So, You’re Scared to Fly? Top 7 Tips to Beat Your Fear of Flying.
So, you’re scared to fly.
A lot of people are afraid of flying. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. As a matter of fact, according to experts, between 33-40% of the population has some fear of flying. (Stratosjets.com) Of that number, many are just nervous flyers. Only about 2.5-5% of people have what would be called a “clinical phobia” of flying, causing crippling anxiety, and often an outright refusal to fly. (Washington Post) But even 2.5% is a lot of people, when you consider how many of us there are.
In other words, if you’re a bit scared before boarding the airplane, you are not alone.
Air travel is often the simplest, quickest, cheapest, and *safest* way to get from point A to point B. And I KNOW you all have exciting point Bs in your future. I respect your fears and your feelings, but I don’t want you missing out on life. I’m here to help you with your fear of flying—as best I can.
As a flight attendant, questions about the fear of flying, and tips for nervous flyers, are among the top 5 most frequent things I am asked about my job. People tell me they hate flying. They could never do this job. How do I get through it? They ask if I ever worry when I’m at work.
In this post we’ll cover why people are afraid to fly, my top 7 tips for dealing with the fear of flying, and…Are flight attendants ever afraid to fly?
Are Flight Attendants Ever Afraid to Fly?
An old acquaintance reached out recently to ask for some tips to get through her flight at the end of the summer. She said she’s always been a nervous flyer, but her fear of flying has gotten worse with age. I can relate. I feel like some of my fears have become more powerful with the passing years—the fear of heights, for example, which I never remember having as a teenager or young adult. I racked my brain for thoughtful tips to give her, things I thought would comfort someone gripped with fear. Even things I’ve used myself.
Yes, that’s right. I’ll let you know my secret. Sometimes I get scared to fly, too.
Of course, this isn’t frequent, or I’d be enjoying my job far less. But it does happen occasionally. Sometimes it is for good reason. Like when we had a Hydraulic System failure and had to make an emergency landing. (Don’t worry, everything went A-ok with no evacuation necessary. In fact, it led to a very memorable Vegas layover that I should probably write about one day.) Sometimes the fear comes on a whim—I recall an episode from one of those airplane shows on TV…you know the ones. I think about TSA and wonder if anything dangerous has gotten past security. One time I had a bad dream the night before a flight and it stuck with me through my trip.
Sometimes, the fear of flying happens for no reason at all. I went through a phase not too long ago of intense anxiety during takeoff. I don’t know why it started, or why it ended. But during every takeoff, for about a month, I felt it. I would be doing fine, strapped into my jumpseat, thinking of layover plans, my next blog post, what I would eat once we got in the air. And out of the blue, just the slightest scratch of a thought would pop up. My mind would wander to the wrong place. Once I let that thought in, it was all over. The fear grew with my acknowledgement. My heart beat faster, my stomach clenched. For about 2-3 minutes. If you could have seen my hands, which were hidden under my thighs in brace position, you would have noticed my fingernails digging into my skin. I held my breath. We’d get to 10,000 feet, and I could breathe easily once more. Everything was fine.
It was weird because every moment of the flight before and after those few minutes was as mundane as a trip to the grocery store. But even with that small window of inconvenience, I am so grateful that phase is over.
I imagine for someone suffering from an intense fear of flying, who does not work in the industry, moments like these must be torturous. I have a lot of empathy for those who are afraid to fly.
Why Are People So Afraid to Fly?
Lack of Control
Seldom in our lives do we have less control over our fate than on a plane at 30,000 feet. That lack of control is one of the top factors in a fear of flying. This may surprise you, but think about it: You can’t escape. So, if you’re afraid of flying for any reason, even just a bit of a nervous flyer, thinking of being stuck in the airplane will exacerbate that little fear and make it bigger. You can’t just leave a scary situation whenever you want to. And that’s anxiety-provoking. You’re also relying on the pilots to get you there safely. People you have never met are suddenly at the helm of your life. This is probably why flying feels so much scarier than driving ourselves, even though driving is statistically far more dangerous.
Crashes Are Scary
Airplane crashes are incredibly rare, but when they do happen they are big, splashy, newsworthy events. It is so unexpected and far reaching that a plane crash will make it to your TV, radio, or other news source within minutes, even if it happened on the other side of the world. It is sort of like how you are less likely to be attacked by a shark than to be struck by lightning, killed by bees, or die from tripping and falling, but somehow we still get caught up in the hype—and fear—of sharks every Summer. Basically, these big events cause us to feel something and they stick in our memories.
