Flying with anxiety is difficult enough, but flying alone with anxiety might seem impossible.
Air travel has always exacerbated my existing anxiety. I’ve never enjoyed flying, nor have I found it exhilarating. I always considered it a necessary evil for long distance travel, but something I avoided whenever possible. I never in a million years thought I would ever fly alone.
Recently, I wanted to attend a certain event that’s typically not held close to my location. The event is for somewhat of a niche interest that none of my real life friends share, so I knew if I wanted to attend I would have to go by myself.
So I did.
And honestly? It was amazing. Not so much the flight itself, but the simple fact that I was able to face a huge fear of mine made me feel so proud and accomplished! I decided I wanted share everything I learned from my experience, with the hope that it could help someone else who is flying alone with anxiety.
The bulk of this post will pertain to domestic flights in the US. I have no experience flying internationally; I’m sure there’s some crossover so this could potentially help with international flights, but definitely won’t cover everything.
Flying Alone With Anxiety: A Guide
Book a Nonstop Flight
If you can, fly nonstop. I was traveling from Nashville to Orlando; two cities that are relatively close by, so I had no difficulty finding nonstop flights on the days I needed them with my airline of choice.
If flying nonstop is not an option, try to choose a connecting flight with a minimum two-hour layover. Sometimes, you’ll be need to change terminals and in some cases potentially go through security again. On top of that, planes aren’t comfortable and you might want the chance to walk around and stretch your legs.
Check Youtube for an Airport Tour
Sometimes you can find tours of airports on Youtube, especially if it is a major airport.
This playlist on Youtube has several different airport tours you can check out to potentially get a feel for where you’re going to be.
This helped me a little bit; I’m more of an auditory person so I didn’t remember any of the visual elements from watching airport tours. I probably would have been better off looking for a map of the airport, but if you are a visual person this is probably super helpful for you!
Talk to Your Doctor
In some cases, doctors or psychiatrists can prescribe medication for the flight to soothe your nerves. I already have an anxiety prescription I take as needed, and my doctor and I felt it would be best to use that since my body was already used to it. I ended up not needing it because it was a shorter flight, but for a long flight I may have utilized that. The idea is that the flight becomes more bearable.
Avoid Checking Your Bags
A few days before I was supposed to leave, I realized that (as silly as this may sound) I didn’t know how to check my bags by myself. On previous flights, typically one family member would speak with the agent at the kiosk and pay, and that would be the end of my involvement unless my ID was needed. (I also really didn’t feel like waiting in another line.)
So I looked into taking my bag with me on the plane, which I knew was an option but I normally don’t do. Size and item restrictions vary by airline, so be sure to look into what your airline does/doesn’t allow. The most universal for carry-on items is how much liquid is allowed on a plane and how you are supposed to pack it. No single bottle of liquid can contain over 3.4oz (as of January 2020), and all the bottles have to fit in a quart-sized clear plastic ziplock bag. I had to make slight accommodations to how I normally travel; for example, I couldn’t take any shampoo with me so I bought dry shampoo that was under that amount and used that in my hair. I had to make sure all my makeup/skincare products were under 3.4oz as well and if they weren’t, I had to purchase travel sizes. But that’s all I had to do differently.
I didn’t realize how much time not checking my bag would save. When I got to the airport, all I had to do was go through security and find my gate! I didn’t have to go to baggage claim and wait for my stuff. I could just walk out of the airport and go! I’ll probably never check a bag again. I ALSO didn’t have to worry about anything happening to my luggage because I had it with me the entire time.
If checking a bag is unavoidable, try to make sure your luggage is easily recognizable and/or you have something attached to it that makes it easy to distinguish. I always put my address somewhere on it too, just in case it ever was lost.
Utilize the App For Your Airline
This will vary by airline, but it’s standard nowadays for most airlines to have an app where you can check into your flight up to 24 hours before it departs. You can also get your boarding pass on the app, so you don’t have to worry about keeping up with it.
When you arrive at the airport, check to make sure there wasn’t a gate change just in case your airport has multiple security checkpoints for different gates. Keep checking the app as you wait for your flight in case there is a gate change and you don’t hear it over the loudspeaker.
While not necessary as an anxiety-management tool, I also like to check FlightStats. It will give you an event timeline telling you the exact time anything pertaining to your flight was modified. You can also see a map with the flight path and the weather radar.
This is some of the FlightStats information for my flight home. I like it because you can see exactly when the information was updated, both gates, etc.
Arrive at the Airport Early
Most airlines recommend arriving at the airport 60-90 minutes before your flight departs, depending on whether or not you’re checking luggage. For both flights where I was alone, I got to the airport at least 2 hours before the flight left so that I would have plenty of time if something went wrong.
Waiting around for the flight to start isn’t fun and can generate some anxiety, but for me it’s preferable to potentially getting stuck at security.
I usually have my laptop with me so I can work on my blog, but I also like to take my Switch or a book. I don’t like reading on the plane because that can trigger motion sickness for me, but reading at the airport is a good way to shut everything out.
Be Prepared for Security
Even when I’m not flying alone, I still try to make sure I’m as ready as possible to make it through security to keep the line moving.
I always remove my shoes, belt, and jacket before I even make it to the conveyor belt. Sometimes they agents will have you put your shoes in the bin, but sometimes they just want it on the belt so watch and see what others are doing. Electronics (including your phone) need to be removed from your bags as well and put in their own separate bin. Typically, the officers want you to push your own items through the x-ray so be sure not to leave your items alone.
After I go through security, I just grab my stuff and leave. Then I find somewhere close by to sit that’s out of the way so I can put my shoes back on, put my stuff away, etc. It gets me away from all those people and I feel a lot less rushed that way!
Have a Plan for the Plane
Make sure you know what you’ll do on the plane before you board. For shorter flights, I normally just play my Switch, but for longer flights I need more options than that. The idea is to choose an activity for the plane that doesn’t allow your mind to wander. That way, you can focus on the activity at hand instead of whatever thoughts your anxiety is telling you.
Some options for keeping your mind busy are Sudoku, crossword puzzles/word searches, drawing/sketching, reading (if it doesn’t give you a headache)… if you have a tablet, you can download movies and watch them. Sometimes you can also watch movies for a small fee through the airline’s app.
If someone is picking you up when you arrive at your destination, before you depart tell them your airline, your flight number, and what time your flight is scheduled to arrive. This will allow them to check your flight for delays while you’re still in the air, and will make it easier for them to find you when you arrive.
Evaluate The Experience
Once you’ve landed and have de-planed, take a second to check in with yourself.
For me personally, I discovered that airports are a lot less stressful alone. A lot of the stress of going to the airport came from flying with family. Being by myself at the airport meant that I was in complete control of when I got there, where I ate, etc.
I also think on previous flights, I picked up on my family’s stress and that in turn made me more stressed. Since I was flying alone, there were no other people with a significant enough connection for me to easily pick up on their emotions.
Evaluating your experience with an event that makes you anxious will help make it less frightening in the future.
I hope these tips will help you if you’re planning on flying alone as an anxious person!
Thank you so much for reading! Tell me your favorite tips for flying in the comments!
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