I am trying my best to prepare for my upcoming flight to the USA, the trip is all under control, its just the flight that I'm terrified of. I am very claustrophobic and do not even ride in elevators, I flew once locally for 1.5 hours. But my second flight will be 2 X 10 hours flights from South Africa to USA.

So please, I need to know, what it would be like, if I'll be OK on such a long flight, what can go wrong? And what do I need to be aware of.

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    Hi user4423 and welcome to Travel SE. Do you really want to know what can go wrong? Obviously, there are a lot of things that can go wrong when flying, but fortunately they are very unlikely. So I would generally recommend to focus more on ways to improve your situation and tackle your claustrophobia. Feb 12, 2013 at 10:18
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    I just took the flight from NYC back to Jo'burg last week. (I imagine you are on the Washington DC to Jo'burg flight with a stop in Dakar.) Anyway, you will be in an Airbus A340 which has two aisles and plenty of head room and will be much more spacious the airplane I imagine you flew on before. If it helps, here is a video of what the interior will look like: youtube.com/watch?v=FzH766h6SB8
    – user27478
    Feb 12, 2013 at 12:43
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    Thanks so much for the informative info, and the link. I feel abit better, and will do more research to try and make the flight experience as pleasant as possible.
    – user4423
    Feb 12, 2013 at 13:13
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    I'm removing the USA and South Africa tags, they seem quite tangential to the actual problem of claustrophobia sufferers on aircraft. Feb 13, 2013 at 12:16
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    If your claustrophobia is quite bad you might want to discuss a prescription of Xanax from your Doctor as well.
    – draksia
    Nov 5, 2013 at 18:43

5 Answers 5


I strongly prefer window seats, but once found myself in an aisle seat for a TransAtlantic flight. As I sat down, the man in the middle seat said "excuse me, but my son [gesturing to the window seat] is extremely claustrophobic. Is there any way you could change seats with him just for takeoff?" I couldn't believe my luck. I WANTED that window seat!

We changed places for the duration, and during the times when you aren't allowed to get up, he could at least lean out into the aisle and not have a seatback right in front of his face. He also got up and paced a lot. At the end of the flight, they thanked me again (which was crazy, so I thanked them) and apparently it had been a pretty unpleasant 8 hours, but he had got through it.

So do try to get an aisle seat. It made a big difference for him. If you end up in something else, ask those around you if you can trade and explain why. (I understand some people prefer aisle to window and might not trade, but you might luck out and meet me, or someone generous enough to trade even though they prefer the aisle.) Ask the flight crew if they can find you an aisle seat or arrange a trade with someone further away. And try to choose a flight at a time when you can sleep - nobody actually enjoys sitting on airplanes so if you can be asleep for some of it, so much the better.


First of all, long flights are Claustrophobia friendly :) most likely they will be operated using big airplanes (B777, A330, B747 ..etc). These airplanes are huge with high ceilings and wide bodies, these features will surely ease the feeling of restriction.

Anyway, being a cabin crew with a highly claustrophobic mother who couldn't even have an MRI without being drugged I have few tips (some already mentioned in other answers) that for sure will help you through this experience as it did to my mother who now flies with no problems at all:

  • Go for the aisle seat. Whenever you feel restricted just stand up and move! avoid the middle seats! these middle seats will even make people with no claustrophobia feel uncomfortable and restricted.
  • Try to find an empty row or a seat next to an empty seat, having empty space around you will ease the feeling of restriction.
  • You must know that the suffocation feeling people with claustrophobia get is due to Hyperventilation and not a real suffocation. So if you ever feel suffocated just breath into the airsickness bag in the seat pocket in front of you, this will let the suffocation feeling go away instantly.
  • If you ever feel the claustrophobia symptoms (restriction and suffocation) and you can not do anything about it, talk to the cabin crew. They are trained to deal with this kind of things and they will try their best to make you feel better.
  • Get busy with the in-flight entertaining system or your own iPad or so. Claustrophobia comes from negative thoughts, so fight it by keeping your head busy!
  • Over the counter sleeping pills may help you sleep during the flight.
  • Talking to people helps a lot in all kinds of anxiety. We usually tell passengers around to talk to the person with anxiety, aviophobia or claustrophobia. Talking will keep your mind busy and stop it from starting the negative thoughts.

