Tips for a Nervous Flyer

I hate flying. It may come as a surprise to some of you, but I do. The whole process of going through security, waiting for the flight, loading the plane, being squashed in a small seat, the flight itself, and waiting to get off the plane, causes me anxiety.

But even worse, about four years ago, I become convinced I was going to die in a plane crash. I became deathly afraid of flying to the point where I would have mini panic attacks weeks leading up to the flight, and then would fight major attacks the whole flight. Any kind of turbulence had me thinking I was going to die. I prayed that the end would be quick and I wouldn’t have to deal with the terror of falling through the sky. Within the past year I’ve gotten slightly better, but flying still scares me. If flying scares you too, you’re not alone. I have a few tips for nervous flyers that have helped me over the past few years.

Big Tips for Nervous Flyers

Realize that you are probably scared for one of several reasons:

  1. You’re scared of not being in control
  2. You are scared of the plane crashing either through pilot error, environmental factors, technical factors, or terrorist activity.
  3. You feel trapped/you fear you will have a panic/anxiety attack on the plane

So, the problem is fear. And, the problem with fear is that fear is illogical. Look at the list above. You are very rarely in control everyday if you drive a car to work, take public transportation, or interact with people at all during the day. Because even though you can control yourself (which is even debatable) you can’t control all of the people around you, and their choices.

Next, flight statistics prove, over and over again that flying is the safest way to travel. Unfortunately, the media has saturated your television and media feed with stories of horrific plane crashes. Trust me, horrific car crashes happen hourly, you just don’t see them, and so, you don’t fear them.

And finally, you know the triggers of your anxiety. You know what gives you a panic attack. All of the strategies you use to help yourself at home can be applied to when you’re on a plane.

Now, here are some more tips for nervous flyers!

Leading up to your Flight: Months-Days

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  • Don’t think about it

    Once I buy my airline ticket, that’s usually when my anxiety starts. Instead of focusing on your flight, focus on your destination. What will you do when you arrive? Who will you meet? Friends, family? What will you see? Are you excited for the food? (I always am!) Think of all the positive things about your vacation. Do not think about the flight.

  • Don’t research airplane crashes

    I have done this one multiple times over the years. Right before I fly, I research every crash that has happened in the past ten years. I analyze the airlines, explore different mechanical failures, or analyze locations of terrorist activity. Don’t do it! This is literally crazy. It baffles me that I, or any sane person, would actually analyze plane crashes before a flight. I mean, do you analyze every car crashe in the past fifty years before you get in your car every day?

  • Do focus on all those positive statistics

    Although I still consider my fear of flying an irrational one, a few key facts do help me when it comes time to fly. Flying is the safest form of travel in the world. Before flights I frequently browse websites such as these to calm my fears and read some positive statistics about flying. Here’s one of my favorites: You would have to fly every day for 67,833 years before you crash. In 2013 there were 1.2 million car fatalities, and 210 flight fatalities.

    • http://www.economist.com/blogs/gulliver/2015/01/air-safety
    • http://elitedaily.com/news/world/people-terrified-plane-crashes-even-though-rare/977885/
    • http://www.huffingtonpost.com/smartertravel/10-tips-for-nervous-flyer_b_3989344.html
  • Know if you need medication

    I don’t use strong medication on flights because I have a tendency to react negatively. However, if your doctor can prescribe you a calming medication, like Xanax, and you have taken it before (never take a medication for the first time on a flight), it may be a good option for you. Make sure to visit your doctor at least a few weeks before your flight.

  • Travel with a buddy who is a calm flier

    If you can, travel with someone who isn’t scared of flying. They will calm you down. If you are traveling with someone who is scared of flying, do not feed off of each other. Pretend to be calm. For everyone’s sake.

Leading up to Your Flight: Day Of

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  • Get a good night’s sleep

    Don’t’ attempt to stay up all night so you can sleep during your flight. Heaven forbid if you can’t sleep during your flight and you become delirious. If I plan to sleep on a flight, I usually get 1 or 2 hours less sleep than normal, just so I’m a bit tired but not exhausted.

  • Eat healthy

    Don’t eat a huge greasy meal before a flight. Your stomach will be upset. You will be constipated. Eat healthy, light meals before a flight, and invest in a lot of snacks.

