11 Ways to overcome your fear of flying

Richard Mellor

Many of us suffer from aviophobia—but there are methods and sensible tips to help control or master it

Therapeutic methods

VR experience
Aviophobia, or simply flying phobia, is a medical condition – as opposed to a mental or moral weakness, or failing – and, as such, there are medical treatments for it. 

One option is pre-experiencing a flight via a Virtual Reality headset to reduce fears. One UK company offering this is VRealityTherapy.

 

Latch on to triggers
CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) is another approach, involving noticing the start of your anxiety process and watching for warning signs or triggers. If you can see the process early, it is easier to arrest it.

 

Trial run
British Airways runs one-day ‘Flying with Confidence’ courses around the world, led by pilots, cabin crew and a clinical psychologist. Myths are exposed and tips dispensed before a short flight to help you apply everything learnt.

 

Practical tips

Arrive early
Rushing won’t help, so ensure you arrive at the airport in ample time to eliminate stress. Take your time and sit down with a tea after going through customs. 

 

Do some research
It can help too to simply know a little about how airplanes work: how such heavy machines can glide along, how air-traffic control ensures planes stay well apart, and so forth. The website A Guide to Psychology and its Practice is a good resource. 

The scariest part is generally turbulence. Read up about that, though, and you’ll learn that planes are perfectly well equipped to handle the odd meteorological bump. Knowing that should boost your confidence during the real thing.

 

Inspect the plane in advance
Finding out the type of plane you’ll be using to gain familiarity and help demystify it. There’s bound to be some footage of your jet online, while the website SeatGuru has diagrammatic plans of every one. 

 

Apply logic
Plane crashes are widely reported, while safe plane trips never make the news. Why? Because they are far and away the norm.

According to airline association IATA, there was only one accident for every 740,000 flights in 2018. Or try this: last year, 4.3 billion people flew, and there were 523 fatalities—approximately 0.00001% of passengers. In other words, disaster is very, very unlikely.

 

On board

Pack wisely
Familiar comforts go a long way to resolving stress. Wear your comfiest clothes and socks, and bring a favourite book or film to watch. Maybe there’s a sequel you’re dying to read or see.

If so, reserve that for your plane-ride; doing so might even make you look forward to—rather than dread—the flight.

 

Breathing exercises
Inhale slowly through the mouth, forcing your belly to expand and keeping your chest mostly still, then exhale unhurriedly through the nose. And repeat. 

If you start feeling nervous, doing this exercise should help. Ditto twisting the air-vent nozzle above your head to make sure oxygen is flowing around.

 

A suitable seat
Pre-book the most reassuring seat: on the aisle if you’re likely to feel claustrophobic or suffer from vertigo, or by the window if having a view of proceedings will bring subliminal comfort.

 

Be proud

Facing your fears takes tremendous guts. You don’t want to be bound by them, or have your life limited by them, and you are refusing to let that be the case..

Remember this at all times – that you are doing something difficult, but admirable and courageous – and take strength from it.