if it means having to use the on-board bathroom more often.

Tip 2: Avoid alcohol and caffeine

While it can be tempting to dull your senses with alcohol, drinking in the air can cause dehydration and disrupt sleep on longer flights. Likewise, caffeine can heighten your anxiety.

Tip 3: Keep occupied

Don’t let yourself dwell on feelings of anxiety. In-flight entertainment can be a great way to distract yourself; just remember to keep the movies light-hearted!

Tip 4: Tell the flight attendant

Girl passenger asking help from the air hostess

Flight attendants are well-versed in managing anxious flyers, so don’t be afraid to let them know that you’re nervous. They may go out of their way to check in on you throughout the flight and make you feel more comfortable.

Tip 5: Plan your holiday

What better way to remind yourself why you’re braving the skies than planning your trip? Bring along a travel guide book, and write an itinerary or travel wish list to keep yourself pre-occupied.

Tip 6: Listen to soothing music

An airplane passenger listening to music

Not only is soothing music a great way to unwind, but it can also block out many of the in-flight noises that can contribute to anxiety.

Tip 7: Practice breathing exercises

Conscious breathing can slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure. Try meditation apps like Headspace and Calm, which have guided exercises you can use on the go.


Packing tips for nervous flyers

A detailed holiday packing list is essential for any trip, and if you’re a nervous flier, there are a few extra items that can improve your experience.

Tip 1: Pack familiar and comforting items

Whether it’s a favourite sweater or a cosy pair of socks, comforting items can be a great way to bring some positive energy on-board with you.

Tip 2: Consider medication

A passenger taking medication

For some people, sleep medications and motion sickness pills can take the edge off flight anxiety. Again, it’s important to speak to your GP about your health needs while travelling. Always research customs rules for flying with medication in your cabin luggage, as well as checking that your medication is legal at your destination.

Tip 3: Noise-cancelling headphones

Good quality noise-cancelling headphones can significantly dull the ever-present mechanical roar inside the cabin. They’ll quickly become hard to travel without.

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