Travel tips to overcome your fear of flying

Friday newsletters always feature luxury travel conteststipsseries, or news.

Today (June 10, 2016): travel tip: How to overcome a fear of flying?

This may come as a (minor) shock to most of you – since I publish a lot of flight trip reports on this blog and since I am one of the most popular Youtubers posting flight clips – but I am terrified of flying (despite having an absolute fascination for the airline industry and being a frequent flyer). And apparently, I am not alone since it is reported that 25% of people have at least some fear of flying, while about 1 in 10 people have a phobia of flying.

While it was not a problem for most of my life, it all changed when I was in my younger thirties and took a transatlantic, overnight flight on Continental Airlines (now United) from Newark to Brussels on a stormy April night. Mid-flight, the Boeing 767-400ER encountered some severe turbulence. I still remember the screams of other passengers (including flight attendants strapped in their seats behind me), the freakingly abrupt plane movements (it did feel like sudden drops of several tens of feet), the crackling and never-heard-before sounds of the aircraft’s interior, the brief interruptions of the inflight entertainment program, the frequently changing tones of the aircraft’s engines duing the event, and the terrifying looks in everyone’s eyes. It was horrible, absolutely horrible. It lasted for only 20 minutes, but it felt like hours, and it completely changed the way I feel on a plane.

Since that event, I am one of those guys on the plane that behaves apparently unremarkable on the outside, but is quietly dying on the inside. I uneasily move around in my tight seat every time the planes makes a turn (as if I want to counteract the plane’s movement); I don’t have any appetite during the flight despite being served quite often delicious food in Business or First Class; I think of the most unlikely, worst case scenarios when the captain turns on the fasten seatbelt sign; and I make a prayer before takeoff even if I consider myself to be non-religious. The recent midflight disasters with state-of-the-art planes of highly respected airlines such as Air France, Malaysian Airlines, Air Asia, and Egypt Air have not helped either. What makes it difficult to cope with my fear of flying, is that my anxiety is very unpredictable, sometimes it’s there and sometimes it isn’t. Over the years, I noticed though that it mostly happens on overwater flights when the plane is cruising hours away from the nearest diversion airport and the civilized world. Apparently, my fear of flying is more related to being at an uncomfortable distance from land (especially in the unlikely case that something would go wrong) than with flying itself.


It has been said many times before: you’re more likely to die in a car accident on the way to the airport than on the plane. While it is certainly true, this reassuring knowledge has not really helped calming my nerves (since I am still not in control of the plane). I have read tons of tips on the internet to help alleviate my fear, but I found none of them to be very efficient. Nevertheless, I did succeed in overcoming my fear of flying to some degree by applying my own, not always very conventional strategies to cope with the process of flying, and today, I want to share them with you.

If you have any tips to conquer your fear of flying, please share them in the comments

