How To Deal With Your Fear Of Flying (Written By A Travel Blogger Who Hates Flying)

fear of flying

Clearly I picked the wrong job.

What was I thinking, becoming a travel blogger, when flying is one of the things that scares me the most? Mind you, I am scared of pretty much everything (heights, speed, dark, creepy crawlies, clowns, fish, birds, you name it), but flying has got to be somewhere in the top three. Even after dozens of flights, I still get nervous. I get sweaty hands at every takeoff and landing, and my heart rate inevitably quickens whenever I feel the slightest shift in engine sound.

Yeah. It sucks.

One thing I did realize with time, however, is that beating the fear of flying is a slow, frustrating and difficult process. It requires strength, rationality and determination, three things I don’t normally have in spades.

Why Exactly Are People Afraid Of Flying?

While this may seem like a stupid question (people are afraid of flying because it’s TERRIFYING to glide 30,000 feet up in the sky in a giant metal cage, dude!), the triggers of that fear may change depending on the person. For some, it’s the fear of crashing/dying, because of a failing engine, terrorism, spontaneous combustion, etc. For others, it’s being stuck in an enclosed space with no possibility to leave, something akin to claustrophobia. The fear of flying comes in many different ways.

While doing research for this article I came across Dan Gardner’s book Risk: The Science and Politics of Fearwhich highlights the profound lack of connection between statistical fact and human perception. We all know that planes are like gazillions of time safer than cars; yet most of us are far more afraid to fly than to drive.

And this is pretty much what fear and phobias are about: when our brain picks perceptions (gut) over facts (reasoning).

Regardless of how frightened you are, the only way to get over your fear of flying is to identify what triggers your fear, and then to slowly expose yourself to those triggers. Avoidance will only keep your phobia alive. Putting your head in the sand won’t make the problem go away; it’s only going to make it invisible. And that’s not really solving anything, now is it?

A side note before we start:
If you can’t get past your fear and boarding planes makes you ill, by all means consult with a healthcare professional. I wouldn’t want you to stop travelling in order to avoid those bad moments ♥ Check with your doctor before your trip to see which treatment and/or medication is right for you.

fear of flying

How to Deal With Turbulence

Intuitively, it makes complete sense to be scared of turbulence. Sitting on a plane is precarious enough without throwing in gigantic air pocket! But science says otherwise. According to AskThePilot.com:

For all intents and purposes, a plane cannot be flipped upside-down, thrown into a tailspin, or otherwise flung from the sky by even the mightiest gust. Conditions might be annoying and uncomfortable, but the plane is not going to crash. Turbulence is an aggravating nuisance for everybody, including the crew, but it’s also, for lack of a better term, normal. From a pilot’s perspective it is ordinarily seen as a convenience issue, not a safety issue. Planes themselves are engineered to take a remarkable amount of punishment, and they have to meet stress limits for both positive and negative G-loads. Should the aircraft be shoved from its position in space, its nature is to return there, on its own.

What also helps is picking the right seat. Most people will tell you that the smoothest place to sit is over the wings, close to the plane’s centers of lift and gravity. Also makes for excellent Instagram photos. On the other hand, the roughest spot is usually the far aft—the rearmost rows closest to the tail.

Whenever I get nervous because of turbulence, I look at the flight attendants. If they’re calm and collected, then I know everything is going to be alright. They are highly trained professionals who are taught to keep a straight face, and this helps me cope with my stress immensely.

If I can’t see flights attendants from where I’m sitting, I usually ask myself those questions: Have we lost altitude or changed directions? Are the engines making a different sound? Does anyone else look stressed out? Is there any evidence suggesting that something might be wrong besides my own perceptions?

fear of flying

How to Deal With Air Sickness

Speaking from experience, I can say that few things less enjoyable and more embarrassing than vomiting on the plane. It’s not fun for anyone involved! Here are a few tips I learned the hard way in my 8+ years of travels.

  • Ensure there is an airsickness bag in your seat pocket. Hopefully you won’t be needing it, but knowing it’s there makes me feel so much better and helps lower my anxiety.
  • If turbulence is particularly tough for you to handle (nausea, cold sweats, dizziness, etc.), try to look straight ahead and lay your hands on a flat and cold surface, like armrests or tray table. This helps trick your body into thinking you are sitting straight and the horizon is stable.
  • Avoid eating carbs or rich foods before and during the flight.
  • If all else fails, you can always rely on anti-motion sickness medication like Dramamine, which is easily sold over the counter. In Canada, the regular Gravol works wonders. Both medication cause drowsiness, too, which is pretty much a blessing in disguise for nervous flyers.
  • Inform the crew that you are prone to airsickness. They will pay closer attention to you, and if you, unfortunately, end up being sick, they will most likely give you a small amenity kit to freshen up.
  • Turn the ventilation to direct the air flow towards your face if you are feeling unwell. Fresh air can help immensely.

fear of flying

How to Deal With Takeoff & Landing

As a nervous flyer, I can officially say that takeoff and landing are the WORST. Statistics are pretty clear about this: most incidents occur within the first and the last 20 minutes of a flight. While that helps me chill out for the remainder of the flight, my nerves are through the roof during takeoff and landing. I get sweaty hands, sweaty feet, I have a hard time breathing and, to crown it all, my asthma usually ends up kicking in.

The only way to deal with those stressful 40 minutes is to focus on something else.

