Airport anxiety is way more common that you might think – if you’re one of the many sufferers, you’re definitely not alone! But knowing that doesn’t really help you much; you want good, solid tips that’ll have you breezing through the airport next time you’re there, casually tossing your hair over your shoulder and gliding along the terminal floor like the epitome of a glamorous international traveller. Well, you’ve come to the right place!
Trust me, as a seasoned anxiety sufferer, I know exactly how to get you through this. And it’s not as hard as you might think!
Airport anxiety – my story
I used to be a wreck in airports. I’m not keen on crowds at the best of times, and airports were like an anthill of people who were determined to get somewhere, and would quite happily run you over with a pink leopard-print suitcase to achieve that aim. Queues seemed impossible and impassable. Shops were for taking one frantic look at, convinced that time was running out, before sitting fixedly in front of a departure board for four hours.
So, as you can see, I know what it’s like. And I know what it’s like to watch other people go through it: my mother and my boyfriend both absolutely hate airports, because of the queues and the chaos.
But I don’t get airport anxiety anymore. Actually, I love airports now. And I’m going to show you how you can start the process towards loving them too!
How do you deal with pre-travel anxiety?
Airport anxiety can be dealt with in two stages. The most important stage is at the airport itself – and we’re going to get to that in just a moment, and kick its butt whilst we’re there. But did you know that there’s actually ways that you can help your airport anxiety, and give yourself a much more relaxed vacation, before you even leave home? Even better, there’s something you can do before you even book your trip.
Yup, we’re talking some serious anti-airport anxiety strategies here! Let’s take a look at them!
Book flights which depart in the morning
This is one of my favourite airport anxiety tips because it’s so simple, and it benefits your trip in two different, yet entirely awesome, ways!
Firstly, and most importantly, it’s going to make your time at the airport a heck of a lot easier. Feel free here to open another tab, and whack the name of your most-used airport into Google. See that “Popular Times” column over there on the right? You’ll likely find that the mornings are quieter than midday onward – things will often start picking up about 7 or 8am, with 9am-12pm being as busy as it gets.
So, aim to get the really early flights if possible. If you’re there any time before 9am, then you’re going to have a quieter airport with less of those overwhelming crowds – it really does make your life a lot easier, and lessens that urge to start using your suitcase as a battering ram. Although it is kinda fun watching people bounce off your improvised battle-case, let’s face it.
Plus, an early start means that you have less chance of delays, and get more time in your destination, which is as perfect an outcome as you could hope for! It’s definitely my preferred way to start a trip.
Take advantage of online check-ins
Guys, I LOVE online check in. It’s so, freakin’, ridiculously easy. And for the technophobics out there, who are already breathing slightly faster at the thought of being responsible for tagging your own bag, relax – it honestly is so easy, and you’ll be helped by a member of staff.
Depending on your airline you’ll be able to check in, at the very least, a few days before you leave home. I quite frequently travel with British low-cost airline EasyJet who allow you to check in 30 days in advance of your flight – this means that I can check in for both my flight out, plus my return flight, saving me time and a hell of a lot of queuing in the airport. I can print out both sets of boarding passes (or access them through a smartphone app) and have them in my hand before I get anywhere near a plane.
When you get to the airport, all you’ll need to do is go to a self-service bag drop, and use a touchscreen to answer a few questions and scan your boarding pass. Your luggage label will print off, and you’ll pop it on your case handle. And that’s it! It’s so simple, and it’ll save you so much time and stress. If you’re still not sure, check out this gloriously cheesy video of Southampton Airport’s bag drop process – most airlines are going to have a very similar setup. Have a look on YouTube for the airline or airport you’re travelling with!
What helps airport anxiety?
So you’ve done the pre-travel work, and you’re heading off to the airport – argh, right? Nope! You can relax! If you’ve been able to follow the two steps above, then you’ve already made great leaps to cutting down your airport anxiety! But don’t worry if you weren’t able to do them, because we’re now going to tackle the things that increase your anxiety when you’re actually there. Relax your shoulders, and breathe deeply and freely: we’ve got this completely in hand!
Get to the airport in plenty of time
Know what one of the biggest causes of airport anxiety is? The fear of missing your flight. Images of being late run through your mind: running panic-stricken through an airport terminal, items flying from your bag, people giving you funny looks. You spot the check in desk or gate, run towards it as your vision starts to blur…. and BAM, “Flight Closed”. Yeah, let’s not be that person.
The good news is that it’s easily avoided! All you have to do is get there with plenty of time. Most airlines recommend that you get to the airport two or three hours in advance – if you know that airport anxiety is likely to strike you, give yourself an extra hour. That extra time can make all the difference; not to any process in the airport (two hours is plenty to catch your flight smoothly), but purely to your state of mind. You’ll know that there is absolutely no need to rush, and feel secure in it.
Also, plan ahead as to how you’re going to get there early. You could arrange in advance for a taxi to pick you up, or stay in a airport hotel to ensure that you sweep commandingly into the airport, rather than scurry in a frazzled mess!
