How to overcome a fear of flying: five courses that tackle it

Aerophobia can be a major hurdle for travellers, but an expertly led course by the likes of British Airways or Easyjet can help nervous passengers take to the skies with confidence.

By John Walton
Published 7 Aug 2022, 06:04 BST
A fear of flying is common — airlines estimate that between a third and a quarter of ...

A fear of flying is common — airlines estimate that between a third and a quarter of us suffer from it to some degree, and that up to half have it so strongly they avoid flying altogether.

Photograph by Getty Images

A fear of flying is common — airlines estimate that between a third and a quarter of us suffer from it to some degree, and that up to half have it so strongly they avoid flying altogether. This fear can come on at any time in life, even if you’ve flown before, but there’s good news: many people successfully overcome it, often by attending a course run by either a psychologist or an airline.

The latter is the most popular option; before the pandemic, courses were numerous and included programmes run by British Airways, Easyjet and Virgin Atlantic at various UK airports, including Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton, as well as Belfast, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester. As airlines emerge from the pandemic shutdown, these programmes are only just restarting, so you may find availability limited.

They’re usually split into two parts — group seminar sessions on the ground and a dedicated ‘experience flight’ to put your new knowledge into practice. Some of the courses offer a ground-only option without the flight, which might be enough for those suffering from only a mild fear of flying.

The seminar sessions on the ground provide a lot of technical information about flying, presented by reassuringly uniformed captains. Topics covered include how planes fly, why they’re so safe, how turbulence works, weather, the various noises you can expect to hear during a flight and dealing with common fear triggers. Attendees are also usually provided with a range of psychological techniques they can use to reduce stress levels in the air.

The short flight for the course lets you put the learning into practice, both at the airport and in the air. Without a plane full of everyday passengers around, there’s no need to feel awkward about your fears, and you won’t have the pressure of needing to stay calm for a long period of time. There are extra crew to reassure you about what’s going on, plus a continuous live, running commentary — usually from an extra pilot, over the Tannoy, explaining every noise, wobble or bump.

Some of the courses do both parts on the same day, while others are split it into two days, which people with a stronger fear of flying may find more helpful because they can concentrate on the seminars without worrying about a flight later that day.

An option for anyone with a stronger fear of flying are premium or small-group sessions, where the experts can place more focus on individual fears and triggers than in a larger group. Easyjet calls these its Premium VIP courses, while British Airways offers Primary Plus, with a maximum of 10 people (with a pilot or psychologist in the same row as you) and a Premium course with a maximum of four — and two flights.

Online courses, which largely replicate the seminar sessions — either solo, by watching videos, or as a group, via a teleconference, sometimes with the opportunity to ask a pilot questions — are available, too. These were the main way such courses were delivered during the pandemic. Some also offer options for you to download tracks for future flights, including an audio featuring reassuring commentary from a pilot, panic attack audios and relaxation tracks

Defining success is complicated because everyone will start and end at a different place, but British Airways claims its attendees say the programme is 98% successful, while Virgin Atlantic cites 98.6%, based on its most recent course.

How to do it

1. British Airways offers in-person Flying with Confidence programme from £149, starting this autumn. It also includes online, video-based courses, starting from £79.99 for 30 days’ access.

2. Easyjet’s in-person Fearless Flyer courses this autumn start at £219, or £315 if you want to bring a friend or family member to support you on the experience flight. There are also online, video-based courses from £89, also allowing 30 days’ access. 

3. Virgin Atlantic’s Flying without Fear courses are not currently running but check the website for updates. 

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