Has getting over the fear of flying become a priority for you? Do you imagine that everything that could go wrong on a plane, will go wrong? Does your anxiety cause your heart to race uncontrollably before, during and after the flight? Do you fear flying to the point you avoid even getting on a plane?
If any of these are familiar to you, you’ve come to the right place. Most fear concerning flying is irrational—it is a set of fears based on events that will very likely never take place. This guide will address safety issues of the air transportation industry and help you begin approaching flying based on facts rather than unfounded fear. Here are several tactics to help you overcome the fear of flying.
Know the Facts About Airline Safety
Virtually all forms of flight anxiety come from three root fears:
- Fear of the unknown
- Lack of trust in the airplane itself
- Lack of trust in airline personnel (pilots, mechanics, air traffic control, etc.)
Our aim is to shed some light on the unknown and share relevant information on the airline industry in general to help bring your level of anxiety down. It is important to note that the fear of flying is not a rational response to a legitimate danger.
It is a response based on irrational fear from within your brain. As you learn the facts about airline safety, you will be able to replace irrational fears and anxiety with a calmer mindset based on facts about airline industry safety.
No one can truthfully say that air travel is completely risk-free, and that you will never have a bad experience on a plane. However, it is the safest mode of transportation. Consider this quote from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) website:
“Air travel is the safest mode of mass transportation. According to Dr. Arnold Barnett of MIT, based on the accident rate over the last few years, you would have to fly on average once a day every day for 22,000 years before you would perish in a U.S. commercial aviation accident. In 1998 there were more than 10 million departures and not one fatality aboard a commercial aircraft.”
- Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) -
There was only a 1 in 20 million chance of being on a commercial flight between 2012 and 2016 that resulted in a fatal accident.
Additionally, consider that of all traffic deaths, 96.2% were from automobiles. Trains were a distant second at 2%. For more information on airline safety, see our plane crash statistics page.
How to Get Over the Fear of Flying
Sure facts, statistics, and quotes from some professor-type people are great, but actually overcoming the fear is a little different than just numbers on a screen. Consider some additional methods to overcome your aviophobia – that’s “fear of flying” in the scientific sense of the phrase.
There are 3 general categories, where all solutions will fall under at least 1.
- Classes / Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
In-person classes are your best bet for overcoming your fear of flying. These classes seek to address your fears directly, whether it's take-off, landing, turbulence, or the entire experience, without the use of medications or sedatives. In the technical sense, this is called ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’, or ‘exposure therapy’.
These classes will have trained professionals there to assist you in a controlled environment. So, in the event your anxiety begins to cause a panic attack, you can quickly be calmed down without any real danger or embarrassment.
Use the button below to find in-person classes near you
If you do not have an in-person class near you, there are two other alternatives. Online classes are available, and some virtual reality headsets offer a similar experience. You can learn more about those options by following the links below.
If you’ve tried a class or don’t have the time to do a full class, a trip to the doctor could be a possible answer. There are some commonly prescribed medications for treating the fear of flying; however, please consult with your doctor before using any drug or self-medicating with over-the-counter options. Do not mix any drugs or medications with alcohol.
If you’d like to learn more about some common prescriptions, follow the link below.
Some people swear by it, others think it’s just a bunch of hot air. Whatever your pre-existing belief of hypnosis is, one thing is for certain: it will not work if you don’t believe in it, or resist it. In other words, you have to be willing to give it a shot and eliminate even the most remote idea that it won’t work, for it to potentially be successful.
Hypnosis can be used to conquer your fear of flying, but it may not work for everyone, even if you do believe it will work. You have the option to work with a hypnotist in person, or online, however we suggest you try the other methods listed above first. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Medication have scientific grounds for their success, versus the anecdotal confirmations hypnosis has.
More can be read on hypnosis for fear of flying, by following the link below.
Reduce Airport Stress
Even for travelers without a fear of flying, the fast-moving pace of the airport is enough to trigger some people's anxiety. Let's take a look at some methods for reducing stress while traveling, which hopefully will help to reduce or eliminate your flight anxiety.
Booking Air Travel Tickets
As the saying goes, "If you fail to prepare, you have prepared to fail." Smooth travel starts with purchasing the right tickets. While there aren't any 'wrong' tickets you can buy, choosing certain layover times and areas you're flying through can make your travel experience easier.