  • I try to stick to one airline (British Airways in my case) for most of my travels, since it makes the flight experience more predictable, hereby easing my nerves. What really helps is that British Airways not only has an inflight video to make anxious flyers like me feel more confident, but also that their professional and highly skilled crew always uses the exact same routine for passenger communications. For example, the flight crew always talks over the intercom to the passengers before take-off and 40 minutes before arrival (no matter how short the duration of the flight may be), and the cabin crew always addresses the passengers following their flight crew colleagues’ announcements. Somehow, this predictable routine (often lacking with other airlines, such as Brussels Airlines, which has its hub at my preferred departure airport Brussels) makes me feel a lot more comfortable.
  • This may sound rather controversial, but watching all episodes of the Mayday or Aircrash Investigation series did help me to better understand why flying is so safe these days (they are all available on Youtube). Although these series share the stories of some of history’s most heartbreaking airplane disasters, they do it in a non-sensational way, focusing on the events that led to each disaster and their causes as determined by the official investigation. That is how I learned that one of my biggest fears – a midair collision between aircrafts – is in fact a very irrational thought since most planes are now equipped with technology to prevent these kind of disasters from ever happening again.
  • read articles on the website Aviation Herald, which reports on daily incidents and accidents in civil aviation. This excellent site is run by Simon Hradeck, an Austrian expert in aviation safety. Reading the Aviation Herald, and the comments of airline professionals, made me realize that the aviation industry is indeed one of the safest out there, with multiple layers of protection preventing the aircraft from crashing when something goes wrong. I learned that planes can fly on one engine for hours, that inflight cargo fires can be suppressed, and that smoke in the cabin is a terrifying but mostly harmless event.
  • For most, flying Business or First Class is a privilege and pure delight. The premium cabins offer flatbeds, delicious food, and excellent service. In addition, the ground experience is much better, with priority check-in, fast lanes at security check points, and access to lounges. For me, the main advantage is that flying Business or First Class offers a less claustrophobic environment, with enclosed suites where I can quietly and discretely cope with my stress without being disturbed and watched by others. From a nervous flyer’s perspective, flying Business or First is so much better and different from Economy or Cattle Class, since the latter brings up the worst in one’s behavior, substantially lowering the stress and anxiety thresholds of everyone in that cabin.
  • I used to drink alcohol and/or take sleeping pills on a plane, with just one goal in mind: falling asleep as fast as possible so that I would not have to endure the flight in a conscious state of mind. However, I learned the hard way that this did not help at all: the pills and alcohol made me feel mentally cramped and exhausted (since I could not fall asleep anyway) and at one time, I even developed onboard hallucinations because I took too many sleeping pills (with plenty of green trolls crawling over the airplane seats). Since then, I refrain from drinking alcohol or taking medication on a plane, and it paid off as I not only regained my tranquility in the skies, but also learned to fall asleep the natural way for a couple of hours during most of my longhaul flights.
  • I avoid overnight, redeye flights as much as possible, since I like to be aware of my spatial surroundings by looking out from the airplane’s window (which somehow gives me peace of mind).
  • Although I realize very well that turbulence cannot bring down a plane (and never has), it still scares the hell out of me every time it happens. Only watching a Youtube clip like this one gives me cold sweats. I know, I shouldn’t be watching this kind of stuff at all, but it is stronger than myself. Nevertheless, I always find it very comforting when the captain upfront announces that we will pass through a pocket of rough air since somehow, the anticipation of a turbulent situation makes it way better to cope with it. In addition, before flying, I always have a look at the website Tubulence Forecast, which offers a tool that gives an estimate on how turbulent your flight might be. Just don’t use it a justification to cancel or alter trips, rather use it as a tool that makes the occurrence or absence of turbulence on your flight a more predictable – and thus less frightening – occurence.
  • If possible, I try to get a seat directly over the plane’s wings since this part of the plane always experiences reduced levels of turbulence intensity: the wings keep the plane flying smoothly, while the roughest spot in turbulent air is usually the plane’s far aft — the rearmost rows closest to the tail.
  • As I mentioned above, flying over vast masses of water – hundreds of miles away from a diversion airport – makes my mind running wild and thinking about disaster scenarios that are very unlikely to happen, such as an inflight fire, loss of navigation systems, dysfunction of weather radar systems in the Intertropical Convergence Zone, or engine trouble in a two-egined plane. However, I did read a lot about flying overwater, and as such, gained some non-expert knowledge of overwater ETOPS flights, which are subject to stringent requirements (a somewhat reassuring thought when I have to cross an ocean). The term ETOPS stands for “Extended Range Operation with Two-Engine Airplanes, although some also smilingly refer it to as “Engines Turn Or Passengers Swim”. As outlined on this very informative Wikipedia page, ETOPS certification is a two-step, highly controlled process, where irregularities would immediately lead to a downgrade or suspension of the ETOPS capabilities of an airline:
    • First, the airframe and engine combination must satisfy the basic ETOPS requirements during its type certification. Such tests may include shutting down an engine and flying on the remaining engine during the complete diversion time. Often such tests are performed in the middle of the ocean. It must be demonstrated that, during the diversion flight, the flight crew is not unduly burdened by extra workload due to the lost engine and that the probability of the remaining engine failing is extremely remote.
    • Second, an airline who conducts ETOPS flights must satisfy their own country’s aviation regulators about their ability to conduct ETOPS flights, which involves compliance with additional special engineering and flight crew procedures in addition to the normal engineering and flight procedures. Pilots and engineering staff must be qualified and trained for ETOPS.
  • The one thing that helped me the most to overcome my flying anxiety is to have something else to focus on while flying. That is why I started taking photos and clips during my flights in the first place, and publish them afterwards on my blog and Youtube channel. That they became so popular has somewhat complicated my story, since I now feel a drive to publish even more trip reports (and thus fly more).
  • Last but not least, I don’t board airlines with a poor safety ranking. I always avoid flying one of the carriers listed on the European Union’s black list. The latter represents a list of (unsafe) airlines banned within the EU. In addition, I always inform myself about the safety reputation of an airline on the website Airline Ratings. Although I realize very well that ranking airlines according to safety is a very delicate and highly discussed debate, it always reassures me a bit when my airline has an excellent safety reputation.

Enjoy the weekend and stay tuned for Monday when I reveal a new top 10 travel list.

