living well

14 Tips to Conquer the Fear of Flying

14 Comments 22 June 2011





view of airplane from inside airport

You really can look at the airplane you’re about to board and get excited about your travels!


Conquering the fear of flying might be easier than you think. One in three people have a fear about flying, but many people have learned how to conquer their fears–like me. I used to enjoy it as it was all part of the adventure when I first started travelling. Then I became really, truly terrified of it, writing wills and doing all sorts of silliness before each flight. As an expat, that had to stop or I’d never see most of my family again. I used a combination of NLP and other mind tricks to help bring myself back to feeling more confident about flying. You can get rid of the fear, I speak from experience.

Here are some basic but solid steps to get you started:

1. Discover the real fear.

People aren’t usually afraid of flying. They are afraid of falling out of the sky, the height, the total loss of control, or of the confined space, to name a few.

2. Once you have discovered the true fear, then you can address that fear.

For example, if you hate not feeling in control of a situation, look at why you hate losing control and how this anxiety can be changed.

If the loss of control makes you anxious, regain some control by consciously turning control over to the flight attendants and pilots. If you have chosen to turn the next X hours over to them, you still hold a sense of control by making that decision.

3. Re-programme how you feel about flying.

Using the example above, focus on the positive aspects of handing control over to someone else. If you were once anxious that the pilot might not know that there is a strange hum on your side of the plane, now focus on the high technology and many hours of training and practice that make the pilot aware of much more than you can imagine—sit back in your seat with a real sigh of relief that for this part of your journey you can turn everything over to someone else and just relax.

It helps me a lot to listen to all the people who love flying, rather than the people who don’t. I’ve recommended some books below and reading the sections written by pilots is a real joy. They LOVE flying, it’s their passion and they wake up each day delighted to go to work because they have their dream job. How wonderful to know the pilots at the front of my plane are so happy to be there doing what they do best!

4. Ignore the media

There is no such thing as ‘disasters happen in threes’ or anything like that, so don’t watch for air disasters on the news—remember all the millions and millions and millions of safe flights that are not reported.

Serious, turn the channel, click off the tab, just don’t fill yourself with ‘news’ reports from companies who’s job it is to sensationalise things in order to get more readers. Don’t let the media manipulate you. You have a choice.

5. Learn what to expect

Knowing some of the basics about how airplanes work will help reassure you when normal sounds and movements on the plane occur, such as a series of beeps, the movement of flaps on the wings, or the causes of turbulence. See my list of books below to help with this. In these the pilots have explained in detail every segment of a flight so you can better understand sounds and movements.

6. Reduce other anxieties

If you stay organised and prepared you will have less to worry about, less to amp up your anxieties before the flight:

– Have a general packing list that you stick in your top drawer in your bedroom so whenever you fly you know you won’t forget anything essential.

– Keep a reminder in your diary when you need to update passports or Visas.

– Buy a small folder that you can keep all paperwork in–as soon as you make any bookings, print off necessary receipts or schedules and keep them in this folder together with any other documents such as passports.

7. At the airport

Leave with plenty of time so you aren’t rushed. When you arrive, choose a quiet area—if you can afford it, paying extra to be in a quiet lounge available at some airports may well be worth it for you.

8. Learn relaxation techniques

As oversimplified as it may sound, deep breathing and focusing on positive aspects of a situation will help bring you back from irrational thoughts that take over your mind, spinning you into the panic attack and phobia zones.

Bring an iPod to help you with relaxation—either meditation or hypnosis tracks or simply relaxing music. A recording of a funny book or a stand up comedian is also useful—it is very difficult to feel fear and amusement at the same time!

Have you heard of Headspace? Check it out!

9. Learn mindfulness

Similar to relaxation techniques but even more wonderful. It is all about living in the moment, down to the very second. Know that each moment is perfect.

You do not let in any positive or negative feelings about past events, or any hopes or anxieties about future possibilities; you just focus on that one moment.

This is a powerful way to reduce anxiety and become more relaxed, happy and effective. Mindfulness will help you in many ways in life, not just when dealing with anxieties.

10. Fantastic professional help includes:

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)


Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Programmes set up by airlines.

11. Drugs

Yes, there are drugs that relax you but taking these is not always recommended because you are not treating the problem, only the symptoms. The problem still exists. Why not address the core of the fear and get rid of it totally?

However, drugs may have the benefit of taking the edge off the fear and help you to practice the relaxation techniques and other techniques listed above, developing more effective lifetime habits. Try Bach Flower remedies and Passiflora tincture as gentle alternatives.

12. Alcohol

Alcohol is not recommended for several reasons:

It is easy to overdo it making you ill, aggressive or causing you to pass out.

There is already a lower oxygen level in the cabin so side effects from alcohol are magnified.

Jetlag will be far worse.

You will have poor judgement in any emergency.

If you are intoxicated this will potentially ruin the excitement and/or need to be focused and alert in the first few hours of your arrival.

13. Focus on the destination

Think of flying as the wonderfully amazing invention that gets you and other people to places you want to be: a holiday you’ve been looking forward to, home to see family, to a job you enjoy, or off on other adventures.

