Direct Line magazine

Tips to beat your fear of flying

Updated on: 30 March 2020

A passenger on a plane uses a screen to keep busy.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of. You’re more likely to die in a car accident…”

If you get clammy hands and a racing heart at the thought of flying, chances are you’ve heard these well-meaning lines a hundred times before. But phobias are illogical, and it can be hard to find reason when you’re cruising at 30,000 feet and hit turbulence.

Whether it’s the thought of flying or the act itself that worries you, we’re going to share a few tips that might make your travels more bearable.

2017 was the safest year on record for airline passengers

1. Beat your fear of flying: look at the numbers

Over the past couple of years a few plane crashes have made the headlines, but it’s important to remember they make headlines because they’re so rare.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), in 2016 3.8 billion people flew safely on 40.4 million flights. Only 268 fatalities as a result of fatal commercial airline accidents were recorded.

Think on that for a second - it doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that the odds are in your favour.

In 1977, two jumbos collided on the runway in Tenerife, and 583 people were killed. It’s known as the deadliest plane crash in history, and yet that number of people die from heart disease in America every eight hours.

Then there’s that old chestnut, ‘flying is the safest form of travel’, but how does it really compare to jumping behind the wheel of your car?

It compares extremely favourably. According to the World Health Organisation, 1.25 million people die each year from road traffic accidents.

2. Beat your fear of flying: distract yourself

Whether it's watching a movie, reading a book or flipping through a magazine, it's a good idea to find a distraction.

Psychologists recommend you read a book that you're a few chapters into, watch a film you've already started or a continue with a TV show you're mid-way through. Do this and you won't have to waste time trying to get into it, providing an instant distraction to your flying fears.

3. Beat your fear of flying: practice breathing techniques

Slowly breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth.

Slow and deliberate breathing is one of the most effective ways to combat your anxiety, and it can even stop a full-blown panic attack.

4. Beat your fear of flying: download an app

Take a look at these apps designed to help tackle your in-flight anxiety:

SOAR features a G-Force meter, which shows you how secure your plane is, and gives little facts about turbulence and take-off procedures.

VALK was created by the VALK Foundation (the world’s first fear of flying treatment centre) and has flight safety statistics, weather forecasts and a built in panic button to calm your anxious mind.

TURBCAST is an app that can predict if your flight will have turbulence based on your departure and arrival times, and the airports you're taking off from and flying into. The app will then tell you if your flight is at low, medium or high risk of turbulence.

5. Beat your fear of flying: go on a course

Many airlines offer courses to help people with their flying phobias. Some good ones to check out are:

British Airways: Flying with confidence

Virgin Atlantic: Flying without fear

easyJet: Fearless flyer

Whether it’s seeing the runway, taking off, landing, or anything else in-between, these courses have proven to really help people with even the most extreme phobias. The success rates vary from 95-98% and tackle things from turbulence to breathing techniques.

The courses can include chats with experienced captains, discussions about what all the ‘funny noises’ mean and why the wings change shape for landing. Some courses also offer a short flight at the end, so you can put all the information and techniques you’ve learned to good use.

These courses set out to debunk myths and potentially change the way you think about flying forever.

Most pilots expect some level of turbulence on every flight, and although it can get uncomfortable it’s rarely dangerous

6. Beat your fear of flying: understand what turbulence is

One of the main things that nervous flyers freak out about is turbulence, but is there really anything to get so wound up about?

When you drive a car you hit bumps in the road. And if you've ever been on a speedboat, hitting waves can get quite hairy. Just because a plane is miles above ground, those bumps and waves shouldn’t fill you with fear.

Most pilots expect some level of turbulence on every flight, and although it can get uncomfortable it’s rarely dangerous.

The three main types of turbulence are:

Storm turbulence: strong updrafts and downdrafts often create turbulence during a storm. Pilots and meteorologists can see this, so updates from the ground can steer the plane around bad weather.

Mountain turbulence: pilots can’t see this turbulence, but they know it’s a common occurrence over mountain ranges. It happens when wind comes into contact with the mountain, which forces the air over the top like the breaking of a wave.

Clear air turbulence: CAT is impossible to predict because it happens in clear blue skies. It’s caused when a mass of air moving in one direction and speed, meets another mass of air moving in another direction and at a different speed. As pilots can’t see or predict it, they often rely on reports from other pilots in front.

Most injuries happen because of CAT, due to pilots being unable to turn on the seatbelt sign in time. It’s recommended you keep your seatbelt on at all times, unless you’re nipping to the loo or having a stretch.

It’s also good to know aeroplanes go through rigorous testing before they carry their first passengers. They’re built to withstand a lot more than turbulence. Have a look at what a plane has to go through before it can fly.

There are many options out there to make your flying experience ‘plane’ sailing, so don’t let your fear stop you from discovering the world.

Related articles

Three young adults walk through an airport.

Make the most of a gap year

Gap years can be a good way to take a break from the norm. Here are some useful tips on what to consider when you've decided to travel for a year.
An elderly couple sit on a bench and look out over a lake.

Over 65s travel insurance

If you're over 65 and want to do more travelling, Direct Line puts together some of the answers to your questions.
A paper plane covered in a Union Jack.

Travel after Brexit

With a lot of uncertainty about travel after Brexit, we take a look at how you can prepare if you think your trip will be disrupted.