For example, if you are flying from the East coast to Los Angeles and you have a connecting flight through Chicago or Dallas Fort-Worth, you'll want to pay attention to two critical things. One, what time of the year is it? And two, what layover options do you have?
The time of the year matters because of the weather. Chicago is much more likely to experience delays and cancellations due to snow and other inclement weather than Dallas Fort-Worth. On the flip side, in the summer, Chicago is expected to have milder weather as opposed to potential heat delays in Texas.
Secondly, you'll want to make sure you have enough of a buffer in your layover. Ideally, you'll get a direct flight in the first place, but that isn't always available. Sometimes your first flight may arrive late or face a more considerable headwind on the way to your first stop.
This isn't uncommon, and if there's only a one hour buffer between your first and second flight, you're likely to miss your second flight. Aim to have a least a 2-3 hour layover if possible. There are so many factors out of your control that having a little bit of wiggle room can be helpful.
The Night Before
For most people, this is pretty obvious, but pack everything you need the night before your flight departs. Do not wait until the last possible minute. What can go wrong, will go wrong. Secondly, this gives you additional time to remember items you may have forgotten the first time around.
Make sure you have the right carry-on and understand the rules of the airline you're flying on. If your luggage exceeds certain dimensions, you will be required to 'check it,' meaning it goes under the belly of the plane. There is an extra cost with this, and if you don't do it in the first place, it can cause you to be late for boarding.
Getting to the Airport
If you're in your home town and don't live too far from the airport, it's best to ask a friend or family member to take you. Or, at the very least, take an Uber, if not too expensive. Parking can get expensive for longer stays, and not having to deal with traffic on the way to the airport prevents unneeded stress.
Plan on arriving at the airport at least 2 hours before the scheduled takeoff time for your flight if flying domestic. For international flights, plan on closer to 4 hours. During the holidays, it would be wise to arrive 3-4 hours early for domestic flights and potentially 5-6 hours for international flights.
Checking bags and getting through security are your biggest hurdles. It's highly recommended to apply for and receive TSA precheck a few months before your flight, or register with CLEAR. Both of these programs make getting through security so much easier; it's a no-brainer to purchase them, especially if you have children or travel frequently.
If you have a smartphone, you are usually allowed to check-in for your flight up to 24 hours before it's scheduled to depart. "Checking-in," basically means you're saying, "Yes, I plan on being at the gate, ready to fly at the scheduled time."
If you don't have a seat assigned, this is typically when your seat is assigned. However, if it's not, don't fret. Some seats aren't assigned up until you begin boarding.
If you do check-in on your phone, it's recommended to also retrieve a paper copy of your boarding pass from a kiosk. This ensures that, if your phone dies, your screen cracks or the app doesn't work for whatever reason, you have a back up ready to use. Remember, you must have a boarding pass in order to board the plane.
Getting Through Security
Apart from making sure you reach your connecting flight, getting through airport security, aka TSA, is one of the most stressful parts of commercial air travel. As mentioned earlier, this is why it's recommended to purchase TSA PreCheck or become apart of the CLEAR program.
Both TSA PreCheck and Clear ensure you won't have to remove your shoes, belt, and scramble your way through security with tons of other travelers. All you have to do is put your carry-on through the scanner and then walk through a metal detector. Cake.
Boarding the Plane
Almost smooth sailing, or in this case, flying! This is one of the most uncomfortable parts of flying - trying to move sometimes 100+ people and their belongings through a narrow aisle way quickly and efficiently.
There is one thing that isn't going to help you: standing close to the gate for your boarding group to be called. It's better to sit and wait; otherwise, you'll be doing a lot more standing than you want.
Before boarding even begins, it's a good idea to move any of your inflight items into an easily-accessible pocket on your personal item (purse, backpack, etc.). Otherwise, you'll be reaching over people, and moving other people's luggage to get to the overhead compartment.
For example, putting your headphones around your neck, your book in hand, etc. Get everything out of your bag now, so you won't have to do it in the middle of the aisle way while everyone else is trying to board.
After scanning your boarding pass, whether the paper one or on the app, you'll walk through the Jetway. The Jetway, also called a 'jet bridge,' is an enclosed, movable connector that allows people to easily board the side of the plane from the rest of the actual airport.
