A British Airways Pilot Reveals His Tips for Overcoming Fear of Flying (Video)

Most people know that you’re more likely to be injured in a car crash than a plane crash. Still, that doesn’t make flying any less scary for some travelers. It’s estimated that some anxieties about flying may affect up to 25 percent of Americans, and the National Institute of Mental Health says aviophobia (clinical fear of flying) affects about 6.5 percent of the population.

It may not often come from fear of the plane crashing into the ground. It’s more likely to be rooted in something like claustrophobia, lack of control or knowledge, or just a general dislike of turbulence. In order to help people combat their fear of flying, British Airways has developed a course to help travelers alleviate this common fear.

British Airways flight taking off into the clouds
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The one-day “Flying With Confidence” course is meant to help any nervous flier overcome their fears. And British Airways Captain and “Flying with Confidence” Director, Steve Allright, told Travel + Leisure that at least 90 percent of people who take the course report that they’ve successfully reduced their fears around airplanes.

Although it may be difficult to remember, Allright says an important first step to remaining calm while flying is to trust both your plane and your pilots. “Remember, aircraft like to be in the air,” he told Travel + Leisure. “They are designed to be in the air. Pilots and cabin crew like to be in the air also, it is a very normal, safe environment for them to be in.”

It may be reassuring for anyone who imagines pilots in the cockpit, nervously clutching the yoke during turbulence. Allright says this is not the case. “We are totally relaxed in turbulence as it is completely normal,” he told T+L. “Whatever the circumstances, your pilot will find the most comfortable path to your destination without compromising your safety. Just like you, we experience the movement and would prefer a smoother ride for passenger comfort.”

However, the pilots may not be able to reach a smooth altitude because of something like “another aircraft occupying that level, or the weight of the aircraft at that time,” Allright said. But even in instances when turbulence is unavoidable, “Commercial aircraft are built to withstand even the most severe turbulence. As long as you have your seatbelt on, you are 100 percent safe.”

If fear of flying sneaks up in the middle of a flight, Allright has a few tips to combat it:

  • Breathe. “When you feel anxious, hold your breath, then a long deep breathe in, followed by a long deep breath out. Continue long deep breathing. Combine the deep breath in with a muscle contraction. Clenching your buttocks is most effective, as it overrides other nervous signals going up and down your spinal cord.”
  • Time Management. “Split a long flight up into half hour sections. Go with a plan of things to do, perhaps things you never get round to. Write a letter, watch a film, read a book, eat a meal.”
  • Visualization. Instead of thinking about the flight as it’s happening imagine yourself “stepping off the aircraft into the arms of loved ones, or into a lovely warm climate, or into a successful business meeting.”
  • Talk It Out. “Let the cabin crew know if you’re a nervous flyer, and feel free to ask questions if you are concerned about anything that happens during the flight. Your safety and comfort are their highest priority, and they will contact the pilots if they are unable to answer your questions.”
  • Use Technology. Download an app or listen to a playlist specifically designed to help you overcome your fears.
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