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For someone who likes to travel and has made a life being an American expat in London, I’m really not a fan of flying.
I am, what you would call, a “nervous flyer”.
Like, are you SURE this thing is going to stay in the air?
Maybe I was asleep in physics that day, but this all seems unnatural.
What is that noise?
Why is the plane turning sideways?
Oh, it needs to change direction to get to our destination.
Well, why is that man getting up? SOMEONE TELL ME WHY HE’S GETTING UP?!
Oh, he’s going to the bathroom. When is this over?
If this sounds like you at all, then these tips for nervous flyers will be a goldmine for all of you anxious flyers out there who are looking for advice for nervous flyers.
Now, part of talking about flying tips for nervous flyers is about pinning down which type of flight we’re talking about.
For me, short flights are not necessarily enjoyable, but counting down is a lot easier when I only have an hour and a half in front of me rather than 7+ hours at the minimum (in fact, my long haul flying tips include – don’t fly a budget airline like Norwegian airlines!)
That being said, I’ve come up with some ways to deal with both short and long-haul flights to help nervous flyers like myself.
1. Watch the flight attendants during lift-off and landing
As the plane rocks from side to side and you are 100% sure that you are about to be on your way to your impending doom, look at the person who is still delivering peanuts to your seatmate with a bored look on her face.
She (or he) does this every day, and it is so natural that they can’t be bothered to care about this rocky lift-off.
Want my best advice for nervous flyers?
If the flight attendants aren’t panicking, you’re not panicking.
I mean, you ARE panicking, because you’re a nervous flyer, but you shouldn’t be.
This really applies to all kinds of flights, including budget flights.
2. Listen to podcasts instead of music
Music is great for a shorter flight.
Turn on some tunes, let One Direction comfort you, boom, you’ve landed.
But for a longer period of time, I find that podcasts help me to ‘escape’ the anxiety more.
We’re often used to music being a background noise to our thoughts, whereas podcasts demand our attention and make us focus on what is being said.
If you’re looking to find a new podcast, I highly recommend looking at Spotify because they have an endless selection and it’s free!
3. Don’t obsess over the in-flight tracker
I am obsessed with in-flight trackers.
It’s almost like I feel as though if I WATCH the plane, it won’t fall out of the sky.
Well, guess what, that is crazy talk and you’re not helping anybody by staring at the in-flight tracker for hours on end.
Check in occasionally if you wish, but the time will go much faster the less you’re looking.
And yes I have watched the tracker for the entirety of a 9 hour flight, so I know what I’m talking about.
4. Make friends with your seatmate
Short flights are usually for strangers.
You may give a nod to the person sitting next to you, but otherwise you put in your headphones and keep to yourself.
Long–haul flights breed familiarity.
Sure, they were a stranger 2 hours ago, but now it’s dinner service and you’ve got 14 hours left and they’ve already climbed over you 3 times to go to the bathroom.
So, hello, Grandma Sue (can I call you that?), how are you today?
Not a nervous flyer?
Tell me your entire life story so I can tell you mine.
Can I come visit at Christmas?
5. If you must watch the clock, use short intervals
If you’re insistent on keeping track of the time and are as neurotic as me, use small intervals.
Instead of saying “I’ve got 9 hours left,” tell yourself you only need 4 15-minute intervals to get through the next hour.
Then once you’re there, start another marking system so you feel like you’re making progress quicker towards your ultimate freedom and life back on the ground.
6. Lift Your Feet Up During Turblence
Part of my insane fears about flying involve turbulence.
As we’ll talk about in a minute, turbulence is well prepared for in pilot training and when buildling planes and isn’t a cause for concern.
That being said, feeling turbulence can still make you nervous, but if you actually lift up your feet, you usually can feel less of it.
I keep this technique in my back pocket for when it gets really bad, and it’s an instant relief.
7. Take a Fear of Flying Course
There are plenty of Fear of Flying courses offered all over the world, including ones at airports where they will take you on a test flight in order to demonstrate things to you.
This is known as exposure therapy, and is one of the best ways for nervous flyers to conquer their flying fears.
By doing it more often, you learn the sensations that you feel and it becomes much easier over time.
Choose to do a Fear of Flying course with a buddy so you have someone there for support.
8. Do Your Research
This is a suggestion for anyone who can trust themselves not to goo too deep into airplane crash videos, but if you do your research about the physics of flying and listen to interviews with pilots who talk about your training, you may feel more at ease when in the air.
I know that there are a few key facts that I try and remember about planes at all times (for instance, how the wings are built to withstand more force than could ever possibly be put on them) that I remind myself of when I feel things are getting scary.