Retrieving Luggage from Baggage Claim
After your flight has landed at your destination, make your way to baggage claim if you checked a bag in when you first arrived at your home airport. Typically the flight crew will announce which carousel your bag is at after the plane has landed and docked.
If not, check the monitors around each carousel and begin the wait for your bag to pop out on the conveyor belt.
Airline Safety FAQ
Now we’ll take a look at common questions involving the fear of flying, along with the facts involved:
What is the Chance of Dying on a Flight?
There was a 1 in 3.37 billion chance of dying in a commercial airline plane crash between 2012-2016, according to data from the National Transportation Safety Board.
Isn't a Car Safer?
Statistically speaking, a car is definitely not safer than an airplane. But to many, a car seems safer. A big part of this rationale goes back to the trust issue: In a car, you control your destiny and feel safer, while in a plane, you are not in control and experience more anxiety. This may be true—to an extent—but does it mean you are safer?
Consider this: To obtain a pilot’s license, you need years of training. To obtain a driver’s license for yourself, you merely need to pass a basic written and driving test. Plus, as a driver, you cannot control what other drivers do. Other drivers often drive while intoxicated or are distracted by talking on the phone, texting or fiddling with the radio.
Pilots, on the other hand, are constantly monitored through radio during a flight, all the way through the landing. From 2002 to 2007, there were 109 deaths due to aircraft crashes according to the FAA. During the same time period, 196,724 people died in automobile accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The FAA has estimated that flying is about 200 times safer than automobiles, which the previous statistics bear out.
How Do Airplanes Stay in the Air? Are They Really Safe?
Statistics reveal that 73% of anxious flyers are afraid of mechanical problems during flight. So an important part of getting over this fear is understanding how an aircraft works and learning to trust it. There are four forces that work together to allow a plane to fly: gravity, drag, lift and thrust.
I won’t get into the scientific explanations, but suffice it to say that the process allows planes to fly as naturally as it is for us to walk. As one pilot said it best, “planes are the happiest in the air.” Everything about a plane is designed to fulfill its purpose—to get its passengers and crew safely from one place to the other through the air.
Safety procedures includes repair and upkeep. Airlines engage in ongoing routine maintenance and overhaul planes as needed. For every hour that it flies, a modern airplane undergoes 11 hours of maintenance.
It may surprise you to know that jet engines are much simpler than those in automobile engines or even lawnmowers. This makes them much more durable and less likely to break down. And in the unlikely event that one of the engines fail? A plane is perfectly capable of running on one engine.
Is Turbulence Dangerous?
Turbulence is not dangerous. A bumpy ride on a plane tends to make those with flight anxiety even more nervous. But once you understand what causes it, you’ll understand why turbulence is common and not a cause for concern. You may have learned from weather reports that air pressure can fluctuate from one area to the next.
When a plane flies through an area of low pressure to high pressure (or vice versa), it causes a “bump” in the ride. These bumps aren’t dangerous, but pilots intentionally navigate away from strong turbulence to ensure the smoothest possible ride and the least anxiety for passengers.
Another fact to keep in mind: Modern planes are designed to handle much more intensive turbulence than they would ever encounter. Note: I've noticed that many airlines, including Delta, Southwest and Spirit now use the term "rough air," while United still uses "turbulence."
Is it Safe to Fly During Thunderstorms?
It is perfectly safe to fly through thunderstorms — planes are equipped to withstand lightning strikes. But a lot of people have a particular fear of flying during thunderstorms and other inclement weather. The weather is always monitored before and during the flight time, and sophisticated weather radar in planes can detect storms from 160 miles away.
If weather is too dangerous for flight, the flight will be delayed, or if you have already taken off, the pilot will fly around it or arrange a landing at an alternate airport. In addition to thunder and lightning, rain also doesn’t affect a plane’s ability to fly.
Will the Plane Crash Into Another Plane?
A plane crashing into one another is highly unlikely. Airliners are always in contact with Air Traffic Control (ATC). ATC can track all planes’ movement by radar and ensure they maintain a safe distance from each other. Additionally, planes have Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS) on board which lets them know to adjust their path as needed, so this is another concern that is largely unfounded.
Can the Plane Doors Come Open During the Flight?
No, plane doors will not come open during the flight. Once the aircraft is pressurized, there is nothing to be concerned about; it is impossible for the plane doors to be opened. At around 30,000 feet, there is 20,000 pounds of pressure holding them shut.