  • Drink water

    Drink a lot of water before and during your flight. It’s easy to get dehydrated on flights.

  • Make sure you’re packed

    Don’t make yourself late to the airport. The night before make sure you’ve packed everything except your essential toiletries.

  • Be conscience of time

    Nothing makes me more anxious than flying, but the idea of missing my flight, or being rushed makes me doubly anxious. Arrive at the airport two hours before your flight (domestic or international). This allows enough time if security is really long, or you need to grab a bite to eat.

  • Be prepared

    Here are a few things I recommend bringing on a flight:

  • Empty Water bottle (you can fill it up in the airport)
  • Some kind of orange juice/apple juice/ginger ale-Ginger ale will settle your stomach. Especially if, like me, you also get motion sickness on flights.
  • Enough snacks to feed a small army-It’s never good to go hungry. Give yourself something to munch on during your trip.
  • Tablet loaded up with games and movies-If you can’t sleep this is the best way to entertain yourself.
  • Phone with music (or other mp3 device) I often fall asleep and use my music as background noise. Or, I use ear plugs.
  • Some kind of blanket/pillow-Even a sweatshirt will work. I love cold planes, because they make me feel less sick. But I always bring a sweatshirt so I can snuggle down.
  • Toiletries (essentials if the flight is going to be a long one)-Brushing your teeth or combing your hair during a 10 hour flight makes the world
  • Book-I get sick reading books in any type of vehicle-but if you don’t this would be a good thing to bring
  • Change of undergarments in case your luggage is lost. Nothing is worse than being in the same pair of underwear for a couple of days in a row.
  • Laptop (if you want to get work done while flying)
  • Sleeping Pill (I take sleeping pills for flights longer than 7 hours).
  • Peppermints/Gum-Good for motion sickness and ear popping

Pre-boarding/Flight

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  • Make sure you’re comfortable

    Wear loose fitting clothing and bring layers. Don’t wear anything that cuts off your circulation.

  • Breathe

    Before I fly I do at least ten minutes of deep breathing exercises, combined with some gentle yoga and stretching. Yes, I am that weirdo in the corner doing the funny stretches. But I don’t care. It calms me down. There are a few apps you can download to help with breathing: Breathe2relax and universal breathing-Pranayama. You can start these before take-off.

  • Board last and listen to calming music

    I have no idea why people board a plane early. People literally wait in line to wait. The only thing I can think of is that they want to settle down in their seats? I don’t want to spend one more second on that thing than I absolutely have to. I board at the last possible minute-preferring to listen to calming music through take-off until we reach cruising altitude.

  • Talk to the crew

    If you’re a nervous flyer, tell the airline employees. You may get put in a preferred seat, or bumped up a class. Talk to the gate agent when you find your gate, and, tell the attendants once you get on a flight. They will check on you more often during the flight.

  • Sleeping Pill

    Only take a sleeping pill if the flight is on the longer side. I recommend over seven hours. You can take a sleeping pill for a shorter flight, but keep in mind you might be groggy when you land.

  • Stand up-Move

    Don’t hesitate to get up and use the bathroom-or take a short walk up and down the aisle. At the very least-do leg exercises in your seat. Flying is bad for your circulation-and you can start to feel achy if you don’t move. I recommend leaving your seat at least once every two hours.

  • Tricks for Turbulence

    Before the flight, research what turbulence is. I recommend these websites/video clips:

    1. Fake it-pretend you’re fine. Your body and mind will trick each other. During turbulence, I shut my eyes, breathe deeply, and make a concentrated effort to relax my body. In other words, I act like everything is okay.
    2. Look at the flight attendants and other people-more than likely they will all be calm-sleeping, listening to music, ect
  • Don’t be bored

    Watch movies, listen to music, draw, sleep, snack, get up. Fill your time so you are not bored.

Your mind is stronger than you think-people with serious anxiety should enroll in an anxious flyer program, or visit a therapist. But if you’re borderline (and yes I consider myself borderline anxious because I still manage to get on planes and go) prepare your mind, prepare activities for the flight, and you will be just fine. Happy travels!

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