I’ve always been a nervous flyer, since experiencing a particularly bumpy ride into Ghana a few years ago. Lots of people have tried to help me get over my fear of flying, but the usual tactics – deep breathing, meditation tapes, anti-anxiety pills, even having a drink or two while in the air – never seemed to work.

Now I feel more comfortable on planes, but I’ve had to develop my own ways of getting over the fear. These are some methods that I haven’t come across in any “fear of flying” research, and I’m happy to share them in hopes that others will feel better as a result!


1) Research the mechanics of flight

I always find it easier to get over a fear of something if I have a better understanding of it. For example, did you know that most planes can fly for over 30 minutes – AND safely land – during engine failure? That’s because most planes are equipped with at least 2 engines. And those weird buzzing sounds you hear during takeoff and landing? Most likely they are just the wheels being drawn in or released. You’ll feel a lot more comfortable once you realize just how resilient airplanes are.

2) Close your eyes

Sometimes, fear of flying is all about how the mind interprets the situation around you. Watching the land get further and further away, or looking out into a gray cloud of nothing, followed by the close proximity of the seat in front of you, can definitely make a person go crazy. But sometimes “out of sight, out of mind” psychology helps you feel a bit calmer – you can’t predict yourself falling out of the sky if you can’t see it.


3) Write/sketch/color/type

You want to distract yourself, but in a sort of thoughtless way. Reading, I find, takes too much concentration – you have to put words and phrases and sounds together, and it becomes a struggle between your brain and your anxiety (and anxiety always wins). I find drawing to be super relaxing however; I’m not a great artist, but doodling helps me focus on shapes, shading, and design in a different way. I try and sketch the seatback. I try to sketch my vodka soda. I try to make the word, “Vodka Soda” look as pretty as possible.

Freewriting is also a super effective way to channel your thoughts. Instead of freaking out to the person next to me, I write down every single thought or feeling going through my head as turbulence happens. It exhausts me to the point where I pass out on my notebook or laptop.

4) Pretend you are on a roller coaster

I hate flying because I equate the drop sensation to riding a roller coaster (which I also hate). But I’ve since ridden a few amusement park rides, which has actually helped me not freak out at every bump. When a plane drops deeply (like sometimes during landing, or during turbulence), I actually put my hands into the air and shout, “WOOOO IT’S LIKE A RIDE!” It tricks my brain into thinking I’m just at Hershey Park, and it also makes the people around me laugh, or join in.


5) Watch a stupid movie

I emphasize the stupid part, because I’ve tried watching “new” movies thinking that I’d distract myself by paying attention to the plot, the dialogue, the actors, etc. In reality however, I was too distraught by my own anxiety to concentrate. I prefer to watch films and television shows I’ve seen a million times over, or that don’t have a lot of substance to them, like Center Stage. Plus, I feel better knowing that after watching The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I’ll be landing in LA.

6) Look up flight-related statistics

These sometimes help put things into perspective: You’re more likely to die in a car crash, than a plane crash. Worldwide, the odds of being killed on one of the world’s 78 major airlines is 1 in 4.7 million. You are more likely to have a heart attack at your granddaughter’s sixth birthday, than you are on a plane. You’re more likely to survive a crash if you sit in the back of the plane (bad news for you, first class). And since most accidents happen within the first 30 minutes of takeoff and landing, once you’ve reached cruising altitude, you’re pretty much in the clear.

Some people need numbers or facts to help them get through a difficult situation. Knowledge is power, and the more you know and can apply to your own situation, the better you may feel overall about flying.

Photo on 11-11-14 at 11.33 AM

7) Dial in to the internet

If your flight offers wifi, whether paid or free, take advantage of it. Channel your fear into a stream of silly tweets, or chat with friends who can instantly calm your fears from their own devices. You know how it feels to get sucked into a 2-hour Facebook funnel; connecting to the net will help distract yourself with games, shopping, and of course, selfies!

8) Remember what it’s like to be the passenger of a horrible driver

After driving with my best friend five hours from Washington DC back to New York, clutching myself against the passenger side door as he sped and weaved between cars without using his blinker, my five-hour flight to Phoenix didn’t feel so scary. In fact, I felt more calm than I was on the road.


9) Travel with children

If you are one of those people who thinks kids shouldn’t be allowed on airplanes, think again! Kids are awesome to travel with, for a few reasons. If they are scared of flying, you will find that you naturally channel all of your energy into quelling their fears. It’s a great distraction, and you are helping them in the process. If they are fearless from the start, they get a kick out of trying to make you feel better. I’ve been in both situations, and it really does work!

10) Sit at the very back of the plane, on the aisle

The back of the plane is supposedly the bumpiest, but it’s also where the flight attendants sit. Sitting near them will not only make you feel better, but you’ll be able to talk to them, see what they are doing/how they are reacting (hint: if they are calm, you can also be calm), and won’t cause much of a scene if you happen to freak out.

You’ll also be near the bathrooms, which can be handy if you happen to pee a lot when you get nervous (I’ll often use the airplane restroom up to three times on a 2-hour flight). Sitting on the aisle assures that you won’t bother your flight mates while getting up and down as well. And since most flights board back to front, you’ll be assured to have an overhead bin, and can get settled before takeoff.


Flying is certainly not a stress-free event, but it can be a more pleasant experience if you find ways to relax that work for you. Letting your flight attendants know you’re a bit nervous can be helpful as well – they will check up on you during the flight, and might offer you some perks, like extra snacks/drinks, or in some cases, upgrades.

What else would you suggest to help overcome a fear of flying?

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All photos by Katka Lapelosova.