Fear of flying: Questions and Answers

Questions and answers about fear of flying

Fear of flying is a phobia i.e. it is an irrational fear. An irrational fear is one which we know is ‘silly’ or irrational but which nevertheless terrifies us.

That leaves us in a bit of a dilemma: We know our fear is ‘silly’ but it’s still quite disabling.  The risk here is that we will resolve the dilemma by deciding that there is something ‘wrong’ with us for not being able to act rationally and sensibly! This is one of the reasons why I have posted so much information about phobias, including fear of flying, on this website – to convince people that not only are irrational fear is very, very common but they are also eminently resolvable.


This page is an introduction to a series of questions which people have e-mailed me, along with my replies.  And the purpose is to enable people who experience fear of flying to recognise themselves in the kinds of questions other people are asking.

Q: I’m claustrophobic: I must spend 14 hours on plane. What can I do? Thank you.

A: You did not say when you will be spending the 14 hours on the plane – but my guess is that it’s probably fairly soon. And, unhappily, I don’t have an email solution that will work that quickly.

One thing you could do it to look up a therapist who has trained in NLP to Master Practitioner standard i.e. has had at least 240 hours of NLP training. The NLP approach might produce a quick fix for your claustrophobia.

Your email address suggests that you may live in Italy. As I do not have any contacts there you will have to search this out yourself, perhaps using Google.


My first ‘attack’

Q: I had my first claustrophobic panic attack on a “small” plane yesterday: 6.2 feet ceiling, 2 seats each side, very narrow aisle, a fully booked commercial plane.

I have been on these planes many times before without problem. It happened in 30 seconds. I was amazed. Two minutes after sitting down I suddenly had to get off, and I did.

After about 5 minutes just outside the plane door, I got back into my seat, scared s***less, but convinced I had to deal with this.  I was 1000 miles from home on Sunday and I had to work Mon.

I read intently, and was annoyed with everyone who closed their shades or walked by in the incredibly narrow aisle, but I survived.  Horrible.

Any suggestions as to what type of treatment is best?  What medicine, hypnotherapy, desensitisation should I consider?

A: What type of treatment? I’d suggest that you do a web search for an NLP-trained professional therapist. Then telephone the listed institutes or organisations and check out their experience in specifically working with flying phobias or, ideally, with panic attacks. There are some useful tips here, too, on how to select a therapist http://www.nlp-now.co.uk/find_therapist.htm

Sounds like you had a panic rather than a phobic reaction. Panics often occur as the result of a period of fairly intense worry or stress or disruption of one’s lifestyle. So deal with the panic and you’ll soon be comfortable flying again.

 3 weeks to the flight – help!

Q: I am a nervous flyer and I’m going away in June. Every time I’m in the plane I can’t settle. Even now it’s 3 weeks away and I’m thinking of it already. Is there anything you could tell me to reassure me that it is going to be alright.

A: First of all, print out and use the fear of flying and panic pages from this website and work through them in the run-up to your flight. Here are some further tips:

  1. Recognise that it is an irrational fear – road travel is dangerous but we all do it without much thought. Why make air travel any different – especially since it is safer.
  2. Avoid alcohol – take medication if things are likely to be really bad.
  3. Drink lots of water before and during the flight. And have sweets/mints to suck. A dry mouth is to be avoided: your brain takes this as a signal that the body is in danger and switches on the panic stations immediately.
  4. Decide on your attitude in advance. Experienced flyers usually have the attitude
    • I want to fly because it is quicker
    • I am not in control of the plane so I have to allow the pilots to use their professional skills to look after themselves and the rest of us
    • If my number is up – and this one is going to crash – so be it.
    • If my number is not up that’s great. Either way there is nothing I can do once I am in the plane except relax and wait to arrive.
  5. Make a resolution to fully resolve your fears within a finite period of time after you arrive back. Best wishes for a comfortable trip.

Fear of flying and panic attacks

Q: I have had panic disorder for about 2 years now and I have not been on a plane since my first panic attack and it was in a mall and now I would really like to visit my friend in ____ and I need to fly so what should I  do could i have a panic attack on the plane???? Also I have always been a comfortable flyer.

A: The not-so-good news is yes, you could have a panic just about anywhere. Including on a plane. And since you have not been on a plane since the first occurrence it is not unlikely that you could have one due to the extra stress brought about both by the flight and by the negative anticipating you may do in advance of the flight.

OK, that’s the not-so-good news over with.

Now to the good news… The panic habit can be overcome. And you may well be able to do this yourself – if you are determined enough and persistent in applying methods including those available on this website.

What’s more, the motivation to fly and visit your friend may be just what is needed to make you determined to free yourself from the panic habit!

(Most people-who-panic develop ways of living with it – by avoiding situations, etc. – when they should be focusing on freeing themselves from it whatever that involves!

I know – in addition to my work in helping people with panics I have experienced two longish bouts of panic in my life – they were horrible and worrying and depressing! But I worked through them and I believe I am stronger and have greater self awareness as a result.)