Pre-pack toiletries in plastic bags
You’ve arrived at the airport, checked in or dropped your bags off, and it’s time for the next big airport anxiety trigger – the security check.
Trust me, no-one likes the security check. Even the security guys look like they’re hating life, and would rather be wrangling fire-breathing llamas for a living. So don’t feel alone in this fear!
One of the biggest stress moments in the security check is the rule that you must have any liquids smaller than 100ml (if it’s bigger than that, it needs to go in your suitcase) in a clear plastic bag. I’ve seen sooo many people forget about this rule, and have a small meltdown on a terminal floor. Either it’s the stress of having to ransack their bags for every single liquid or paste, quite possibly displaying their packed underwear to the world, or the distress of having to throw away expensive bottles of perfume or cosmetics which were hidden away. And then having to cram it all into a little plastic baggie.
With a little preparation, you’ll never need to worry about this scenario ever again! Either pre-pack your liquids in something like a Ziploc freezer bag, or to be super-prepared, buy a TSA-approved transparent cosmetics bag which you can use over and over. It’s very little money for something which is going to provide you with years of reduced-stress travel!
Wear clothes which are easy to take off (so to speak)
No, I’m not advising you to run around the airport naked; that is very bad! Put your clothes back on! Bad traveller; bad!!
What I was trying to say is that you can make your life a lot easier at the security check by thinking about what you’re wearing. Most airports will require you to remove any hats, coats, scarves, or boots when they scan your hand luggage, and you pass through the metal detectors. When I visited Prague in January, there was a huge line at the trays for putting your hand luggage in, because people were struggling to get all their winter layers off.
Obviously you’ve got to go with the season – if it’s the middle of winter, you’re not going to want to turn up in a t-shirt and shorts. But once you’re in the airport, you can pop scarves and hats in your hand luggage for a bit, giving you a couple less things to juggle. Instead of wearing lace-up boots, consider ones with a zip, or slip-ons.
Also, try not to get too anxious about being stopped at the metal detector, or pulled aside to be patted down. You don’t have anything on you that you shouldn’t, and you have nothing to fear. The staff are professionals, and they want to get it done quickly so they can move on to the next task. I’ve been patted down at an airport, and all I got was compliments on my t-shirt (Amsterdam airport staff are lovely, by the way!). So there’s really nothing to get yourself too anxious about, even if it does happen!
Use airport apps
Airports are very aware of the need to try to reduce airport anxiety as much as possible – it affects their business, after all, especially if it becomes so bad that people no longer want to travel. So, they’re very keen to use modern technology to bring you an anxiety-busting service that you can carry around with you.
Enter airport apps! Yup, if you check your smartphone’s app store, you’ll find that pretty much any airport you care to mention has an app. These will contain everything from arrivals and departures, to shop and restaurant listings, to info on parking. But most crucially, they generally include a map of the airport – and these are invaluable to airport anxiety sufferers!
Let’s face it: airports can be hella confusing. It can be near impossible to find the nearest toilets, or your gate, or just find your way through the never-ending one-way pathway of shops (looking at you, London Stansted). Having an app on your phone, which can direct you to what you need, saves so much time and angst.
If you want peak anxiety-busting, get the TripIt Pro app. This is by far the most useful travel app I have on my phone (and trust me, I have a lot of them) – it gives me airport maps for near enough anywhere in the world, tells me which gate I need to head to before the airport boards do, and even tells me which carousel my bags will be on when I get there. It’s a must.
Pre-order your food and drink
We’ve all been there at airports. You’ve skipped breakfast to get to the airport a bit early, and now you’re just getting hangry. You spot a place you can grab breakfast and join the queue, only for it to move at the speed of sloth. You check your watch; the departure time ticks closer. Does that person at the front of the line really have to let her kids go through every single item on the menu?? Now they can’t find their boarding pass! You’re going to miss the plane!! And so you abandon the attempt, hungry and unfulfilled.
Don’t let airport anxiety or annoying people get the better of you. Remember those airport apps I told you about? Well, an increasing number of them allow you to pre-order your food. If you hit a queue at security, you can pull out your phone, and order and pay for your meal from the eateries in the departure lounge. When you get there, you just stroll up to the desk, pick up your food, and leave. How simple is that??
Again, if you don’t fancy downloading a ton of airport apps, there is one app to rule them all – check out Grab, and never get beaten by the queue again.
Pre-ordering also means that you can make a smart choice. Airport restaurants are increasing in quality, and moving away from fast-food style, greasy snacks. Get something clean and healthy, and you’ll feel so much better for it on the flight!
Use an airport lounge
Sometimes, airport anxiety gets a little too much for even the best of us. You’re stuck in the airport at the busiest time, and the crowds are getting overwhelming. Don’t worry – we all feel that way when there’s just too much chaos going on, and airports are a perfect storm.
Fortunately, there’s a way out. Airport lounges may sound like the exclusive reserve of the elite, but they’re honestly much more affordable than you may think. They’re also perfect for restoring your peace of mind before you fly – you can get good food and drink, relax in comfy seats (unlike the curved wooden monstrosities outside), or even take a shower.
But how can you gain access to this oasis of loveliness? Don’t you need to show them your Ferrari car keys, and provide the names of your noble ancestors stretching back to the kings of old? Well, not quite. You actually just need to download an app. Either go direct and get LoungeBuddy, or if you’ve been tempted by the TripIt app above, that works too – they both go to exactly the same service, which can get you into an exclusive lounge for as little as $26.
That’s definitely worth it!
Keep stomach settlers at hand
If you suffer from airport anxiety, you’ll most likely get an upset stomach at some point. It’s completely natural, and you’ll generally find that as soon as your airport-induced stress is over, it’ll go away like it was never there. But until then, it’s the most uncomfortable, awkward feeling. You worry that you’ve got some sudden bug which is going to ruin your trip, or that you’re about to throw up in public. Don’t worry; neither of these is going to happen!
It’s purely your stomach’s reaction to worry and anxiety, a physical symptom of the trauma that your mind is going through, but it makes you feel increasingly worse. So in order to feel better, and to enjoy your airport experience a bit more, you’re going to have to settle that feeling.
You can do this via medication (make sure that it’s one you can bring in your hand luggage, or remember to put it in your transparent bag), and give yourself a boost once you settle down in the departure lounge. But my preferred option is to use items you can easily purchase when you’re in departures, and which are far more enjoyable than popping some pills! I’ve found that drinking cola, especially if you let the fizz die down a bit first, and eating anything mint-flavoured works just as well as medication. The absolute ideal is minty chocolate – the mint settles your stomach, and the chocolate gives you a little mood-boost that’ll keep your outlook as sunny as the weather at your destination!
Keep yourself entertained
Boredom is the friend of airport anxiety. The two go hand in hand, skipping happily through the terminal, stomping that expensive bag that you just put on the floor for a second. They’re there to ruin your time in the airport, make you sick with nerves, and potentially screw up the first couple of days of your trip. Don’t let ’em!
There’s no more fertile ground for airport anxiety than a bored mind. If you’re just sitting there watching the departures board and not doing anything else, then other thoughts are going to creep into your mind. Fears about the flight, or doubts about what’ll happen when you reach your destination. Concerns about your bags not getting loaded on to the plane. You name the fear, it’ll be there.
So stave it off by keeping yourself distracted or entertained. Bring along a book, or buy one in the airport. Download podcasts to your phone – the noise of your surroundings will make you really focus hard on what you’re listening to. Use free airport WiFi to read awesome travel blogs (hint hint). Or if all else fails, engage in a spot of pro people watching.
Whatever the form, keep yourself entertained, and feel those worries slip away!
It might sound weird, but I am a big supporter of walking around airports. As in, doing laps of the terminal if needs be.
Let me explain – when I solo travelled from London to Cincinnati, I had a massive panic attack in the airport. It was a blockage: I simply couldn’t muster up the courage to go through the gate, and into the security check. I felt like I was going to die right there and then, and if I didn’t, the plane would probably do the job for me.
My mum, bless her heart, nabbed me by the arm, and just started walking me around the terminal. We just did endless laps (with my poor dad dragging my bag behind us), but that forward motion absolutely worked. Rather than being stuck, standing stock still, the very process of moving forwards completely unblocked me. My mindset shifted, and after five sniffly laps of Gatwick Airport, I was ready to go through into security. Once I did, my mindset shifted again, and I went into alert business mode. I got on my plane, and handled the journey like a trooper.
If you find your mindset getting stuck, go for a walk around the airport. You’ll be amazed how effective it is!
Trust me, I know how easy it is to suffer a panic attack. I also know how easy it is to have everything in an airport, the very nature of the place, spiral you into a place you’re not sure how to get out of. You’re about to get on a plane, giving control of your life over to some pilot you’ve never met. You feel funnelled through the airport, trapped in the departure lounge. Fears of terrorism flash through your mind.
Before you know it, you’re at the bottom of the spiral, and majorly freaking out. It might even be so bad that you decide you never want to do this again.
I’m imploring you not to get to that place – you deserve to have a calm life, and you deserve to travel as you wish.
Remember the key facts. Planes are absolutely the safest way to travel. You’re not remotely trapped in the departure lounge or the gate – it’s just the pathway to the freedom of travel, and if you feel absolutely awful, there are members of staff who’ve been trained to help you. Terrorism isn’t going to happen: those security checks you went through are comprehensive, and weed out even the slightest hint of trouble. Everyone and everything in the departure lounge has been scanned and checked.
So, take deep breaths, and check out my guide to surviving panic attacks when travelling (with a special section on airports!). You can get through a panic attack at the airport – I know, I’ve done it – and still be okay to fly. Armed with information on what causes it, and how to deal with it, you can do it too!
I hope these tips to beating airport anxiety help you as much as they’ve helped me! You don’t have to be a diagnosed anxiety sufferer in order to experience it – I don’t think there’s a single person out there who’s never felt that sinking feeling. Even the most pro, experienced travellers still go through it, and that’s a weirdly comforting thought. But if you have the right info, you really can change your outlook, and start to love going to the airport! Be prepared, work at controlling your fears, and the world will be your oyster!
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