How to cope with a fear of flying

Virgin Atlantic Airbus A350
Image from Virgin Atlantic
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
22 August 2019

For many, air travel is an enjoyable experience: it’s an opportunity to catch up on sleep or some new cinema releases. For others, however, the mere thought of flying results in sweaty palms and a sense of dread. We’ve got some tips to help nervous flyers cope with travelling by plane…

Learn

Learning how the plane works can really help some people. Knowing exactly what’s happening as the plane takes off, reaches altitude and then lands at your destination could help put your mind at ease. It’s also a good idea to look at the airline’s safety statistics – many airlines have never experienced a major incident.

Alternatively, clinical psychologist Elaine Iljon Foreman, who specialises in helping people with a fear of flying, recommends visiting an airport before you’re due to fly. “Familiarise yourself with it. Watch planes taking off and landing,” she says. “Look around and notice how relaxed most people appear.”

Prepare

Before your flight, you might benefit from learning some relaxation techniques that you can employ once you get on the plane. Consider downloading an app such as Headspace, which will guide you through meditations to help you keep your calm.

On the day of your flight, try to reduce any other stress you might encounter. You don’t want to develop anxieties about being late to the airport or getting stuck in a queue at security. 

Leave with plenty of time to get to the airport, account for traffic and any other potential issues you could face en route. As much as possible, stay positive and focus on what you will be doing once you arrive at your destination, rather than on the flight itself.

Two cabin crew members stand in front of a Virgin Atlantic plane called Daydream Believer
Image from Virgin Atlantic

On the flight

Once you get on the plane, it can be a good idea to let the cabin crew know that you’re a nervous flyer as they can help to reassure you. Virgin Australia customers who identify themselves as nervous flyers at the booking stage receive a distinctive logo on their boarding pass so that cabin crew know to keep an eye out for them.

If you’re travelling with someone else, talk to them – try to focus on the conversation, rather than how you’re feeling. If you’re flying solo, then read a book, listen to some music or watch something on the inflight entertainment – anything that will help to take your mind off any anxiety you’re experiencing. 

Now is the time to put those relaxation techniques into practice too. Virgin Australia offers meditation guides through app-based mindfulness platform, Smiling Mind and Virgin Atlantic has a partnership with Headspace, so you can access mindfulness training through the inflight entertainment.

Helping others 

Maybe it’s not you that has a fear of flying but someone you’ll be travelling with. Here are a few ways you can help them:

  • Take the fear seriously. Above all, don’t dismiss it.

  • Pay attention to the other person. Don’t abandon them, even if they seem to be putting up a barrier. Try to prevent them from withdrawing into themselves.

  • If you become scared, admit it. This will help them see fear is not so unusual.

  • Talk about something that interests the other person. For example, what you’re going to do when you arrive.

  • Help them feel better about flying by giving them compliments once they have flown. This will help them have more courage for the next time.

Virgin Atlantic offers a one-day Flying Without Fear course to help people overcome a fear of flying. On the day, you’ll meet an experienced and reassuring Virgin Atlantic Captain, who’ll explain everything from the noises aircraft make, to how something so big stays in the sky. Afterwards, you’ll work with an expert psychotherapist on ways to adjust your thinking. Then you’ll take you a 45-minute flight, to leave you actually looking forward to future journeys.

Visit Virgin Atlantic to find out more about the Flying Without Fear course.