I am sure if you were able to do your shorter flight which most probably was on smaller airplane then you will do this flight with no problems. Just remember no one actually dies from claustrophobia! and remember these two long flights are a good treatment for claustrophobia, it was proven that exposure has reduced the negative thoughts by 75% in people with claustrophobia (In vivo exposure).

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    fantastic answer! Feb 12, 2013 at 17:59

Some tips that might help (of course, only you can judge if they will help your personal feelings):

  • As Kate says, try to get an aisle seat. This makes it easier to get up and walk around. Flight attendants generally don't mind this too much as long as you don't do it for the entire flight, don't get in their way during mealtimes etc., and don't get up when the seatbelt sign is on.

  • Try to get an exit seat. This is harder, but if you book a fully flexible ticket, or just ask nicely when you book or check in (you could consider telling them you are claustrophobic), this might help - generally you get much more legroom to stretch out into.

  • Consider paying for Business Class, Premium Economy, or something similar (depending on the airline). This again will get you more room to stretch into.

  • Tell the flight attendants! They are used to dealing with nervous passengers and may keep an eye out for you, check that you're OK, etc.

  • Bring plenty of toys to distract you. Whatever keeps you happy, indulge - junky TV and cheesy Movies are best for me (and bring those on iPads, phones, etc. - more than once I've been on a flight where the inflight entertainment is broken - very frustrating on a long trip). Bring books or magazines instead if that's your thing.


Some companies organize seminars to handle fear of flying.

Here is what Air France offers: Gestion de la peur en avion (fr), Managing fear of flying (en, courtesy of Google translation)

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    British Airways have a similar one Flying With Confidence
    – Gagravarr
    Feb 12, 2013 at 11:36
  • There are also courses offered in RSA
    – Jonas
    Feb 12, 2013 at 12:39
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    Claustrophobia is not fear of flying, it is anxiety over enclosed spaces with no possible exit. A "fear of flying" seminar will not help the OP.
    – choster
    Feb 12, 2013 at 14:27
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    @choster: Claustrophobia is one of the elements that compose fear of flying.
    – mouviciel
    Feb 12, 2013 at 15:55
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    Such a British way to say it :) @Gagravarr Dec 7, 2017 at 17:29

I'm claustrophobia just like you. Everytime I fly, I always try my best to get an aisle seat. I try to book way early and I avoid flights without available aisle seats when booking. Getting an aisle seat is my #1 criteria when booking a flight.

I had an episode of serious panic attack years ago when I was put on a plane that only seats 18 passengers. The plane was so small that I couldn't stand up straight in the airplane. (And I am only 5'5"). The plane was on the runway getting ready to take off and I had to ask them to stop the flight so that I could get out. I couldn't breathe and I thought I was going to die. They put me on a second flight that seats 27 people. It was still a small airplane but it made a huge difference and I was able to manage my claustrophobia in that one hour flight.

One tip that I can offer you is that that suffocating feeling can come from no airflow around you. So as soon as you get on the flight and get seated, (And hopefully with an aisle seat) open the air vent so that air is blowing at you. At the same time, as soon you enter the plane when the flight attendant greets you at the entrance of the plane, ask him/her to give you a cup of ice. Explain to him/her that you are claustrophobic and that cup of ice will help you manage your fear. Once you are seated, hold that cup of ice in front of your nose so you can breathe in the cool moist air. It helped me tremendously in calming down that feeling of being stuck in somewhere.

Good luck and try to focus on planing your travel experience in the US and happy thoughts during the flight.

Although I am claustrophobic, I love travel and I fly all the time. There is no way I will let it stop me from visiting all the cool places in the world. :)

Have a great trip!

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