Travel Nightmares: 6 Resources for Fear of Flying

Travel Nightmares: 6 Resources for Fear of Flying | thegoodstuff

This story is part of our Travel Nightmares series, featuring helpful tips, hints, and strategies so you can travel stress-free. Read our other Travel Nightmares stories here: 10 Free Things Your Hotel Provides, How to Avoid Baggage Fees & Other Costs, What to Do About Flight Cancellations, Your Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, How to Get the Best Travel Deals, and How to Troubleshoot 7 Common Travel Problems. Bon voyage!

For many of us a cancelled flight or a lost bag is a travel nightmare. But for those who have a fear of flying, simply boarding the plane can be the ultimate nightmare. I understand; although I fly a lot, it’s not my favorite thing to do!

Fear of flying isn’t an easy thing to overcome, no matter how many safety statistics one may hear. A fear is a fear. It even has a name, “aviophobia,” and is estimated to affect around 6.5 percent of Americans.

Fortunately, there’s help out there, and I’ve put together a list of six top resources for fear of flying that can help you put your fears to rest.

Another way to ease your travel stress is to plan ahead. Be sure to book your flight, hotel, and rental car ahead of time, and ease some budgeting stress, too, by searching for the best deals on booking sites. Bonus: Most booking sites also offer special coupons, so be sure to check online for Expedia promo codes, Kayak coupons, and Travelocity coupons before you book your trip. And if you’re planning on touring the area during your visit, it’s always a great idea to check for a Hertz coupon, Alamo coupon code, National Car Rental promo codes, or a Zipcar promo code so you can save on your rental car.

1. Airport workshops

Travel Nightmares: 6 Resources for Fear of Flying | thegoodstuff

You may be surprised to find out that several airports offer courses to overcome fear of flying. The advantage of taking a class at an airport is actual exposure to planes and inner workings of the airport. This on-site approach can help demystify some of what causes fear of flying. Classes range from free to nearly $1,000 (which includes an actual flight).

Fear of Flying Clinic at San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

Clinic costs are $995 (including cost of the Graduation Flight) or $250 for a one-day workshop.

These clinics take place over the course of two weekends with occasional one-day workshops offered. The Fear of Flying Clinic includes a tour of the SFO airport, tour of an aircraft maintenance hangar, a visit to SFO’s airport control tower, and the chance to sit in the cockpit of a commercial jet. The Graduation Flight happens on the final Sunday of the clinic, where you get a chance to join a regularly scheduled commercial flight, typically to Seattle and back.

Cleared For Takeoff LIVE at Phoenix Sky Harbor International (PHX)

Free class

This free class takes place partially in a classroom and also on a stationary aircraft. You must register on Eventbrite to attend and the City of Phoenix will even supply parking vouchers so you can park in the airport terminal garage for free. Classes take place one Saturday a month from 3:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.

Overcoming Your Fear of Flying at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport (MKE)

Class costs $300

Over the course of five consecutive Saturdays this class aims to overcome your fear of flying by teaching you about airplanes and how they fly, and the causes and cures of fears. The $300 fee includes four classroom sessions and one onboard a commercial aircraft during a short flight.

2. General airport tour

Travel Nightmares: 6 Resources for Fear of Flying | thegoodstuff

Even if your airport doesn’t offer a fear of flying class, they may give tours to the general public. While the tour won’t address flying fears, it could help you feel more comfortable to get a behind the scenes look at the inner working of an airport. Tours are typically free.

3. Breathing exercise apps

Travel Nightmares: 6 Resources for Fear of Flying | thegoodstuff

Breathing exercises can effectively reduce anxiety and are a strategy used by many fearful flyers. But self-motivated breathing exercises can be hard to maintain when that anxiety kicks in or turbulence begins. Use a breathing app to help coach you through the flight. Two to try are Breathe2Relax and Calm.

4. Tracking anxiety via app

Travel Nightmares: 6 Resources for Fear of Flying | thegoodstuff

There are also apps out there that help manage anxiety like the Mayo Clinic’s AnxietyCoach. The coaching starts with a short self test that will measure the severity of your fear. You can then make a personal plan to conquer that fear and browse a library of activities that have helped other people, track your anxiety, and record your progress.

5. Calming music

Travel Nightmares: 6 Resources for Fear of Flying | thegoodstuff

Music can be a powerful thing. Not only can the right tunes help calm your nerves but it drowns out all those noises that might get your mind wandering. In a study commissioned by Spotify, anxiety psychologist Becky Spelman found that music with beats per minute (BPM) below 60 was preferable for a fearful flyer’s playlist.

Spelman’s picks included “Someone Like You” by Adele, “Paradise” by Coldplay, and “Space Oddity” by David Bowie. Meditation is also a relaxing tool to do while on the plane.

If you or someone you know tenses up at the thought of flying, consider a Spotify premium account as the perfect gift. Spotify allows you to create your own playlists filled with music of your choice, so those calming tunes Spelman mentioned are ready to go before you even get to the airport. Don’t forget to check for Spotify coupons to save, too.

6. It takes a village

Travel Nightmares: 6 Resources for Fear of Flying | thegoodstuff

Don’t keep your fear of flying to yourself. Let the flight attendants and your fellow seat-mates know. That extra support and attention could help you get through the flight and make those around you more understanding if your behavior gets a little erratic at takeoff. And, if possible, get a seat near the front of plane where turbulence is typically more tolerable.


  • CaptTomBunn

    Based on 35 years treating fear of flying, both as an airline pilot and as a licensed therapist, some tips in this article will help and some will not. Let’s take it point by point.

    1. Airport Workshops. The idea is that if you get used to an airplane, fear of flying will be cured. It isn’t. In fact, it isn’t even lessened. Why? Fear when flying is caused by a part of the brain called the amygdala releases stress hormones. It these build up, they cause high anxiety, panic, or even terror. The amygdala releases stress hormones when exposed to anything it is not used to. Even if an airport workshop gets a fearful flier used to the airport and to an airliner, in a few weeks the amygdala will have “forgotten” it ever happened. It will react when exposed to the airport, to the airliner, and to flight as if the workshop never happened.

    There are people who fly frequently enough that their amygdala does not react to flying: they are called pilots and flight attendants. No one else is going to be exposed to flight frequently enough to maintain desensitization.

    2. General Airport Tour. If this is done the day before a flight, it can help reduce the amygdala’s response to the airport the next day. But on the flight itself, what happened earlier in the terminal makes little if any difference.

    3. Breathing Exercise Apps. One research study after another has shown breathing exercises to be useless, or worse, counterproductive. Yet, the myth persists that breathing exercises work. A list of research studies can be found at

    4. Tracking Anxiety Via App. This cognitive behavior therapy technique works, at least so long as the flight is smooth. It will not help in turbulence.

    5. Calming Music. Keeping the mind occupied keeps anxiety-producing thoughts out of mind, again, up to a point. This, like other cognitive tools, stops working when turbulence starts.

    6. It Takes A Village. Good advice. If the person you interact with is available throughout the flight, is attuned, and non-judgmental, their presence will slow the heart rate and activate the calming parasympathetic nervous system.

    Since most anxious fliers will need more help, here’s what you should know.

    1. I have a free app at that includes some effective tips and a g-force meter that measures turbulence and proves the plane is safe.

    2. My book, “SOAR: The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying,” selected as Amazon Editors’ 2014 Favorite Book. Read the reviews and you’ll see why.

    3. Courses using video and phone counseling at