If you fear confinement and small places, boarding an airplane can be terrifying, no matter how composed and confident you are on land. For first time fliers especially, planes can bring about a lot of anxiety. Even a short trip can seem never-ending in an enclosed space. Claustrophobia is a fairly common anxiety with no clear cause or foolproof treatment. Dealing with flight-induced claustrophobia involves taking preventive steps before the flight and, once you're on board, employing various tools, techniques and behaviors to take control of your own reactions, reducing your fear of flying and flight anxiety and making your trip at least bearable.

Book the right seat.

Don’t choose a window seat – choose an aisle seat or upgrade yourself to a seat in business or first class, where you'll have more room and likely feel less claustrophobic. These seats may cost hundreds of dollars more, but if you can afford the extra room, you'll feel less trapped. If you can afford only coach, pick a seat in the front row of the section; you'll have a bit more breathing room, and your space won't be compromised by another passenger tilting his seat back.

Visit a psychologist before your trip.

Schedule several sessions if possible to work on your claustrophobia. The therapist can help you learn to change your thoughts about personal space and flying and teach you methods to deal with things like panic attacks or a panic disorder during air travel through things like exposure therapy and visualization. Ask for a prescription for two doses of sedatives, one for the initial flight and another for the return trip. Be sure to bring any anti-anxiety medication if you have an anxiety disorder or any other prescriptions that you take for mental health reasons. Fill these prescriptions and keep them in your carry-on, just in case, so you have access to them after take off.

Wear loose-fitting clothes.

Or change in the airport bathroom. Choose a V-neck shirt or tank top, unbutton the top several buttons of your dress shirt and pull on cozy socks. After boarding, slip out of your shoes so you'll feel even more relaxed and free and have more legroom in the confined space.

Board the plane as late as possible.

Wait at the gate until the final boarding call to minimize how long you have to spend on the plane, especially for long flights.

Practice deep breathing as soon as you get onto the plane.

Panicked people tend to intensify their anxiety and irrational fears by taking shallow, short breaths. Close your eyes, breathe deeply through your nose and exhale slowly, trying to calm your intense fear. Repeat this type of breathing until you feel calm. You may need to spend the entire flight breathing this way.

Keep yourself busy throughout the flight.

Walk up and down the aisles whenever you're allowed. Listen to calming music or an audio version of a favorite author's book while seated. Keep your eyes closed or wear an eye mask while in your seat and visualize yourself in an open space. You'll be back on the ground before you know it.

Things You Will Need
  • MP3 player

  • Eye mask

Travel Tips

When planning a cross-country or transoceanic flight, consider booking an overnight trip. If you're tired enough, you'll sleep through much of the trip.

Avoid caffeine for four hours prior to boarding.