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Fear of flying: How to get rid of flight anxiety

Fear of flying: How to get rid of flight anxiety

Air travel can be nerve-wracking for some people. Experts recommend distracting yourself and behavioral therapies to help overcome fear of flying
Air travel can be nerve wracking for some people. Experts recommend distracting yourself and behavioural therapies to help overcome fear of flying.
Shikha Mittal and Anil Kapoor. Photo courtesy: @lifeskillswithshikha via Instagram

Shikha Mittal, a Delhi-based entrepreneur, recently took to social media to share how she encountered a kind and jhakaas co-passenger on a flight who helped her overcome her fear of flying, triggered by turbulence. It was none other than Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor, who held her hand and talked her out of her anxiety. “It felt like the flight landed a few seconds post taking off,” shares Mittal in her post.

Like Mittal, some people experience flight anxiety or aerophobia, an intense fear of flying. It can stem from anything that might happen during a flight, from turbulence to boarding the aeroplane. It can also cause panic attacks in some.

Happiest Health spoke to experts who explained what causes fear of flying and how to deal with it.

Flying with anxiety and other triggers

Besides fear of flying, Jesly Pulikotil, 24, a public relations coordinator from Pune, suffers from motion sickness and anxiety. It aggravates her flight anxiety, especially on long international flights. “I have a headache, dizziness, nausea, and rapid heartbeat throughout the journey. The symptoms worsen when I travel during summers due to my claustrophobia and the heat,” says Pulikotil.

Her fear manifests in the form of worst-case scenarios. “With every turbulence I am afraid the pilot loses control. I also avoid food on flight, fearing it could affect my health negatively,” she says. It gets worse when she looks out the window and starts imagining how bad a crash can be.

Pulikotil later developed vertigo and AC sickness, which worsened her phobia. “I feel a constant imbalance even though I am seated at one place. I also often go between feeling hot and cold,” she says.

What causes fear of flying

Some people experience fear only during take-off, landing, or turbulence, or at all these times, says Dr Samrat Shah, consultant physician at Apollo Spectra Hospital, Pune. He further mentions the following triggers:

  • News of violent crashes due to terrorism or accidents
  • Fear of getting ill in crowded spaces especially post pandemic
  • Other phobias like acrophobia (fear of heights), claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces), and agoraphobia (phobia of being in places where escape is not easy)
  • Health conditions like sinusitis, vertigo, ear disorders, motion sickness

Dr Vishnu Gade, senior psychiatrist, Kamineni Hospitals, Hyderabad explains that aerophobia or any phobia may stem from trauma. “To understand their irrational fear, we must examine their patterns of air travel, if they are afraid of plane crashes or if they have witnessed any, or if it is idiopathic (unknown fear),” he says.

Flight anxiety symptoms

According to Dr Gade, the person can show intense body symptoms like:

  • Sweaty palms
  • Uneasy feeling in the gut
  • Breathlessness
  • Dizziness and nausea (especially if you have conditions like vertigo and or ear infection)

Overcome fear of flying: Distract yourself

While over the counter flight anxiety medication can help acutely, it is not an effective option in the long run, says Dr Shah. “One can go for controlled exposure therapy (exposure to fear in a safe simulative environment) and cognitive behavioural therapy to eventually overcome fear of flying,” he says.

Mittal was lucky to have met a co-passenger as kind as Anil Kapoor, but that might not be the case for everyone. When alone, Dr Shah suggests distracting yourself and removing  the focus from your fear. Pulikotil says she practises meditation, breathing techniques, reading, listening to podcasts, and uses stress balls to distract herself, especially during take-off and landing.

In Mittal’s case, her impromptu conversation with Anil Kapoor diverted her mind from flight anxiety. Kapoor engaged her in conversation on various topics ranging from her profession, financial planning, money management to retirement plans to fitness, property prices in Mumbai and even about Bollywood stars Madhuri and Sri Devi. Mittal listed all the topics that they discussed during the flight journey in her social media post.

The conversation made her otherwise tough journey in the flight an unforgettable one. “Those two hours I laughed endlessly,” she describes in her post mentioning the uninterrupted conversation.


Flight anxiety or aerophobia is the intense fear of flying that some people experience during any time of a flight like take-off, turbulence or landing or at all these times. Some of the best ways to overcome this fear are:

  • Distract yourself with an engaging conversation while on flight
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulants that can worsen flight anxiety.
  • Consult a psychiatrist who recommends therapies like exposure therapy, CBT.
  • Deep breathing, positive visualisation can help one feel calmer.
  • Muscle relaxation techniques help 

Share Your Experience/Comments

2 Responses

  1. Hello, Ms Choudhury,
    I read the post. It’s so catchy. You are a good orator and writer who attract people with her writing.

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