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  1. Wow, I never would have suspected your fear considering all the places you travel to. I have a very similar level of fear that’s developed over the past 10 years, especially when over water. (Hawaii kind of terrifies me!) I really like your idea of flying with one airline that has a good safety record. Yet it’s so unfortunate that these days passengers and ground crew may present the biggest threat to our safety. Excellent, honest post. Safe travels!! 🙂

  2. That’s incredible to see how I could have written (in almost every detail provided) your post “travel tip: How to overcome a fear of flying?’
    I was really surprised to see how similar we feel for that : that’s my flying life story!!! Except that it started not with a turbulence but with a diversion after the Captain has announced in a shaking voice that we have divert and land for “technical reason”. These were the scariest 20 mn of my life, nothing happened but I just realized that “this could happen to me” and started to fear from flying!
    And by the way, your tips are great and they work!

  3. Thank you very much for sharing this. I have started following your YouTube site in large part because I find it helps allay my own fear of flying. In fact I was thinking how nice it would be to be as relaxed as you seemed to be about flying! Thank you for sharing your advice and experience – it’s most helpful.

  4. Flights between the westcoast and Hawaii are quite a challenge for my nerves as well. The good news is that so far, I am not cancelling or changing my travel plans because of my fear of flying. If all goes well, I will travel again to Hawaii next summer. Keep up the great work on your blog!

  5. Oh my God
    Every single thing you described about your fears is the same for me . I never talked about my fears to anyone. Thanx for sharing your exerience .I am currently using anxiety medication and sleeping pills to sleep throughout the flight .even when flying business and as a result I don’t enjoy the food or the service

  6. your just like me, when the pilot is making a turn i always move the other side to try and stabalize the plane. thanks for the tips it helped me alot

  7. I can relate to many of the things you describe and these are all great tips! Perhaps one additional thing I usually take into account is the aircraft’s wing load (the loaded weight of the aircraft divided by the area of the wing). The higher the wing load, the less likely a plane will be shaken by turbulence. As such, the B747 and A380 are my preferred choices whenever available.

  8. I completed 25yrs service with Air New Zealand, the last 10yrs in Load Control responsible for aircraft weight limits not being exceeded, tracking the C of G as the plane is loaded with passengers and/or freight, eventually passing these results to the flight deck. Your article could easily have been written by me, even after the experience of my job, I fly with a constant companion, anxiety.. Slight bumps in the journey have me waiting for a bigger one, the seat belt sign is a signal to tighten my belt. Whilst reclining, the slightest bump has me sitting up straight with my feet flat on the floor as though that would make a difference to the safety of the aircraft..I still fly though, our family is separated by continents so it is a necessity, I become a very confident flyer when walking the airport concourse at our destination..Thank you for the article. .

  9. hi, today is the 1st time i saw your video, weird enough, as i m crazy about air plane videos, be it manufacturing to announcement of new planes to accidents or whatever … likewise you, i am also a frequent flyer and every single word you wrote, i am shell shocked I also do and myself follow and i love the fact that there is some1 exactly similar to me exist.
    the only thing differs is, i don’t drink alcohol anyway and i always bought pills but till today never took them. as a religious person, i do pray a lot in good and bad times, almost during the whole flight time and that does help me a lot to control my nerves. and trust me, i hardly eat on the plane. coz i always felt, that turbulence happens during food time. also i talk to air hostess a lot and they help me a lot after realizing my situation and make my mind away from the turbulence situation.
    one thing i also do, which i m sure u also do it but may b didn’t mention is … i look at the path of the plane before travelling and i check the air craft recent history and also the current political situation from the country i m flying to the countries in middle. also, i keep notice of global warmining effects on the my flight’s path, includes volcanoes and earthquake possibilities, as i did face turbulence on my trips to Indonesia and ice land due to such phenomena.
    also i would love to know you more and talk to you. as i truly felt, we are super similar persons on the air plane and may b we might bump in same flight in near future. as i love travelling equally, have travel-led almost 41 countries, though still in early 30s and would love to make it to 50 countries in exploring the beautiful world 🙂

  10. I’m getting ready to take my first flight (that I can remember) in a few weeks and I came across your YouTube channel. I couldn’t believe that you’re afraid of flying, but after reading this, it sounds like your fear of flying is like my fear of heights in that it has some conditions. It’s amazing that you can fight it the way you do!

    BTW, I’m also a big fan of “Mayday,” but here, it’s known as “Air Disasters.”

  11. I was highly surprised about your fear of flying. I wonder if your experience has become a little easier since you first broached this subject 3 years ago. I have learned to have faith in reputable airlines’ safety records. As a solo traveller, I don’t have anyone to reassure me, but I don’t tend to worry much now. Taking photos can be a good distraction as I discovered on my first really bumpy ride in a (single-engine) Beechcraft Bonanza some years ago. More an A350/380 person now, if possible in Business Class, just in front of the wing. I actually relish the rush of take-off and give the pilot/s points out of 10 for landings – both good distractions. 🙂

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