Not Knowing How it Works
Not understanding how aviation works is also a big part of why people are afraid to fly. Like, “How the hell are we staying up here?” If you haven’t learned about how airplanes actually function, then it is difficult to wrap your brain around how it could possibly be safe.
I’m sure there are dozens of other reasons that someone might be afraid to fly, but those are three of the big ones.
Top Tips to Combat Your Fear Of Flying
(And Have the Best Flight Ever)
Now we get to the good stuff. The thing you nervous flyers have been waiting for—the top tips to handle that pesky fear of flying. I hope they help!
1. Watch the Flight Attendants
This is the most widely-given, cliché advice, but it’s that way for a reason. It works.
I am on this plane day in and day out, and I know all the little details. How it sounds, smells, looks. I deal with the public. I’m trained to notice things about the passengers boarding my plane. I’m trained on potential emergencies and protocols to address them. And another thing: I LOVE being alive. I want to live to be 200 years old. If there are any safety concerns on the plane—if anything is “off” in some way or another—I am ALL the way on top of it because my ass is making it home safely.
Look to the flight attendants to guage whether your fears are founded or not. You can still be afraid, but take comfort that we, the pros, are not.
2. Don your Headphones
One of the things that scares people most during flight is all the noises the airplane makes. While I wasn’t afraid to fly, per se, before becoming a flight attendant, the plane sounds made me nervous enough to clutch my armrest during every takeoff.
Airplanes are loud! There are different noises that happen in different phases of flight, and one can’t help but think “If my car sounded like that I’d take it to the shop!”
The good news is most of the noises you hear on the plane are completely normal. Even the loud, obnoxious ones.
In order to quell your fear of flying, start by cancelling out all those scary noises. Bring some good, noise-cancelling headphones and listen to a podcast or watch a movie or TV show. You’ll notice I recommend a podcast and not music. If music floats your boat, especially if you have a calming playlist in mind, then 100% go for it. But I find that music can very easily slip into background noise, a soundtrack to the real world around you. A movie or TV show can hold your attention like music can’t. This medium also distracts two of your senses instead of one, and distractions are clutch when we are defeating fear.
I recommend podcasts because if it’s one you’re invested in, it can hold your attention just as well as a TV show. And there are SOO many good pods out right now.
3. Get Cozy
Just like I would tell someone going into an important meeting to dress like the Fcking boss they hope to be one day, I will also encourage you, someone afraid of flying, to dress like the thing you hope to be—comfortable on the airplane. This is not an invitation to wear your pajamas to the airport. Definitely have some respect for yourself. But there are plenty of ways to throw an airplane outfit together that is both cute and cozy. Skip the jeans you have to lay down to button. The dress you have to be mindful of not flashing in. That impeccably tailored business suit. Skip sky high heels, or any uncomfortable shoe, and if you’re going to wear sandals, bring a cozy pair of socks to throw on during the flight. Cold toes do not ease anxiety.
I recommend dressing in layers that are breathable so that you can regulate your body temperature. (Prepare for a case of the nervous sweats, right?) I also recommend bringing a travel blanket. Not only will you stave off the chills, you’ll also feel a sense of cozy security being wrapped up in a blanket. Swaddling works for babies, why not us?
4. Watch your chemical intake
A lot of people who are afraid to fly will take some kind of pill to calm themselves before they fly. I’m no doctor, so the medication is none of my business. I would caution that taking too much or mixing said medication with alcohol can have some pretty negative effects. I have seen people removed from the flight because they appeared too intoxicated. I have seen countless people pass out in the air. I have seen people act belligerent or very emotional because they took medication and drank alcohol. In fact, I had a young woman just a couple weeks ago, vomiting multiple times—into a cup, of all places. We had to move her seat so she could be closer to the bathroom and much of the plane witnessed her messy ordeal. She was apologetic (in a slurred-speech kind of way) and insisted that she’d taken anti-anxiety medication before flying because it was her first flight since COVID. Don’t be this girl.
Don’t think you non-pill takers are exempt from this conversation, either.
A lot of people want to drink on the plane to ease their fear of flying. To each his own, but please, please don’t over-medicate in this way. Having one drink to take the edge off is totally cool. Even a couple to have a nice little buzzy feeling. But more than that is a pretty bad idea. For one thing, getting drunk on a plane is illegal. Seriously. And if you’re drinking in the airport before your flight, be mindful that it might leave without you if you appear intoxicated to the crew. For another thing, as anyone who’s ever been white girl wasted can attest, alcohol can make you a tad more emotional than you might otherwise be. This isn’t great when you’re trying to be cool, calm and collected and beat your fear of flying.