How about deciding right now that you have had enough of being a patient patient! Then print out all of this site’s pages on panic and begin quite systematically working to liberate yourself.

  • It won’t necessarily be quick.
  • It won’t necessarily fully get rid of them.
  • But it will increase your confidence in your ability to manage your own moods – even quite powerful moods like the panic response.

 ‘I am not alone’

Q: I would just like to say that one paragraph of the little you wrote on flying has made me feel so much better…. knowing I am not odd or alone. It described me perfectly. I was a seasoned traveller, had a terrifying panic attack on a plane last year, and am now terrified to get on the plane next week….

However, your description has made me feel normal, and made me realise.. If I get on the plane calm and relaxed next week… I should be fine!!

Thanks a lot.. I no longer feel like an oddity….

A: Thanks for those nice comments – it’s good to know the information on this site helps people find their own way of handing things.

A suggestion… Deal with the panic habit first. The flying phobia may well be the result of the panic – which in turn, generally results from a period of sustained stress or anxiety or lifestyle disruption.

We have a whole section on this website devoted to information about panic attacks and the various ways of dealing with them.

It’s Russian Roulette! 1 in 3 million chance

Q 1: Would you put an  gun to your head that had 3 million bullet sockets (imagine it possible) in the barrel but only one bullet is in the barrel. A one in 3 million chance of getting shot you get $3000 for doing it. Shooting the gun to your head.

You would be mad to risk it. Yet flying is the same statistic. You pay £3000 for a holiday. This is why I have flight concerns. See the point? What do you think?

A 1:  Yes, it’s a fair point. And the same argument can be applied to being a car driver. Or doing anything at all that has a risk. Even preparing a meal in the kitchen!

They all have statistical probability of danger – with quite high accident rates. Driving a car feels safer because we are in charge – but we’re not in charge of the other cars coming towards us etc.

So what it boils down to is – do you want a (completely) safe life??? If you do you’ll have to opt out of modern society – and likely have a very boring time. I’d be interested in your comments…


Q 2: (Follow-up question) Hello Reg. Yes you’re right – you would never do anything or go anywhere, I have only been to Spain in the past but next week I am going fly across the Atlantic – with another onward flight when I arrive. 4 flights there and back making a total of 8 hours and 3 hours.

I hate the vulnerability of it, but I have to go so I have 12 hours of agony. I bet the thing goes down.

As you say you may as well take the risk otherwise why be alive. It is just unfortunate due to man’s imperfection that sometimes things are overlooked resulting in a crash.

Some years ago there was a big air crash quite near to where I live. It’s rare but a reality. If you happen to be in one, flying is lethal.

But I am going to grin and bear it and take a lot of wine before I go on that should help.

Any suggestions?

A 2: That airliner crashing near your home town will have really emphasised the dangers of flying, I agree. No ‘buts’ here – it must have been a scary experience!

The same would have applied if a major traffic accident had occurred in your locality and if the media had given it as much attention.

The question is… as you have to go fly across the Atlantic… how do you want to feel/be?

Because as you now have just one week to prepare you’d better prepare well so that you make your trip as comfortable for yourself as you can.

Here are a few random ideas:

Sort out the issue of the ‘rationales’ Keep them separate from the ’emotionals’ (e.g. Yes, I know flying is risky, etc. etc. And so are most other activities to a greater or lesser extent. No point in trying to emphasise to myself how risky it is – let’s just get on with things, etc.)

Recognise that. despite the risks, lot’s of people, including flight crews, fly. How do ‘comfortable flyers’ do it? This is the key. If you could adopt their attitude you’d have it cracked. Most of them have the attitude of ensuring that all precautions are taken. Then they simply decide if your number is up it is up! And from that moment they decide there is no further point in giving the safety issue further thought – because thoughts do not keep a plane in the air. Any more than does gripping the arms of the seat tightly! That’s a little joke, btw.)

Once you’ve got that far begin working on the thoughts that create the scary feelings. Here you must rely on the desensitisation tips. It is not the quickest method and requires some self-discipline – but it will reduce the intensity of the anxiety.

Medication helps for some people. Not all, though. It is a gamble. Personally, I do not take medication of any kind. But, in your shoes, I’d take a gamble on it.

Alcohol does help- some people – but not too much. And it can backfire.

Throughout the flight keep your mouth moist (by sipping water – not alcohol!). A dry mouth signals ‘fear’ to the brain and it responds accordingly.

Get a decent relaxation tape and headphones. Use this, especially before and during take-off and landing.

On the flight get up and move about as much as is possible. Physical activity releases accumulated tension.

Refuse to entertain scary thoughts from now on – they don’t in any way help – you have to fly so why make life harder for yourself! Each time they occur say to yourself there’s no point in doing this to myself I’ll think of something else. Not easy to do – but a lot better than being a victim to your internal disaster movies.

‘Things to do’ help some people. Bring and use your laptop if you have one. Load a few good games onto it. Crosswords and puzzle books, too. Letters to write, etc. etc. (I fly frequently  and use the waiting/flying time to catch up on paperwork, write newsletters, etc.)

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