From Panic to Peace: Overcoming In-Flight Panic Attacks

From Panic to Peace: Overcoming In-Flight Panic Attacks

Discover practical strategies to overcome in-flight panic attacks. Whether you’re a first-time flyer or someone who dreads takeoff, find peace during your journey.

Flying can be an exhilarating experience, but for some, it triggers intense anxiety and panic attacks. In this article, we’ll explore practical strategies to help you overcome in-flight panic attacks. Whether you’re a first-time flyer or someone who dreads every takeoff, these techniques can make your journey more peaceful and enjoyable.

Understanding In-Flight Panic Attacks

What Is a Panic Attack? A panic attack is a sudden surge of intense fear or discomfort, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and sweating. When panic strikes during a flight, it can feel overwhelming. Why Do Panic Attacks Happen During Flights? Several factors contribute to in-flight panic attacks:

  • Fear of Flying: The fear of flying (aviophobia) is common. Concerns about turbulence, crashes, or being trapped in a confined space can trigger panic.
  • First-Time Flyers: New travelers may feel vulnerable and anxious about the unknown aspects of flying.

Recognizing Symptoms

Before we delve into the top 10 coping strategies, let’s recognize the signs of an impending panic attack:

  • Increased Heart Rate: Your heart races, and you feel like it’s pounding out of your chest.
  • Shortness of Breath: Breathing becomes shallow, and you may hyperventilate.
  • Sweating and Trembling: Cold sweats and trembling limbs are common.
  • Feeling Dizzy or Lightheaded: The world may spin, and you might feel faint.

Top 10 Coping Strategies During a Flight Panic Attacks

1. Recognize and Accept that You have a Fear of Flying

First off, it is OK to have a fear of flying. Don’t beat yourself up for having anxiety about flying. Accept that flying gives you anxiety and then look for ways to combat your fear. Acknowledging that this is something that gives you anxiety is the first step towards overcoming your fear.

2. Distract Yourself

Sometimes the best thing for me when I’m flying is distracting myself from my anxiety. I will tune into my noise-cancelling headphones. I have these from Bose and they’re my favorite. They block out So much noise from the plane. Watching a familiar movie or show usually helps distract me from my flying anxiety.

3. Understand What’s Happening on the Plane

Another thing that is beneficial for those that are afraid to fly, is to understand what is happening to the plane. Understanding what certain plane sounds are, and what turbulence is can be helpful because it can help you anticipate what your flight will be like.

The plane will make certain sounds during takeoff and landing, such as when the wheels go up into the plane. Turbulence, or “rough air” can make for a bumpy flight. One thing to keep in mind is that turbulence is normal on flights, and airplanes are designed to handle an immense amount of turbulence.

When it comes to airplane noises and turbulence, please keep in mind that these things are routine while flying. Your pilots and flight attendants are all trained to keep your flight comfortable and safe.

4. Recognize that it’s Out of Your Control

For some people, it is helpful to recognize that what the airplane does is completely out of their control. Regardless of if you completely white-knuckle your arm rest during the entire flight or not, the plane will operate the same regardless. So, try to take deep breaths, relax, and let the pilots focus on keeping their passengers safe.

5. Breathing Exercises

Apply 4-7-8 technique. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat until you feel calmer. Inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, and pause for 4 counts. Repeat.

6. Cold Water Splash

Splash cold water on your face. The shock interrupts panic symptoms and helps you refocus.

7. Look for Natural Supplements

Natural supplements can be a great, natural way to relax yourself while flying. There are a lot of natural supplements that can relax your body, without having to deal with a prescription or side effects. Talk to your doctor to see what would work best for your lifestyle and health.

8. Get Comfy

A little bit of comfort can go a long way! When I fly, I wear comfortable clothing, bring a warm blanket, and snack on my favorite go-to snack, peanut butter M&Ms. That little bit of comfort eases my anxiety and helps me relax while I’m flying.

9. Start Small

If flying gives you severe anxiety, then don’t start by booking a 14-hour flight. Instead, try going on a few 1–2-hour flights and work up to longer flights. Getting a few short flights under your belt will give you the confidence to conquer a longer trip. Europe here you come!

10. Interact with Flight Attendants or Someone

Flight attendants are trained to handle anxious passengers, ensuring safety and providing support. Don’t hesitate to seek their assistance. If you still have unmanageable or crippling air-travel anxiety, then talk to someone. Confide in a professional. This is such a beneficial tip because talking to a therapist can help you identify the root of your anxiety and help create a game plan for success. There is no shame if you need to talk to a professional. Do what you need to do to conquer your flying anxiety so that it doesn’t rule your life.

Preventive Measures

1. Choosing the Right Seat

  • Aisle Seat: If you fear confinement, choose an aisle seat for more space.
  • Window Seat: Enjoy the view if it calms you, but avoid it if you’re prone to motion sickness.
  • Avoid the Back: Turbulence is more noticeable at the rear of the plane.
  • Emergency Exit Rows: Extra legroom but responsibilities during emergencies.

2. Packing Essentials

  • Medications: Carry anxiety-reducing medications (consult a doctor).
  • Comfort Items: Bring familiar items (books, music) for comfort.
  • Noise-Canceling Headphones: Block engine noise.

3. Sedatives (Consult a doctor)

  • For severe anxiety, consult a healthcare professional.
  • Test any medication before your flight.

4. Real-Time Information

  • Turbulence Forecasts: Some airlines provide real-time forecasts.
  • Flight Updates: Stay informed about delays and gate changes.


I hope that this article has helped you! As someone who has battled with a fear of flying, I understand that it can be scary and difficult. Luckily, with the right tools, anyone can overcome their fear of flying and enjoy the freedom that air travel brings.

Remember, you’re not alone in your fear of flying. Implement these strategies, seek professional help if needed, and gradually build confidence. May your flights be filled with peace and courage!


1. Is it common to have a panic attack on a plane?

Yes, it is common for some individuals to experience panic attacks during air travel. Factors like fear of flying, fear of heights, and stress related to travel can contribute to panic attacks on planes.

2. How to stop a panic attack fast?

During a panic attack, try the following techniques:

  • Breathe slowly and deeply to reduce anxiety.
  • Shock your system by splashing cold water on your face or submerging your fingers in ice water.
  • Concentrate on something physical in your environment to ground yourself.

3. What are three types of panic attacks?

Three types of panic attacks: unexpected (sudden onset), situationally bound (triggered by specific situations), and situationally predisposed (increased likelihood in certain situations).

4. What is the 3 3 3 rule for panic attacks?

The 3-3-3 rule is a grounding technique for anxiety:

  • Name 3 Things You See: Look around and identify three objects.
  • Identify 3 Sounds You Hear: Pay attention to your surroundings.
  • Move 3 Body Parts: Touch or move three parts of your body (e.g., fingers, toes)

5. What is stage 4 panic disorder?

Panic disorder is characterized by extreme and frequent panic attacks. However, there is no specific “stage 4” associated with panic disorder. It’s essential to seek professional help for accurate diagnosis and treatment. Remember that you’re not alone, and effective treatments are available to manage panic attacks and anxiety.

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