9. Tell the Flight Attendant You’re Nervous
One of my top tips for nervous flyers is to just speak up to the flight attendants.
This works better on some airlines than others, but most will be happy to put your fears to rest and tell you how long they’ve been flying and how mundane it has become for them.
On some airlines like Virgin Atlantic, they’ll come to check on you, offer to sit with you at scary points if there are empty seats and give you that little bit of extra attention to make sure you’re doing well.
There’s no shame in telling someone your fears, particularly when the job IS mundane to them and talking to you throughout the flight is a welcome departure from the usual.
10. Bring a Comfort Item
Whether it’s a small stone that you can clutch or the perfect pair of cozy socks, bringing a small comfort item or wearing your most loved outfit can help put you at ease.
As much as possible, make the little world of your airline seat (not much, I admit) as cozy and familiar to you as possible so you can mimic your surroundings when on the ground.
11. Watch Flight Trackers on the Ground
If you’ve ever watched flights on websites like Flight Radar when on the ground, you’ll see just how many flights in the air every day and how all of them land without incident.
It’s a great reminder as to how common flying is – right now, as you read this, there are so many planes in the air above you, and their passengers are just going to get off the plane in a normal fashion when they get to their destination.
You will too!
12. Use Turbulence Forecast Apps
On good flights, the pilot will come on to tell you about any forecasted turbulence, but you can also take this into your own hands by using a Turbulence forecast app.
By putting the power of research and knowledge into your own hands, you can know what to expect and prepare yourself ahead of time.
13. Learn about Mindful Breathing
For me, part of the fear of flying comes with breathing problems when I’m in the air and anxious when flying.
By learning about techniques such as mindful breathing and how to stay calm when stressed, you’ll be much more able to control your breaths.
Use this technique when you’re scared, but also use it throughout the plane just to help you stay grounded and calm.
14. Look at the Ground Staff
Another place I look to when I’m trying to calm my fears about flying before getting on the plane is to look at the ground staff.
They load and unload so many flights per day, that sometimes you can really tell how boring it is to them!
Use that to your advantage!
They’re certaintly not all scurrying around wondering if your plane is going to crash.
They’re just trying to get you on board as fast as possible so the airline can stay on time – and if there is drama or delays, it’s always down to them making sure the flight doesn’t go until everything is accounted for and they are satisfied that the flight will be safe.
15. Visualize Your Arrival
No matter where you’re going, I bet you have some plans when you get there, even if it’s how you’re getting home from the airport.
Keep these plans in mind and focus on them.
Visualize what you’re going to do when you get off the plane, and think about your plans in your destination.
This will keep your mind focused on the future and what will happen, rather than your irrational fears of not making it there.
16. Think of the Times You’ve Landed Safely Before
If you’ve ever flown before, you’ve made it in one piece!
Think back to those flights and remind yourself that you have done this before and been safe, and you will do it again with the same result.
This is particularly helpful if you flew while scared before.
You can identify that you had the same feelings before, and yet – you still made it!
17. Reach Out to a Facebook Group
There are plenty of Facebook groups for nervous flyers to join so you can commiserate and help boost each other up.
One thing that many of them to is offer to have people “track your flight” while you’re on it, which may feel comforting as you have people who are essentially aware of where you are and tracking you as you travel.
Types of Nervous Flyers and How to Spot Them
For a little bit of levity, enjoy these types of nervous flyers and how to spot them.
Which one are you?
1. Grabby McGraberson
Grabby McGraberson is all about clutching things intermittently when the plane has even the slightest bit of turbulence.
They usually have the sweatiest palms, mostly because they spend all of their time in contact with the armrest/seat in front of them/person next to them who they’ve never met and are now invading their personal space.
You’ll usually be able to spot this person easily on take-off, because they’ll be clung to their armrests so tightly that their hands are turning red.
If you’re a fellow nervous flyer, sitting next to one of these people can be terrible because their anxiety is palpable and can put you on edge hearing them gasp and cling on to their safety card every 10 seconds.
2. Track It Till it Hurts
This is me to a tee, and the only way I can describe this person is to tell you that they are the person who tracks their entire 9 hour flight via on the on-flight tracking system.
Oh, you say, I track the flight too!
When I’m done with my TV show, I always check to see how much longer we have left to go!
A true “Track it till it hurts” will not indulge in frivolous things like on board movies or games.
The only way to somewhat calm their craziness is for them to sit there tracking the temperature outside the plane and watching the plane inch slowly across the screen.
