Fear of flying, or aviophobia, can make preparing to board an airplane stressful. In extreme cases, it may also cause you to avoid flying altogether.
The idea that flying is one of the safest forms of travel isn’t always enough to prevent a fear of flying from developing. Several aspects of flight from strange movements and noises to being in a confined space, among others, can trigger a fear of flying.
But you can take several steps to help overcome pre and mid-flight jitters and reduce the overall impact on your mental health.
There are several ways you may be able to overcome your fear of flying. Here are some tips and suggestions.
1. Understand your actual risk
Flying is one of the safest forms of travel. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), on average you would have to fly once a day for 10,078 years to be involved in an accident with at least one fatality.
They also showed that only 26 accidents occurred out of 25.1 million flights in 2021.
Compare that to car travel where in 2021 there were over 40,000 deaths involving car accidents. In 2019, reported data showed:
- over 5 million reported accidents
- over 1.9 million involved injury
- over 33 thousand involved death
In other words, you may have a much higher chance of getting into a car accident than a plane accident and have a much higher chance of injury or death from a car accident.
Knowing this may not help fully control anxiety or fear, but it may give you more confidence as you step onto the plane that your chances of being involved in an accident is very low.
2. Learn your triggers
The entire experience of flying can be triggering to anxiety and fears of flight. After all, you:
- need to get to the airport on time
- board a plane with a confined cabin
- hear noises throughout the flight
- feel pressure changes as the cabin pressurizes
- feel the speed of the plane as it takes off or lands
- experience turbulence or sudden changes in altitude during flight
Any of these or more can trigger fear if you’re already nervous about flying. You can help manage your fear if you can figure out what about flight is particularly triggering for you. From there, you can figure out ways to cope with the trigger.
For example, if sudden turbulence or movements in the plane triggers fear, you may find that watching the flight attendant’s reactions reassuring. They’ll often be unphased because they’ve experienced them frequently throughout their career.
3. Consider formal treatment
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) may be a helpful form of treatment for fear of flying. In an older
Consider seeking formal treatment for CBT using this tool to help you find therapists near you.
A doctor or psychiatrist may recommend or prescribe anxiety medication for temporary use prior to your flight.
It’s recommended that you take the medication shortly before flight to help calm your nerves and relax. Some medications a doctor may recommend include diazepam (Valium) or alprazolam (Xanax).
5. Plan your travel well
The more you can put into your control, the better you may find the experience of flying. Keep in mind, you have at least some control — most of the time — when flying. Taking control may help you manage your fear because you can:
- book only non-stop flights
- travel only on larger planes that are less prone to turbulence
- reserve priority boarding to avoid long lines getting onto the plane
- choose your seat in the middle over the wings
6. Try a fear of flying course
Fear of flying courses may help with reducing your fear of flying. These short courses offer training to help you feel better before your flight. They can help with both pre-flight fears and in-flight anxieties.
Depending on the course, a person may get to meet with and speak to actual pilots, board a plane without leaving the ground, or sometimes take a short flight. According to
7. Learn ways to manage your anxiety
You may find that many of the techniques used to reduce stress and anxiety in other situations may help you in-flight. In other words, you may find that you can relax through:
- practicing breathing techniques
- listening to relaxing music
- guided imagery using a recording
If you’re flying with a friend or family member, talking out your fears may also help. This can include letting them know what they can do to support you prior to and during your flight.
When to seek help
If you experience a fear of flying, you may want to seek professional help. If your fear is overwhelming, a doctor or psychiatrist can prescribe short term use of anxiety medications or provide CBT.
Signs you may need more help include:
- refusing to board a plane at all
- experiencing a panic attack during a flight or when at the airport
- finding that your fear does not go away during flight even when using different coping strategies
Fear of flying is a common issue that can have several triggers. You can take steps to manage the fear that include formal treatment options, like CBT or medication, or using coping skills to help you reduce your overall fear or anxiety both before and during your flight.
If you find that it’s difficult to control your fear, you may want to speak to a doctor or mental health professional. They may provide you with additional coping tricks, medication, or other treatment to help.