I am writing this in the departure hall of Leeds-Bradford airport. In about two hours, I will be sitting on a cheap flight to Girona, Spain, waiting for take off.
I am already feeling quite anxious.
Nevertheless, every time I fly alone, the better I get at it. And I’ve flown alone a lot by now, so I know all about the nerves and the stomach butterflies which come before, during and after the flight. I have also learnt a lot about how to combat them, and so if you’re nervous about flying, try and follow these simple steps to keep nerves to a minimum and make your journey a stress-free one.
BEFORE THE DAY
Before the day of the flight, you will need to make sure everything is in place for the day of travel.
Check rules and restrictions for your airline and destination
- How much checked baggage and hand luggage can you take? Some airlines allow you only 10kg of hand luggage and one small bag, while others might allow two smaller bags or 15kg of hand luggage. Check whether laptop cases count as small items, and whether your hand luggage might be placed into the hold for busier flights. If it’s really important to you that you have the hand luggage on the plane with you, then you may have to pay a small fee to guarantee that this, depending on the airline (if you do not pay £5 for priority boarding with Ryanair, your hand luggage will be placed in the hold for free upon boarding. A downside of budget travel.)
- How many liquids do you need to take? If you’re only taking hand luggage, you will need to think carefully about which liquids you prioritise; you are only allowed one small (20cm x 20cm, with a maximum capacity of 1 litre) sealed transparent plastic bag, containing containers of liquids up to a maximum of 100ml. Remember: this includes make-up and toiletries such as mascara, foundation, toothpaste, lipgloss, suncream, hand sanitiser…
- Which essentials can you buy at the airport? If you’re struggling for space in your bag, remember that there will be several shops after the security check where you can buy travel essentials without the liquid restrictions (though the limits on hand luggage will still apply when you board the flight, so watch out). Some of these shops will be overpriced, while others will not – so consider researching which shops are on offer at your chosen airport. For example, Leeds Bradford has both a WHSmith and Boots, and both offer the same meal deal and prices on toiletries as in their high-street stores, which is excellent value and extremely helpful when it comes to those last-minute purchases you couldn’t fit in your luggage. Smart and stress-free!
- Does your destination have any extra requirements? This is where you will be considering things like vaccinations and up-to-date boosters for certain countries. You will need to check if you can get these vaccinations on the NHS or at a special travel clinic. You can find out if there are any recommended vaccines here.
- Make a packing list – If you need a hand or think you might have forgotten something, google “packing list” and you will find hundreds of options. But don’t forget to personalise your list to where you’re going – and don’t forget things like plug adaptors.
- Buy travel insurance! You may think you don’t need travel insurance – after all, in many European countries, we currently have the EHIC card which will allow you to gain healthcare at the same price as a resident. However, the EHIC does not serve as travel insurance – it does not cover theft of your belongings, personal liability, or death, for example. You can buy travel insurance very cheaply these days, if you’re careful to check their terms and conditions. If you use a price comparison site, you can often directly compare what is offered and view the independent Defaqto rating, as well as read reviews of the company on other websites. Don’t worry too much about it, but also don’t go for the first cheap policy you see.
- Check in online (if available) Many airlines will have the option to check in online before the day of the flight, and there may be a hefty fee to pay if you forget to do this. You can then either print off your boarding pass, or send it to your mobile phone (or both).
ON THE DAY
- Add last-minute essentials – these are the things on your packing list that you might have been using up until the very last minute – a hairbrush and toothpaste, or a mobile phone charger.
- Check for travel documents – things like your passport/ID, bank cards, currency, and boarding pass (if applicable).
- Leave in plenty of time, allowing for disasters. If you’re nervous about flying, the last thing you want to be doing is rushing about before the flight itself. Leave earlier than you think you need to, and aim to arrive around 1-3 hours (depending on the size of airport and the destination) before the flight boarding time (not the flight departure time, as don’t forget that the boarding gate often closes 30 minutes before the departure time). This will allow for any traffic nightmares, as well as giving you time to relax and settle in before the flight.
- Find a quiet spot in the airport. So, you’ve arrived with plenty of time to spare, got through security, and now all that’s left to do is wait. In this situation, I usually go for a wander around the departures area and find the spot with the fewest people. Airports give me the jitters – the sheer amount of people and movement can be overwhelming at times – but with a little distance from the main source of commotion, I can focus on some breathing exercises. I count as I inhale and then as I exhale. This is also the time where I might buy last minute essentials or plan for meals, as I often like to have a snack on the plane.
ON THE PLANE
- Accept unpleasant thoughts. This might sound counterintuitive at first, but bear with me. I have found that realising my worries are just that – worries – and accepting their validity has helped more than simply trying to avoid them in the first place. If my brain panics suddenly “what if there is a problem with the engine?” or similar, I try to remember that there is nothing I can do. If I avoid every single flight for fear that something will go wrong, I will never go anywhere. I accept that I am worried but then I accept that it doesn’t require any further action right now.
- Remind yourself of the facts. No doubt you’ve heard that flying is statistically the safest method of travel. Statistically, nothing is likely to go wrong on this journey. You are safe.
- Distractions. Having accepted your worries and reminded yourself of the facts, try not to dwell on the matter. Take something to do on the plane – a book, a games console, your favourite music. Anything that will keep you amused for the duration of the trip.
- Talk to someone if possible. Travelling with a friend? Spend a little extra when you book to sit next to them. Travelling alone? Strike up a conversation with someone nearby (if you feel comfortable doing so) or tell a flight attendant you’re feeling anxious, if you feel this will help.
- Take a snack and a drink. Airplane food and drink is famously expensive. Avoid paying premium, and take a little something for if you get hungry. I usually take boiled sweets / hard mints to suck on during take-off, as this helps with the change in air pressure, and because I also find this quite comforting.
AT THE OTHER END
- Collect your checked-in luggage (if applicable). While you wait for the bags to arrive, this is the time to go to the toilet (beat the queues) and freshen up.
- Have a plan. If you’re not meeting someone at the other end, make sure you’ve researched how to get to the city centre (or your destination) by public transport. The airport website itself usually contains transport information, but a quick google or a consultation of TripAdvisor will also be helpful.
- Learn a few very essential phrases – Personally, I love doing a bit of Duolingo for fun before I go abroad, as well as compiling my own personalised list of essential phrases from sites such as Omniglot or RocketLanguages.
Top tip: Don’t forget to find phrases for any medical or dietary requirements you may have – at the very least in a conversational barrier, you’ll be able to say roughly what you need to!
All these things to remember, however, and truly the thing which I have found helps take the stress out of flying is this: practice. The more I fly (always alone), the less nervous I get. After all, I have the balance of probability behind me, as for every flight that goes smoothly, the better my chances look for the next flight.
The first flight is always the scariest. But once you’ve got the hang of all the preparations and found the rhythm that works for you, the world will be your oyster.
Tell me, what helps make your plane journeys less stressful? Do you experience pre-flight anxiety? Where was the last place you visited?