How Qualified Are Pilots? What Training Do They Receive?
Pilots are extremely qualified to safely operate aircraft. Airlines hire people who already know how to fly. These pilots come either from a military or civilian background and have already earned an air transport pilot (ATP) license and logged a minimum of 1,500 hours required as a prerequisite to applying at a major airline.
The training pilots get from airlines after hire focuses on learning to fly commercial airplanes and following Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines. Potential hires are thoroughly screened. They receive a battery of psychological tests to assess abilities and to ensure a stable personality.
They must then prove their abilities in a simulator. A physical and health history is also obtained; the presence or family history of a serious condition will likely end an applicant’s candidacy for the job. At the end of the process, a panel of pilots will perform an in-depth interview of the candidate.
When pilots are hired, they are trained for a period of time—an average of two to three months—on aircraft systems as well as FAA and company policies and procedures. The pilot must pass computer generated tests and an oral exam given by an FAA representative or FAA-appointed representative.
Next, simulator training prepares the pilot for a wide variety of events—both routine and abnormal—that a pilot will encounter in the air. This training covers instrument gauges, computer systems and emergency procedures. The newly hired pilot must demonstrate proficiency in every aspect of the job to an FAA or FAA-approved instructor (also called “check airman”) before continuing training.
In the first 15-25 hours on the plane they are assigned a company check airman. New hire pilots begin as a “first officer” and are supervised by the captain, who is also in charge of the rest of the crew as well as the plane and its cargo.
First officers begin on a one year probationary time period. The captain submits an evaluation of a new pilot’s performance each month. If the ratings are satisfactory, the probationary status is removed. It may decrease your anxiety to know that both captains and first officers undergo regular and extensive continuing education. They are also rechecked for proficiencies—annually for first officers, every two years for captains.
Take an Online Course
An online fear of flying course is a convenient way to get specialized help. A number of multimedia courses are available with practical tips and meaningful insight on how to learn to trust the plane and its crew, to cope with anxieties surrounding your perceived lack of control and to calm your episodes of panic.
One of the cons of online courses is the lack of a personal touch—some prefer dealing with someone in person. The SOAR fear of flying program partially addresses this by offering online counseling directly with the founder, Tom Bunn, an airline Captain and Licensed Professional Counselor.
The pros are the relatively inexpensive cost compared to other therapies and the ability to immediately access materials by experts dedicated to people who are scared of flying. Click here for an overview of our top recommended fear of flying courses.
See a Counselor
If you prefer in-person therapy, you can search for qualified clinicians in your area who specialize in treating patients with anxiety symptoms or disorders. The following is a breakdown of common mental health
professionals and their qualifications:
- A counselor or therapist hold a Master’s degree plus a particular license such as Licensed Professional Counselors or Licensed Clinical Social Workers. These type of therapists specialize in talk therapy.
- A psychologist holds a Doctorate degree (Ph.D or Psy.D) in psychology. Psychologists also specialize in talk therapy but also perform functions such as psychological testing and research. A handful of states allow psychologists to prescribe medication.
- Psychiatrists are physicians (or medical doctors—M.D’s) with a specialty in mental health. Many psychiatrists provide talk therapy. Many psychiatrists, however, focus more on medication management and leave the traditional hour talk therapy sessions to counselors, therapists and psychologists.
Download an App
Remember the early iPhone commercials touting, "There's an app for that!"? In the case of flight anxiety, there's an app for that. Several, in fact. Here are a few we like:
- Soar App: Created by Tom Bunn as a an addition to the SOAR course (mentioned above) or as a standalone aid. Features a G-force meter, weather and turbulence information and on-demand videos for dealing with anxiety and panic.
- Flying Calmly App: Supplies turbulence information along your flight so that you know what to expect.
Apps are best for those with milder forms of anxiety, but can be a handy on-the-go resource. For additional apps and details, see our fear of flying apps page.
Join a Community
FlyerTalk is one of the top forums covering air travel tips and information—you can get information about any aspect of the flight, including hotels and destination info. But it is made up of mostly travel enthusiasts, not fearful flyers, so it doesn't offer a lot of material focusing on travel anxiety. However, there are a few threads around the topic. Just go to the home page and use the search function to find what you're looking for.
A forum that does cater to flight anxiety is the SOAR forum. It's free to join and you can share stories, advice and tips with other people also working to get over the fear of flying.