14. Turbulence

Even though I am past my debilitating fear of flying I still get nervous with bad turbulence. I discovered that if you’re moving around you don’t notice it as much as when you’re sitting very still. Although the seatbelt light comes on when the plane arrives at strong turbulence and you can’t get up and walk around without very good reason, if you keep shifting position in your seat it really does help.

And remember that the plane is flying fast and will move through that turbulence quickly and before you know it, there will be smooth air again.

And especially remember that turbulence is really uncomfortable but it is not dangerous. No, really it is not dangerous. Research it if you don’t believe me.


Read current books on conquering your fear of flying, watch videos on YouTube (major airlines have published some). Books I highly recommend:

– Fly Without Fear, Captain Keith Godfrey

– Flying with Confidence, Captain Steve Allright and Patricia Furness-Smith

– The EasyWay to Enjoy Flying, Allan Carr. 


Don’t forget that it really is possible to get rid of the fear of flying. You may never relish the experience but at least you won’t feel completely controlled by it.

Now over to you, does anyone else have any tips for people who are struggling with this fear? Have you had an experience of conquering it yourself? Are you still struggling? Or do you have no idea what this must feel like–never had a worry about it at all?

And if you thought this was a useful post, please share it using the Share/Save button below–Thank you!

Oh, and here is another blogger’s tips on getting over the fear of flying,  Sky High: Getting Over the Fear of Flying

Your Comments

14 Comments so far

  1. Expat Mum says:

    M, thanks so much for all your support. BY the time we took off (11pm) after the stupid tornado, I was probably too tired to care, but as you say, my fear is plunging to my death for a protracted period of time. Very dramatic I know.
    I need to learn more about how a plane works and then I know I probably wouldn’t be so scared!

    • Michelloui says:

      Glad to see you finally got here, although sitting around in an airport waiting for a TORNADO to pass by probably does nothing to help the nerves! Sheesh.

  2. Louise says:

    This is such great advice. I used to be terrified until I had to travel a lot for business. I went with my boss whose husband was a pilot and she definitely helped me most with #5. When there was a noise, she would explain what was happening (and why it was a good thing and not the cause of my imminent death!)

    I won’t say I’m completely over it – I still clench in terror as soon as turbulence starts – but at least the fear doesn’t stop me flying anymore.

    I’m definitely going to try the shifting in my seat thing the next time things get bumpy!

  3. Iota says:

    Great advice. I read a book about this subject once, which really helped. I learnt more about planes, so that I no longer jumped at every noise, and I learnt relaxation techniques (pushing my foot hard into the floor wasn’t going to act as a brake, not ever… so consciously relaxing my thigh muscles was the answer to that one).

    I think that the fear of flying is often tied up with a seemingly unrelated fear – eg if you’re flying for work, you might be nervous about the business meeting you’re going to. I always feel more nervous going away than coming home. I’m A LOT better than I used to be. Given the choice, I’d always rather go by train, but I don’t dread flying like I used to.

    A friend of mine has recently been on a day course run by Virgin at Gatwick. She didn’t speak very highly of it – there were 200 people which she thought was too many. And people asked questions about anxieties she hadn’t ever thought of: “what happens if…?” so she felt she came away with a few more things to worry about. Jemima Khan was on the course (irrelevant piece of information). It didn’t work for my friend, but I’m sure it must be good for some people. Worth thinking about anyway.

    • Michelloui says:

      Actually the Jemima Khan comment can be relevant–sometimes it helps people to know that others struggle as well and if it is someone well known it is easier to imagine them than just ‘other people’. And very interesting info about the course–that would be a nightmare to learn new fears on top of any current ones!

  4. Good on you for overcoming your fear – seriously impressive

  5. I think having distractions to hand is key, a good book, podcast, etc. will engage your mind and stop it from wandering / worrying. As flying is a part of my life I try not to “go there.”

  6. Sarah B says:

    I’ve been working hard on this for awhile. I developed a fear of flying due to taking a long air flight just after my grandfather was killed in a car accident. For some reason my brain crossed wires and transferred my issues to planes versus cars.

    I’ve been doing NLP and hypnosis and most of the time it helps (I have some hypnosis sessions downloaded on my ipod that I listen to for weeks before my flight), but, sometimes when I’m just too exhausted or too anxious and I just take take a xanax.

    For the first time in 3 years I took a xanax for our plane trip to New York before we caught our cruise ship. The move to London just put me over the edge and I just couldn’t overcome the anxiety with all of my usual tricks.

    But, everything you’ve written is so great and I’ve used a lot of those to work through my issues. I’m glad you posted it for people like us who are searching for how to move past this :)

  7. KimberlyJ says:

    taking off and landing are really bad for me. anything else doesn’t bother me. i also refuse to look out the window, i get VERY air sick so I’m always drugged when I fly. when i make my trips across the pond, i arrive in pretty rough shape, i would love for vernon to see a well dressed, well rested beautiful put together woman when he first lays eyes on me after 2 years. But… that doesn’t happen. :)

    • Michelloui says:

      Lol! Even when I was thrilled to get on an international flight I never got off the flight looking good.

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