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Reducing the stress of air travel

Published on February 28, 2019 at 13:45 / Updated on February 6, 2020 at 16:28

If you aren’t one of those people who jump for joy at the idea of getting on a plane, you’re not alone! It is estimated that 10% to 30% of people feel some degree of stress at the prospect of flying. However, a little pre-trip preparation and a few tips to help once you’re onboard can do wonders to reduce your air travel stress.

When booking your tickets

On larger planes, reserve a seat towards the front of the aircraft, if possible. Turbulence is usually not felt as much in these sections. An aisle seat can also help you feel less hemmed in.

If your flight includes a stopover, make sure you have enough time between flights in case the first one is delayed, so you don’t have to sprint to your boarding gate. Travel agents usually recommend a minimum of two hours, especially for international flights.

Before you leave

Learn a few relaxation or meditation techniques. Install an app on your phone—it can be useful during the flight.

Make an appointment to see your doctor or pharmacist, especially if you have chronic health problems or take medication. If you are seriously stressed at the idea of flying, your doctor can prescribe medication to help you sleep or to reduce your stress. Depending on your destination, remember to check whether you will need any vaccinations or preventive treatments, e.g., for malaria.

The night before your departure, do your best to get a good night’s sleep: stay away from caffeine and alcohol (especially in the evening), eat a light meal, drink herbal tea, take a bath before bed, etc.

Travel day

Complete your flight check-in online, to avoid lineups at the airport. Plan to arrive at the airport several hours before your flight departure time (at least 3 hours for international flights).

During the flight

Avoid drinking alcohol and be mindful of the amount of caffeine you consume (e.g., coffee, soft drinks, or energy drinks), as both can increase your anxiety. Drink water regularly during the flight, especially on long flights, as the air on planes is very dry. 

Take-off and landing are usually the two most stressful moments of a flight. This is when you will want to do your relaxation exercises. If you’re using an app, make sure it works in Flight mode (download the content before take-off, if need be). 

Go ahead and let the flight attendants know you are a nervous flyer. That way they can keep an eye on you during the flight and reassure you if there is any turbulence. 

Open the air vents above your seat. The flow of air can help lessen feelings of claustrophobia.

Keep your mind off your nervousness during the flight, by reading a book or magazine, listening to music, or watching a movie, for example. 

If you start to feel anxious during the flight, take deep breaths: breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. By controlling your breathing, your symptoms of anxiety should gradually subside.

Straight-up stress or full-blown phobia?

If you are anxious about the idea of getting on a plane, you should find the above tips useful. However, if your fear of flying is so great that you cannot even set foot in an airport, let alone on a plane, you probably require the expertise of a health professional who specializes in phobias. There are treatments available to help people overcome their fear of flying (also known as aviophobia or aerophobia).

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