  • Play soothing or happy music in your headphones
  • Practice diaphragmatic breathing
  • Use visualization techniques
  • Focus on the destination
  • Ask your companion to talk to you about something specific that requires your concentration

Remember: takeoff and landing are teeny tiny parts of the trip. You can do this!

fear of flying

How to Deal With Not Being Able to Chill The Fuck Out

If you are still feeling nervous or unwell hours into your flight, don’t worry, there’s still hope! You can continue doing the same tricks you used during take-off – so long as they help you take your mind off your anxiety. Have a little cocktail, watch a captivating movie, listen to a cinematographic audiobook or podcast.

Hell, bring along a good luck charm if that makes you feel better. These trinkets often feel silly to adults but whatever makes you forget about the stressful situation you’re in is worth it in my book.

Because at this point, it’s not so much about the fear of flying, but about the fear of fear itself. Which bring me to my next point…

Learn how airplanes actually fly.

Once you understand the ~ science ~ (it is not black magic, I assure you) that keeps a 300,000-pound object airborne, you will feel so much more in control. You will come to recognize the sounds and sensations as they occur, therefore taking the mystery out of the process and replacing it with logic. There will be no room for negative thoughts and what-ifs.

Learning how airplanes fly is a vital part in the process of overcoming your fear of flying.

Additional Resources:

How do you deal with your fear of flying?
Is this something that has kept you from travelling before?

16 Comments on How To Deal With Your Fear Of Flying (Written By A Travel Blogger Who Hates Flying)

  1. Katie @ Second-Hand Hedgehog
    September 10, 2015 at 3:39 pm (2 years ago)

    Great post! I’ve never really had a problem with flying (besides a few very sore ears during take-off and landing), although recently I’ve noticed myself getting a little bit nervous in a way that’s pretty new to me. Maybe it’s just a sunconscious reaction to the constant media-coverage about terrorism, or maybe it’s just because I’m getting older and worry more – there are other things that I’ve only started to experience post-teens, like stage-nerves. I definitely wouldn’t call flying a fear – but maybe what I’m starting to get are just rational nerves… Either way, I find distraction is the best cure. I always have a bag of sweets to suck / chew as a remedy for my ears, but they’re also really good at making me thing about the sugary goodness instead of the flight! Of course, a good book always helps, too :-)

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      September 11, 2015 at 1:31 pm (2 years ago)

      I’ve been wondering that too – if it has anything to do with the natural ageing process? Like, becoming less and less carefree over the years? My fear of flying has gotten worse with the years as I get older.

      Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      September 30, 2015 at 11:11 am (2 years ago)

      I think as we get older we get more and more nervous about flying! I find that wine also helps, haha.

      Reply
  2. Pati
    September 10, 2015 at 5:05 pm (2 years ago)

    I have the same problem :((( I am actually just afraid of turbulance, nothing else, I don’t suffer from air sickness… It’s just that I can’t “get used to” turbulance. I was said many times what it was and bla bla bla, but nothing helps.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      September 11, 2015 at 1:30 pm (2 years ago)

      I completely understand, Pati! I hope these tips help you cope with your fear.

      Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      September 30, 2015 at 11:11 am (2 years ago)

      Hello Pati, turbulence is the worst! I hope some of the tricks listed above will help. Figuring out how a plane works makes a HUGE difference once you know it can’t crash during turbulence.

      Reply
  3. Amanda - Lesson Plans & Layovers
    September 15, 2015 at 7:51 am (2 years ago)

    My boyfriend and I just recently travelled together for the first time and we found out prior to our trip that we both hate flying – me because of turbulence, him because of airsickness (a likely duo, I know). I found the facts on turbulence most useful!I’ll have to share the airsickness ideas with him. Can’t stop travelling just because of a fear of flying – we’d be missing out on so much! Thanks for the tips! :)

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      September 30, 2015 at 11:08 am (2 years ago)

      Happy to help, Amanda! Flying can be a terrible hardship but it should never keep you from travelling.

      Reply
  4. Raymond Weil
    September 30, 2015 at 7:39 am (2 years ago)

    Weirdly I love take off but I’m always worried during landing and absolutely frightened during turbulences. Never been sick but my heart rate goes off the roof when the plane starts shaking during turbulences…
    Luckily I travel mainly with my wife and having each other really does help!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      September 30, 2015 at 10:20 am (2 years ago)

      It helps immensely to travel with someone else who doesn’t get nervous!

      Reply
  5. artwin
    January 11, 2016 at 1:24 am (2 years ago)

    Huge thanks for the post! I absolutely hate flying, but sometimes I got no other choice whatsoever. Traveling by plane is my by all means biggest thing to hate. Your article, on the contrary, calmed me down a bit, maybe even because I see that someone feel like me and I’m not alone in this. Thanks a lot!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      January 12, 2016 at 5:28 pm (2 years ago)

      That’s good to hear! You are definitely not alone in this. I hope you will remember these tips when you next find yourself on a plane :-)

      Reply
  6. Annette
    March 23, 2016 at 5:00 pm (1 year ago)

    Thanks for this. I have developed am aversion to turbulence over the last few years, and now my son hates it too (gets airsickness lately). Your info about the plane being immune to turbulence damage makes me feel better. Funnily, take-off and landing don’t bother me; I just take it as my cue that I will soon be disembarking.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      April 10, 2016 at 5:26 pm (1 year ago)

      Glad it helps, Annette!

      Reply
  7. Alex
    October 13, 2016 at 4:54 pm (9 months ago)

    just found your page & i am amazed in the best possible way! loved this blog specifically, I hate turbulence and when the sudden thought of terrorism or crashes comes to mind my anxiety soars. Loving the rest of your page as well, I’ll be sure to keep an eye on it! We’re going to london in March :)

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      November 4, 2016 at 4:20 pm (9 months ago)

      Happy to help Alex!

      Reply

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