5 tips to overcome a fear of flying, according to an expert

A young woman with a fear of flying sits on a crowded plane on an aisle seat. She clutches a cup of coffee and looks perplexed and thoughtful.
Fear of flying is common in the UK, here's how to overcome it. (Getty Images)

A fear of flying, or aerophobia, is a common phobia for people in the UK. In fact, a recent YouGov poll found that at least one in 20 Brits have a fear of flying, which increases to nearly one in 10 British women.

The same data set found that 28% of people aged 18 to 24 are afraid of flying, which dropped to 19% for people aged 55 and over.

Anxiety UK says that fear of flying can be linked to the fear of airplanes, or other psychological problems like panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, and claustrophobia.

It adds that people with a fear of flying commonly fall into two groups: those fearing internal loss of control, and those who fear external factors like bad weather, turbulence, or a fault with the airplane.

A fear of flying can often be debilitating, especially as it can prevent you from travelling, or getting to loved ones quickly. However, there are some things you can do to help you overcome this fear – an expert reveals exactly how to do so, below.

Avoid caffeine beforehand

Caffeine in coffee or fizzy drinks could potentially lead to an increased heart rate and exacerbated anxiety before a flight.

"Remember, caffeine is a stimulant that may intensify feelings of anxiety during your flight," James Smith from Travel Lingual says.

"Instead, choose a soothing alternative like herbal tea, which can contribute to a calmer state of mind."

Understand what sounds to expect on a plane

"A lot of anxious fliers have reported feeling scared when hearing a double ‘ping’ sound during takeoff," Smith says.

"For most aircrafts, that simply means the airplane has reached 10,000 feet, and flight attendants can start their in-flight duties. Similarly, various bell or chime sounds serve as communication tools for the flight staff."

A cheerful young woman sitting on the airplane thanks an air stewardess for a blanket.
Flight attendants can help to ease your worries. (Getty Images)

He adds that any mechanical sounds you may hear, such as wing adjustments for takeoff or landing, are also normal.

"These mechanisms may appear louder or more alarming if you're seated closer to specific areas of the plane," he adds. "By familiarising yourself with these sounds and their meanings, you can alleviate your apprehensions and enjoy a smoother flying experience."

Talk to the flight crew

If you are feeling nervous, it’s OK to tell this to a flight attendant as they can often put you at ease by explaining anything you may be worried about.

"There are plenty of flight attendants, pilots, and other aviation specialists on online forums who can explain turbulence and other potentially scary flight factors," Smith says.

"For these folks, flying isn’t scary; it’s one of their passions. Exploring why they have this perspective can help calm you."

Check a turbulence forecast

"While it's common for travellers to check the weather forecast for their departure and destination cities, did you know you can also anticipate turbulence during your flight?" Smith explains.

"Several turbulence forecasters out there can analyse the wind and weather patterns along your flight path and provide a detailed chart of potential turbulence zones."

Female Person in airplane with aerophobia scared of flying being afraid while sitting in airplane seat and doing yoga for relax
Practicing mindfulness can be useful if you have a fear of flying. (Getty Images)

Practice mindfulness

Smith recommends using mindfulness techniques such as visualisation and deep breathing to help put yourself at ease if you feel fear or panic settling in.

"Try a combination of techniques in high-stress environments outside of flying first, so you know which ones work best for you," he adds.

"Many techniques exist to get your breath from panicky back down to normal. One is the 4-7-8 breathing method; this is a noted breathing technique that helps with anxiety, relaxation, and sleep. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold for seven seconds, and breathe out through your mouth for eight. Repeat up to four times."

In terms of visualisation, Smith recommends closing your eyes and painting a detailed picture with your mind as a distraction technique.

"When I’m nervous travelling, the best visualisation is picturing myself relaxing in the destination I’m going to," he adds. "It helps ground me and remind me why I’m going through the stress of traveling in the first place."

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