Hi Frugalistas! I was recently contacted by a reader, J, who mentioned that she was anxious about flying and was wanting advice on booking a Business Class ticket at a good price. Her dilemma started me thinking more generally about the anxious flyer, and what anxious flyers can do to overcome their anxiety when flying. Because I know not everyone has the opportunity to buy a Business Class ticket, here is my best advice on dealing with anxiety when flying and how, if you are anxious, you can beat your fear of flying.
As I have said before on health related posts, my advice is only general in nature and may not be appropriate for you as an individual. If you do suffer from anxiety, always take the specific advice of your own healthcare provider.
Planning your flight
Before you start booking any flights, I think the most important thing to do is to understand what exactly causes you anxiety when flying. Is it the take off and landing, being on the plane for a long period of time, or feeling claustrophobic on board? Or have you had a bad experience previously?
The second thing that I believe is very important is to put your health and wellbeing first, and be prepared to pay for what is going to help you manage your anxiety when flying best. It is false economy to book a cheap ticket and then find yourself anxious, or even worse, in a full on panic attack.
If your fear of flying relates to take off and landing, it makes sense that you should look for a flight with fewer stops. Similarly, if you find you get anxious the longer the flight goes on, it may make sense for you to book a stop over and break your journey. Even if you just stay in an airport hotel, it could be enough to make your trip more comfortable.
Small planes can be quite cramped, and of course, tend to suffer more from any turbulence, so rather than booking your flight from your local airport and a trip on that small commuter plane, why not drive or take a bus to a bigger airport (and the bigger planes)?
If it’s the thought of flying that makes you anxious, again, fewer stops and shorter layovers will help you feel more comfortable.
When you are planning your trip, also consider choosing an airline where they speak your language. If you are struggling with anxiety in flight, you need flight attendants who are going to speak your language well. Flight attendants are trained to assist anxious flyers, so make sure they will understand you if you need their help.
Similarly, now is not the time to book that cheap airline where the service is less than the full offering. Budget airlines save money by minimising the number of crew, amongst other things, so don’t get caught out.
When it comes time to booking your flight, choose the best seat you can afford to give yourself more room. Whether it is a seat on a bulk head, an exit row, or an upgrade to a premium cabin, hopefully you will find it easier to relax if you have a little more space to get comfortable. Also think about whether a window or aisle seat will assist you in managing your anxiety when flying better.
Finally, choose your travel companion carefully. You want to travel with someone who will be empathetic, but not feed your anxiety.
Managing your anxiety when flying in flight
When you board your flight tell your flight attendant that you are an anxious flyer and if, you feel comfortable doing so, what form that anxiety takes and what makes you anxious. Then if you do become anxious inflight, approach that flight attendant and seek help and reassurance.
I always think that flying is a perfect time to pamper yourself just a little, especially if you are back in Coach/Economy. So bring yourself something special to eat, watch or read. A little expensive chocolate, or that book or film you’ve been looking forward to can act as a positive distraction, and give you something exciting to look forward to during your flight.
If you have something in particular that settles you, such as a special photo, pillow, or religious text, you should feel free to bring it, as long as it is allowable on board. If you suffer from motion sickness, don’t forget your medication, and make sure you use it.
During your flight don’t drink too much alcohol. Eat light and healthy. Keep away from coffee and caffeine drinks that stimulate the nervous system, and stay hydrated with still water. Being dehydrated can make you feel unsettled or unwell, so stay well hydrated in flight to maintain your equilibrium.
Health and well being things you can do to manage your fear of flying
Being anxious at the thought of flying, or while you are flying is one thing, but if your anxiety about flying or fear of flying is so acute that you can’t board a plane, and it is stopping you from doing what you want to do then you may have a psychological problem that may be amenable to diagnosis and treatment.
See a Clinical Psychologist or Psychiatrist to understand the cause of your anxiety and get appropriate psychological support and treatment. They may also be able to give you some strategies for dealing with anxiety in flight specific to your individual needs.
Similarly, hypnotherapy may work if you are particularly anxious about one aspect of flying, such as take off or landing.
You may also consider seeing your family doctor to see whether medication may assist you and be appropriate to your individual circumstances.
If seeking professional assistance is not something you feel comfortable doing, at least do some reading and try to understand your anxiety better. I have not read any of these books myself, but they do look sensible and are written by appropriately qualified clinicians: