Claustrophobia when flying: what it means and how to beat it

  • 04 Nov, 2015
  • Clare Leedale
  • 1 Comment

People walk through busy terminal - beat claustrophobia Photo credit: Scott

Claustrophobia affects tens of thousands of people in the UK alone. It can cause many problems within your life, especially when it comes to flying. As part of BlogVember, we thought it would be interesting to explore this and speak to the people it affects everyday.

Claustrophobia is the fear of being enclosed or shut in a small space and not being able to get out. Sufferers are often looking for the nearest exit and will sometimes avoid busy and crowded places.This feeling can grow from a past experience and can affect people’s lives daily for many years. Sufferers can experience claustrophobia in cubicles, small rooms and crowds and often these feelings are increased when on a plane.

Having a fear of flying and having claustrophobia are two different things which are often confused. A fear of flying is being scared of the plane crashing resulting in injury or death. A claustrophobe isn’t necessarily worried about this – they are more anxious that the doors won’t open at the end of the flight or the exits will be blocked with slow moving passengers.

Experience with claustrophobia

We wanted to find out more information about this difficult-to-understand disorder. We spoke to one woman who has suffered with claustrophobia since she was a young girl. She told us she had previously avoided flying to ensure she wouldn’t feel uncomfortable. “I was made to feel anxious on a bus when I was at school. I pressed the ‘stop’ button twice instead of once. The bus driver wouldn’t open the doors to let me off the bus as I had annoyed him in doing so. I think that was the start of my fears.”

She explains how before plane journeys, she will panic “three times a day” for up to a week before the flight about being shut in. She says she often has nightmares and wakes up thinking about the situation.

Selection of flying courses helping passengers beat claustrophobia when flying

Can the airport be doing more to provide these passengers with extra reassurance? Whilst airlines EasyJet, Virgin and British Airways offer fear of flying courses, we noticed that most airports don’t provide anything to help with the situation of being in the airport. The woman we interviewed told us “I think if the airport staff are supportive, the flying seems easier and I feel more comfortable waiting for my flight.” She praised airline FlyBe for providing her with “everything she needs” in the previous years she has flown with them. Whilst she understands that nothing could take the fear away, she feels that the friendly staff and cabin crew they have working for them “go out of their way” to make her feel as comfortable as possible.

Our claustrophobia tips

If you do suffer from claustrophobia and are planning a flight, here are a few of our ideas on how to make the journey a little more comfortable!

Book a lounge! Check the airport you are flying from and see if you can book some time in a lounge in advance. These are usually much calmer and quieter areas which aren’t so crowded.

Priority Boarding – This can usually be added when you buy your tickets online or on the phone. It is often very cheap and ensures that you can be amongst the first to board the plane. This gives you some time to get settled without being jostled in the aisle.

FastTrack Security – Offered at various airports and with varying airlines so it would be worth checking in advance, however if you can book this you can usually be through security in no time at all for a minimal fee (often between £3 and £5, but sometimes it is limited to First or Business Class passengers only).

Claustrophobia often comes in partnership with another fear – the fear of the unknown. Unless you travel regularly, flying can be a scary concept for anybody due to being in an unfamiliar environment. Whilst some businessmen and women can arrive for a flight an hour before they are due to take off and feel relaxed, other passengers may show up three hours prior to their flight taking off and feeling panicked. Do your stress levels increase at an airport? A few sources on have expressed how they will “sleep worse than usual” the night before a flight. It would seem it is completely normal to feel an increased sense of panic before or during your airport experience.

Here at Airport Parking Shop, we completed a quick survey to see how people feel the day before a flight. A few members of staff explained how they are worried about getting to the airport on time, their onwards journey or remembering to pack everything they need. Others said they didn’t have a problem with flying and found it an easy process. However, the overall reaction was even a small worry seems bigger when you are going on a plane, which, when 34,643,245 people flew with British Airways in 2014 alone, probably implies that most people at the airport are worrying just as much! (Source:

What we want to know is: has the service improved as the use of planes has become more popular? “I didn’t go on a plane before I was 17 and I hated it when I did. The fact that you can now book a seat on the plane has made the experience better for me. This means I can be right at the front which works for me because I can be the last one on the plane and the first one to leave – it makes a massive difference,” explained our interviewee.

“Although it would seem airports have improved their services, I would love to know whether the airport will become a completely easy and relaxed environment in the coming decades. I suppose, we’ll have to wait and see!”

Claustrophobia is just one of the hidden conditions that people travel with. Check out our piece on Mental Health and travelling to delve deeper into what it’s like to travel with mental health conditions.

About Clare Leedale

I love technology and writing travel content. Mostly found at coffee shops or walking my dogs!

One response to “Claustrophobia when flying: what it means and how to beat it”

  1. I am travelling on a 12 hour flight in 2 weeks and i have been stressing about it for the last 7 to 8 months! I even wake up at night, thinking about it and my chest starts getting tight and i start hyperventilating. The fact that i will be stuck for 12 hours in an enclosed space with a lot of people is terrifying. The fact that i will be in the air, not on the ground and the doors will not open is just a nightmare for me right now. I have been watching videos and read a few things online but they have not helped.
    any help from you would be really appreciated!

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