9 Ways to Cope with a Fear of Flying

Plane takeoff

[Pablo Demetrio Scapinachis Armstrong]/[iStock]/Thinkstock

Just the other night while watching a movie with my family, one of the main characters, scared of flying, fell to the tarmac and kissed the ground as soon as he exited the plane. “Look, Nik, it’s you,” my family members shouted as they gleefully pointed at the screen.

It’s true. I’m a nervous flyer. I can’t help it. I’ve been flying regularly for as long as I can recall and I can distinctly remember my childhood glee when we encountered turbulence, laughing with delight as the plane bounced through the sky. Unfortunately, somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, that glee transformed into a white-knuckled-armrest-gripping-yes-I’ll-have-another-vodka anxiety about flying. Most flights I remain firmly in place with my seatbelt snugly tightened against my hips, too anxious to even get up to use the restroom in case we hit unexpected turbulence (It could happen).

Over time and mostly through necessity, I’ve developed techniques that– although don’t completely put me at ease–certainly help to reduce my anxiety and distract me from disparaging thoughts of impending doom.

So simple, so effective. Sitting back and taking a few deep, slow breaths can do wonders to help relax your body and quell the influx of anxious thoughts. Just focus on breathing.

First Class
Once flying standby, I was bumped up to first class. It was the best flight of my life. Inbetween the champagne, three course meal, and plush blanket, I forgot to be anxious. I was too busy marveling at the luxury of not being sandwiched between two other people and not having to pay $7 for a drink.

Again, not something I’d recommend per se, but something that’s definitely worked for me. After pulling an exhausting semester, a part-time job, and rapidly throwing my stuff into storage, when I finally collapsed into my seat on an overseas flight, I was too exhausted to be anything but relieved at the fact that I was sitting down and not having to write a report, work on an Excel file, or pack anything into a box. I slept the entire flight. It was bliss.

Good Movies
Flying is when I catch up on the latest movies. Or at least the movies released in the last two years. Normally, I’m hard-pressed to find two hours to sit down and watch a movie, but on a flight I feel fully justified in watching four movies in a row. On my last flight, British Airways had such a great line-up of films that I was disappointed when I had to get off the plane. Ok, well not disappointed exactly, but I could have happily squeezed in another movie.

Striking up a conversation with the person next to me (tactfully. If they’re trying to sleep, for the love of God, let them sleep) always takes my mind off of the fact that I’m thousands of feet off of the ground.

Fly with Children
Either you’ll be too preoccupied trying to take care of them or you’ll be so enthralled by their enthusiasm and delight that you’ll be able to remind yourself to chill out.

I can’t believe I’m including this (actually, I can). Look, I hate to even suggest this as a crutch and I’m certainly not suggesting you get plastered before or during the flight (one because you’ll risk not being allowed to board the flight and two, you’ll risk becoming a nuisance). However, I’ve definitely been known to rely on an in-flight Bloody Mary or two.

Tell the Flight Attendant
They get it all the time, but I’ve found that if I’m particularly nervous about a flight, telling the flight attendant about it makes life a little easier. They always keep an eye out for me and check in periodically just to make sure I’m doing alright. Sometimes just having someone check in can do a lot to assuage any anxiety.

Talk to a Pilot
I remember once during a particularly turbulent flight, I switched my radio station over to the cockpit so I could hear what was going on. The nonchalant and calm tones of the pilot and co-pilot immediately made me feel 100% better. Now I make it a regular occurrence. If you know a pilot, talking to them about flying can help relax any doubts and make rationalizing with fear just a little bit easier.

By Nikki Hodgson