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9 Travel Hacks if You’re an Anxious Flier

I’ve never really liked flying. I’m a pretty anxious traveler, and I don’t like the idea of speeding around in a tube 40,000 feet above the ground. A lot of my anxiety about flying stems from not being able to get out if I start to feel sick; I’m stuck until we land.

I’ve found that some people who perhaps weren’t nervous fliers before are more nervous about travel since COVID-19. Some people are anxious about not having to wear masks anymore and getting sick, while others experience anxiety about having to wear a mask for so long because it can feel suffocating. I wear a mask, but I find it hard to breathe when I’m anxious and sometimes my mask exacerbates those feelings. I’m much better about flights under five hours, but long-haul flights cause a lot of anxiety.

Over the years, I’ve cultivated some tips that help a bit.

1. Plan your flight times.

My anxiety is worse in the morning, so I don’t like flights before 8 a.m. I’m also more anxious if I don’t have a good sleep, so waking up early to catch a flight and having to rush out the door isn’t great. I also don’t like flying late in the evening because I’m anxious the day I travel, and I’d rather get the flight over with. I find a flight between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. is best for me, but it depends on where I’m going.

2. Get to the airport early.

My friends and family definitely give me a bit of a hard time for this one, but I like getting to the airport early so that I don’t have to rush. I hate the feeling of being late or worrying I’m going to miss my flight.

3. Have a routine or ritual.

Because I like getting to the airport early, I’ve made a habit of having a beer or drink near my departure gate. It’s a chance for me to relax before the flight, and calm my nerves a bit. Maybe for you, it’s getting a particular magazine and reading it in the lounge or getting a specific pre-plane snack. The consistency and familiarity of the routine are calming.

4. Be ready for security.

I get anxious about going through security, even though I never have anything I’m not supposed to. I always get stopped for random searches, so that’s been a big source of travel anxiety. My strategy now is to be ready for going through security before I get to the front. I make sure my pockets are empty, my liquids are out, and my shoes are loose so they can slip off. I mentally walk myself through how I’m going to go through security and tell myself the steps again and again so it feels easy. 

5. Wear comfortable layers.

Anxiety makes my body temperature fluctuate, and planes are always cold to me, so I like having layers I can take on and off to ensure I’m physically comfortable. It’s important to have comfy clothes; I like sweaters with loose collars so I don’t feel suffocated, and loose pants so I don’t feel constricted.

6. Have plane snacks.

Because I get nauseous when I’m anxious, I always feel sick before flying so I don’t like to eat much before the flight. But once I’m on the plane and getting more comfortable, I get pretty hungry. Instead of eating before your flight, pack a meal or snacks, or plan to buy it at the airport so you can eat when you’re feeling less anxious.

7. Have a bit of water in a disposable water bottle.

I like to carry a plastic water bottle with just a few sips of water in it. You can’t take water through security, but I always need some for the security lineup, so I can drink a bit in the line and once I get to the front it’s easy to finish the rest of it. Then, I refill it once I’m past security so I have water at all times. Thanks to COVID-19, I’ve developed an anxious cough — when my anxiety is bad and I feel like it’s hard to breathe, I start coughing and choking. Layer in the fact that coughing is now associated with having COVID-19, and I start having anxiety about my anxiety cough which makes me more anxious. Sipping water reduces the need to cough, which subsequently helps my anxiety

8. Bring multiple sources of entertainment.

I like to pack a couple of books, my laptop, and make sure I’ve downloaded games and captivating shows and movies on my phone. Being occupied during the flight distracts me from my anxiety and makes the flight go by faster.

9. Check in early and choose seats carefully.

Checking in for your flight as soon as you’re allowed means that you have the best access to seat selection. I like picking an aisle seat at the front of the plane. I like the aisle because I don’t have to ask anyone to move when I need to use the restroom; in the window seat, I wonder, “what if they’re asleep and I have to get up,” or, “what if they’re angry that I need them to move for me?” I like the front of the plane because it means I get to get off the plane faster, and I also once heard that the front of the plane experiences less turbulence; I have no idea if that’s actually true or not, but I’ll try anything to avoid turbulence. 

Ultimately, flying still makes me anxious with these tips, but it’s slightly easier when I follow these steps. It’s totally OK to feel anxious about flying, especially when so many of us haven’t traveled in a couple of years, and have COVID-19 fears lingering as well. If you’re not ready to fly, take your time, and start with a short flight to see how it goes. My first flight after lockdowns was especially difficult, but now I feel a lot more comfortable and have been on a plane every few weeks, for work and pleasure. Allow yourself patience and grace if you struggle with traveling; you deserve to feel comfortable and safe, and it’s OK to need time or support to get there.

Getty Images photo via Amir Mukhtar

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