Hour by hour.
Minute by minute.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a 2 hour flight or a 17 hour flight, these types of nervous flyers will be glued to the tracking system.
I don’t really understand what comfort things brings me, other than being able to confidently say at all times that the plane is still up in the sky and going towards its destination.
You don’t want to be sitting next to one of these types when the plane veers even the remotest inch off course, though.
3. Zoned Out (on Something)
I have never been able to be this kind of flyer because I’m too worried about having a bad reaction to something while stuck in the atmosphere, but it’s likely that the person who is knocked out from take off to touch down is probably on something to help them sleep/zone out/pretend like they are not on the plane but instead lounging on a beach chair in the Bahamas.
4. Flight Attendant’s Best Friend
The advice for nervous flyers is always to tell the flight attendants that you’re nervous so they can talk to you and help calm you down, but the Flight Attendant’s Best Friend takes this too far.
Like a puppy following its owner around a tiny, enclosed, space, this type of nervous flyer will be all up in the flight attendant’s proverbial grill while they’re trying to serve other passengers their soggy chicken and pasta.
You might be able to spot them because they laugh a little too loud, smile a little too wide, and generally have all eyes fixed on their favorite flight attendant (this is different from the ‘You’re All Shifty’ type, which we will discuss later.)
I feel like the end motivation for this type of flyer is the hope that the flight attendant’s will save them first in case of a fiery wreck, but I’ve never bothered with this message as combining my social anxiety with flight anxiety is just way too much, thanks.
5. Distract at All Costs
Completely opposite from the Track it Till it Hurts, this type of nervous flyer is alllllllll about the distraction.
Not only do they have the latest Blockbuster on their in-flight entertainment system, but they’re also listening to a podcast in their other ear, working on their laptop, reading a book, and carrying on a conversation with their seatmate at the same time.
Even when the food comes around, they don’t dare take a break for too long lest they remember WHERE THEY ARE, so they just frantically press buttons and fast forward and rewind and fidget in their seat and change the movie 18 times.
If you try to talk to them, you’ll either be shut out or they’ll engage you in a frantic conversation about nothing and everything all at once until you hardcore regret ever having opened your mouth.
6. Keeping This Plane Up By Myself
I have been this person too many times to count, and while typing it out here sounds incredibly irrational, trust me, it makes sense when you’re up there.
Basically, this nervous flyer is all too convinced that the only way the plane is staying up in the air is if they continually think about it and position their body/eyes in the exact position needed for it to stay up.
For some, this manifests as gluing their feet to the ground.
During turbulence, I suddenly change from a “Oh, I hate this” flyer to “OH MY GOD, IF I DO SO MUCH AS LIFT ONE OF MY FEET OFF OF THE GROUND RIGHT NOW, WE’RE ALL GOING DOWN.”
This is the person who can’t sleep because they need to make sure the pilot knows where’s he’s going, can’t go to the bathroom because the movement of their body to another part of the plane would surely bring the whole thing crashing down, and can’t so much as get their book out of their backpack under the seat in front of them without worrying that their 5 second lapse of concentration on keeping the plane up is going to be the end of them.
7. You’re All Shifty
Especially in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and media stories that tell us to be afraid of terrorists and people who are not as intensely concerned about getting to our destination as we are, the “You’re All Shifty” type are instantly suspicious of anyone doing literally anything on a plane.
I have given myself almost a panic attack based off of someone spending a little bit too much time in the bathroom (according to my precise calculations on how much time they should spend in there based on absolutely nothing).
I have received an awkward glance from a person in an aisle seat on my way back from going on a little jaunt down the aisle and instantly known that they were about to rush the cockpit (spoiler alert: has never happened).
“You’re All Shiftys” basically turn into a one-person episode of 48 Hours Hard Evidence where everyone has a motive and is out to get them in some way.
When my fear was at its worst, I hardly trusted a flight attendant.
What if they hated their jobs and were going to try to down us into the Atlantic Ocean?
What if they had a bad day because their boyfriend broke up with them and they’re going to try to open the door and throw us all out?
I am pleased to say that I have a 100% successful record in incorrectly thinking someone was about to do something nefarious on my planes.
I can also say that there is a 100% chance that I will still be judging my seatmates for the entire duration of the flight all the same.
What Nervous Flyers Should Bring on the Plane
If you’re going to be panicking for the better part of your journey, you had at least do it in style.
And if you want to get really crazy, they even make audio books that you can listen to in the air to help your fear of flying.
I haven’t tried these because I’m too busy keeping the plane in the sky, as previously discussed.