Need a pill? Take it. Need a drink? Go for it. But be careful with your dosage, and be extra careful when mixing the two. Your fear of flying next time will only be greater if it is coupled with the fear of having a medical issue on board or looking like a hot mess. Your business is your business, but please don’t take so much that you make it my business.
Tell me meeting this crew wouldn't put your mind at ease!
5. Shift Your Perspective (Literally)
Remember that little phase I talked about, of getting nervous during takeoff? Well, what did not make it any better for me was looking straight ahead down the cabin. This tip for nervous flyers is about shifting your gaze, looking somewhere else.
There is something about watching the plane’s motions in a wide-angle cabin view, that makes things seem a little more hectic than they are. The motions look bigger. A banking of the wing to turn might look like we’re going to be flying sideways at any moment. The takeoffs look steep, especially from up front, watching yourself rise while the back rows seem to fall. Even just the synchronized slight bobbing of heads in rows can be unnerving. Can make little bumps appear more turbulent than reality. Sometimes looking “through” the cabin—as in just staring forward at the whole interior of the plane—makes it more scary.
Oddly enough, looking out the window can sometimes alleviate this. “Oh, look, we’re not about to be perpendicular to the ground. We’re just doing a little turn to get to the airport.” Looking at your TV screen or phone is another tried and true distraction.
6. Meet the Crew
Having a conversation with your crew before the flight just might help to alleviate your anxiety about flying. During boarding, introduce yourself. Let the flight attendants know you’re a nervous flyer. Ask them to check on you at some point in the flight. I am always very happy to do this when someone has disclosed that they’re fearful flyers. It is also good for us flight attendants to know when there are very nervous fliers on board just in case any incidents should happen later in the flight.
You can ask to meet the pilots. Boarding is a busy time for pilots because they’re crunching numbers and pressing a lot of buttons, so they may say no, but it is always worth asking. Oftentimes they say yes, and you can go into the flight deck and shake hands with the person who will be flying you to your destination. Neat, huh? Putting a face to the experience makes the whole thing more human. You’ll get to see these are real people. They have families they want to get home to. And they’ve been doing this a long time. You’ll see how comfortable they are, and it might just put you more at ease.
7. Anchor Thoughts
This tip is stolen from Mel Robbins, motivational speaker and author of “The 5 Second Rule“, a dope self-help book that I have recommended to all of my friends and now to all of you.
The basic concept of the anchor thought goes like this:
Come up with a positive thought, something you’re excited for at your destination. Are you traveling to attend a wedding? Maybe the anchor thought is of your best friend in her white dress walking down the aisle. Going on a bucketlist vacation? Maybe you think of laying on a tropical beach. Maybe you are going to see relatives you haven’t seen in two years because of the pandemic. Maybe your anchor thought is an embrace with Grandma. Whatever your anchor thought is, make sure it is vivid and truly makes you feel happy—joyful even.
When you start to feel fearful on your drive to the airport, conjure that anchor thought. The dress, the beach, the hug. It will momentarily bring your mind somewhere other than fear. Someplace nice. Throughout your flying experience, from check-in to landing, use this trick. Every time you start to feel nervous or anxious, think of your anchor thought. If you are traveling with someone else, talk to them about it. “I can’t wait to see Rachel in her dress. I hope I don’t cry too much.” Talk to your neighbor about it. “I haven’t seen my grandma since 2019. I’m so excited.” If you’re traveling alone, revel in your anchor thought. Look up pictures of the exact beach you’re going to. Imagine the smell of coconut and a saltwater breeze. Get into it. You’ll notice you feel better. And if the anxiety over flying pops up multiple times, just keep anchoring. It’s a battle, and your excitement to reach your destination—that good, good thing you’re thinking of—will help you win.
In the book, Mel delves into the scientifics of how this method works, so if you want more information (Or if you just want to read a transformational book on breaking bad habits and literally living your best life) then read The 5 Second Rule. (I liked the audiobook.)She has also done a couple YouTube videos you can reference for more on anchor thoughts and curbing anxiety.
And that rounds it out, folx. The 7 best tips I’ve got for dealing with your fear of flying. I hope they can help to get you through your next flight. A-OK on the plane? Pass this along to someone you know who is a nervous flyer—Maybe one of these tips will be the right tip for them. Flight attendants and fellow travelers: Do you have any advice to share to help someone with a fear of flying? Let us know in the comments!
Thanks, as always, for stopping by. Here’s wishing that your next flight is the safest, chillest, BEST flight ever.
Interested in reading more Flight Attendant Tips? Check out these posts with insider secrets, solid advice, and everything you never needed to know about…well, you’ll see.