Does this photo set your heart a-racin'? You're not alone.

Does this photo set your heart a-racin’? You’re not alone.


Afraid to fly? You’re in good company. Big names like Stanley Kubrick, Travis Barker, Lars von Trier, John Madden, Doris Day, Whoopi Goldberg, and even Issac Asimov are all purported aerophobics, demonstrating that the fear doesn’t discriminate based on race, gender, life experience, or intellect. If you long to see the world but feel held back by a fear that’s so often shrugged off by others, you don’t have to resign yourself to road trips or costly cruises.

First, let’s go over some statistics. If you’re a fearful flyer, it’s likely you’ve heard these before, but it never hurts to revisit them–try keeping a few in your pocket or wallet when you have a big trip coming up.

  • One in three Americans report some level of anxiety about flying.
  • Based on the average number of yearly deaths in the U.S. due to aviation accidents, you’d have to fly every day for 22,000 years before being involved in a fatal crash.
  • You have a 1 in 11 million chance of being involved in a plane crash. If that’s not low enough for you, consider that 96% of passengers involved in crashes survive them. You can thank the news for emphasizing the (extremely rare) catastrophic incidents. 
  • The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that flying is 200 times safer than taking the same trip by car.
  • A transcontinental flight is ten times safer than a transcontinental train trip.
  • Around the world, 3 million people fly every single day without incident.

Fear of flying isn’t a black-and-white issue. Some people are only afraid of turbulence. Some hate taking off, while others bristle duringFear of Flying 1 landing. Some people are claustrophobic or afraid of heights. Still others get nervous when flying over water or flying at night. Many people cite not being in control as the main reason for their fear, which is why, even given the statistics, they may still prefer to drive to their destination. Whether you fall into one or several (or all!) of these categories, more and more organizations are recognizing the legitimacy of this fear and are dedicated to helping folks fulfill their globetrotting aspirations.

Many major airports now offer classes for fearful flyers, as this article details. The classes often cover the mechanics of flight, as fear often stems from a lack of understanding about how planes work. (Spoiler alert: the engines aren’t solely responsible for keeping a plane airborne.) Another option is to visit a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor for systematic desensitization or cognitive behavioral therapy. These are methods used by the mental health community to help people overcome phobias or manage anxiety. If you find these classes or doctor visits cost prohibitive, there are countless free or budget-friendly resources to be found on the Internet, like the message boards here and here.

Fearful flyers have plenty of ways to cope in-flight, too. For many, a lighthearted distraction can help during tense moments. Crossword puzzles, magazines, stand-up comedy on your mp3 player, or a funny show on your seatback television can take your mind off the situation at hand and help make the time fly, pardon the pun. It may also help to voice your fears to a traveling companion or flight attendant, although bear in mind that these people are not on-board psychiatrists.

Some people prefer to relax with an in-flight libation, though this should not be your only way to cope. The dehydrating effects of alcohol can turn serious on long-haul flights, so drinking should only be done in moderation and accompanied by plenty of water. Be sure to get up and move around often, as well, since dehydration and prolonged sitting can contribute to deep-vein thrombosis.

As a last resort, some people choose to use prescribed anti-anxiety or sleep medication on flights. These items can lightly calm frazzled nerves or send you to all the way to dreamland. Like any prescription, these should only be used under a physician’s supervision, and only at their intended dosage. Doing otherwise is dangerous, and a plane is the last place where you want to have a medical emergency.

As a fearful flyer myself, I find real-time flight trackers like to be extremely calming. It’s astounding to see how many planes are in the air at any given moment, and it’s a gentle reminder that it’s not, in fact, all about me.

It’s a big world out there, and I hope that, whoever you are, you see as much of it as you can. Travel makes us better people. Don’t let an easily overcome fear keep you grounded.

Photo credit: kevin dooley / / CC BY

Photo credit: / / CC BY-NC

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