How to Cope With Flight Phobia

Are you nervous about flying in an airplane? If so, you’re not alone. Reports estimate that about 40% of the population has a fear of flying. 

Within that 40% of people who are afraid of flying, only a small percentage have what is classified as flight anxiety, or aviophobia. The 2 - 6% with aviophobia may have so much trouble coping with the loss of control they experience on a plane that they prefer to travel closer to the ground at all costs. 

But with so many advancements in the technology of aviation, it’s worth learning how to cope with or overcome flight phobia. Let’s break down the difference between a natural response to stress versus an anxiety disorder response to stress before we talk about dealing with a fear of flying.

Understanding the Cause of Anxiety

Sometimes we mistake our natural “fight or flight” response for anxiety. While the symptoms can be similar, one is our instinctual response to potentially dangerous situations, while anxiety is a disorder that affects one’s day-to-day life.

What is Fight or Flight?

When a person or animal is faced with a real threat, the body’s sympathetic nervous system responds in one of three ways: fight, flight, or freeze. Keep reading to see if your fear of flying goes beyond just a general feeling of nerves. 

Fight Response
In response to a stressful situation, you may find yourself fighting back. It might be with defensive verbal statements or physical blows. The fight response involves accelerated heart rate, rapid breathing, and a rush of adrenaline.

Flight Response
Another automatic response is to flee from perceived danger. Your body’s response is similar to the fight response, providing you with an excess of oxygenated blood so you have the stamina and strength to get away.

Freeze Response
In the moment between deciding to fight or flee, it’s common to freeze in response to stressful stimuli. Involuntarily, your mind and body pause to prepare for your next move, whether it’s fighting back or running away. 

Generally, once the danger has passed the adrenaline wears off and the body’s parasympathetic system can get to work returning to a state of “rest and restore.” This process can be aided by intentional breathing practices, connecting with a calming place or person, or practicing a meditative task. If the thought of getting onto an airplane gets your heart pumping and makes you want to run away, you may have an anxiety disorder related to flying.

Anxiety Disorder
Someone living with anxiety may tend to turn mundane things into perceived threats. Rather than having a stress response to actual danger, such as an unexpected animal on a jogging trail, an intruder in the home, or a close call while driving, someone with anxiety might see the following as a deadly threat:
  • Making small talk
  • Giving a presentation to a group
  • Learning a new skill
  • Heights
  • Traveling
The signs of an anxiety disorder look a lot like the body’s sympathetic response to real danger.
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Change in heart rate
  • Chest pain
  • Sweating
  • Feeling a loss of control
  • Dizziness
However, instead of returning back to a “rest and restore” state, someone with anxiety can’t always overcome the symptoms and function again as before the perceived threat. If travel, especially via aircraft, triggers this anxiety response, there is hope you can overcome it.

Treating Anxiety

Treating anxiety means that a person learns ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and restore) when they feel anxious. This can be achieved in a number of ways, and there isn’t always a one-size-fits-all solution. Help for anxiety could include any combination of the following:

Talk Therapy
Sometimes engaging in talk therapy with a licensed therapist can help someone recognize what triggers their anxiety and why. Therapy is also an avenue through which a counselor and a patient can explore treatment options beyond talk therapy.

Modified Behaviors
When working with a therapist, someone with anxiety can learn to practice modified behaviors to either avoid a trigger altogether or process it without automatically defaulting to the fight-flight-freeze response. 
Modified behaviors could include repeating a mantra, exercising, or changing one’s diet, 

Medication or Natural Supplements
In conjunction with therapy and/or changing behavior, mediation or supplements can help lessen the symptoms of anxiety. Softening the edges of the symptoms can make it easier for a person to implement the techniques they’ve learned to overcome an attack of anxiety before it feels too overwhelming. 

Medication and Supplements for Anxiety
  • Benzodiazepines -sedatives
  • Antidepressants - including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclics, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • Beta-Blockers
  • Chamomile
  • CBD 
  • Lavender
  • Neroli
  • Bergamot
  • Ylang ylang
  • Magnesium
Always talk with a doctor before trying medication or homeopathic remedies for anxiety.

Sitting in a Chair in the Sky

Now that you better understand anxiety, let’s take a look at ways the aviation industry implements strict standards for upholding safety.

Aviation Safety
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates all commercial airlines flying in the United States, and flight schools adhere to strict standards to produce competent pilots who operate aircraft that meet safety standards imposed by the FAA. 

Skills practiced by pilots:
  • Flying in inclement weather
  • Flying at night
  • Responding to fires in the cabin or outside the airplane
  • Dealing with changes in cabin pressure
  • Maneuvering turns, stalls, loss of altitude

Come Fly With Me
You now know about the psychological and physiological responses some have when faced with flying and the safety training taking place in aviation. But what, specifically, can you do to cope with flight phobia?

Understand Turbulence
When you’re driving in a car, are you overcome with anxiety every time you hit a bumpy patch? If not, try to equate turbulence with a bump in the road. Turbulence, or air pockets, are just spots in your flight that aren’t as smooth as others. There is always friction when traveling, but sometimes it’s more noticeable depending on the method of transportation.

Familiarize Yourself with Features
If you do experience turbulence or a more serious situation while flying, rest assured there are numerous safety features on your aircraft. They’re built to survive emergencies, and offer the following for your wellness:

Cabin Air

Did you know the air in the cabin is refreshed every three minutes? There are also HEPA filters to reduce contaminants by 99%, and oxygen masks in the event of a change in cabin pressure.

Double-Duty Seats

Your seat may not offer the amount of legroom you’d like, but they are fire-resistant. They often double as flotation devices as well.

Bleed Holes

Airplane windows have small holes in them to prevent them from exploding. The air pressure inside a plane is greater than the air pressure outside, so bleed holes offer protection to passengers while in flight.

Fire Extinguishers

Most aircraft have two different kinds of fire extinguishers. Gas extinguishers are usually located throughout the cabin, while water extinguishers are near the bathrooms and galley. The plane’s engines themselves are equipped with fire extinguishers that can be activated from within the cockpit.


No need to ask if there’s a doctor on board; most planes have an AED defibrillator. These handheld devices walk a person through the necessary steps to respond to a heart-related medical problem.

Study Statistics
To overcome your fear of flying, study the safety statistics of flying versus other forms of travel. You may be surprised to discover that in 2020, the fatal crash rate was one out of 3.7 million flights.

Get Behind the Wheel, er, Yoke
Why not learn how to fly a plane yourself? Since a lot of anxiety stems from feeling out of control of a situation, familiarizing yourself with how a plane operates may help you fly as a passenger in the future.