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The Best Airplanes for Nervous Flyers

The Best Airplanes for Nervous Flyers
Ali Wunderman

There’s nothing like being scared of flying to make a passenger exceptionally committed to scrutinizing aircraft. As a flight-phobic travel professional on the road roughly two-thirds of the year, I’m continually faced with hyping myself to get on yet another airplane that’s new to me. Despite the inherent stress of doing so, I’ve learned a lot about which airplanes are more or less likely to ease the travel experience for nervous flyers like myself.

The emotions surrounding flying are always going to be an individual journey, but for anyone hesitant to fly or unsure of how to navigate the aircraft marketplace, so to speak, I want to lend my experience and help make the decision-making process a little easier. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of aircraft that can help make the flying experience a little easier on anxious passengers.

“Two factors contribute to a passenger’s comfort on a plane: the aircraft itself and the configuration of the passenger seats on the plane,” explains Peter Vlitas, Travel Leaders Group Senior Vice President of Airline Relations.

1) Boeing Dreamliner 787-9

Larger aircraft are generally going to be the most comfortable, in the same way that a bus is less affected by potholes than smaller road vehicles. The Dreamliner, my personal favorite among all the long-haul flyers, is actually somewhat smaller than its competitors, but Boeing’s emphasis on technology, like having a lightweight carbon fiber fuselage, makes it the winner for me. Vlitas explains, “the cabin air pressure in a Boeing 787 is equivalent to an altitude of 6,000 feet versus 8,000 feet for most other aircraft,” meaning that the atmosphere is less stressful on the physical body. Their electronic window shades and mood lighting help to combat jet lag while a sense of whimsy to cut through the anxiety of flying. The way this plane enhances the passenger experience is why Turkish Airlines chose to purchase 30 new Dreamliners, according to Mr. Ilker Ayci, the airline’s Chairman of the Board and the Executive Committee.

2) Airbus A380

The Airbus A380, which Vlitas describes as “majestic” is another great choice for long distance flying. “It has very elegant takeoff and landing,” which is important for anxious travelers, since that’s when the flight feels the most variable. The interior is in line with its graceful ground behavior. “It’s quiet and spacious and people feel more comfortable in the larger setting,” Vlitas adds. For the stats-minded nervous flyer, it’s worth noting that the A380, in addition to the Dreamliner, have never experienced a passenger fatality.

3) Bombardier CRJ700/900/1000 regional jet family

Long-hauls have the benefit of requiring larger aircraft to make it across oceans, but us anxious flyers need options for getting around domestically, too. Bombardier’s jets are typically used for shorter flights operating on behalf of the larger airlines, like Delta, United, and American Airlines. 2016 saw the manufacturer refurbishing their aircraft, creating a more spacious entry and overhead bins, bigger windows, new seats and toilets, and improved lighting. Best of all, Bombardier’s trio of CRJ aircraft channel their Canadian heritage by humbly boasting a fatality-free record.

4) Boeing 717

The tale of this aircraft is almost like a love story: formerly disregarded to the point of ceasing production, the 717 was unpopular and no one wanted it. This was around the same time that Delta Airlines was regularly the butt of jokes regarding airline service. Yet when these two outcasts found each other, magic happened. Delta is now rated the best United States airline, and this fatality-free plane is most commonly found in the Delta fleet, in addition to being in high demand from other airlines. As specs go, every seat has a charger and USB port, so there’s no chance of anxiety caused by draining batteries. Passengers report an exceptionally smooth ride, almost like being in a flying sports car, ideal for people wanting as little turbulence as possible.

5) Cessna 208 Caravan

This aircraft is far from the top of the Safest Planes list, but it does offer a benefit for combatting flight anxiety the rest don’t: you can sit in the co-pilot’s seat. Doing no more than coping with flying-induced fear is totally valid, but for those in a place where they can begin to move past their fear, getting to see how planes work demystifies them, creating a sense of control that combats anxiety. During my first flight on Tropic Air in Belize, I ended up in the co-pilot’s seat of this aircraft just by accident. I was so terrified of flying in a small-seater propellor plane, yet when I landed I couldn’t remember what it was I found so scary, forever reducing my fear of flying. It helps that most of their flights are around 15-20 minutes, so it’s not a huge commitment to try out a seemingly-scarier aircraft.



[Image Source: Shutterstock]

View Comments (9)


  1. Icecat

    May 9, 2019 at 2:19 pm

    Wow, how did the 789 get first place? I find the 787 family to be very cramp, and it’s on my list of aircraft to avoid if possible, now the Airbus 350 has wider seats, a wider cabin and is quieter and it’s not on the list. The 717 has never experience a fatality, but it’s predecessor the DC-9-30 has suffered several.

  2. khamlet

    May 10, 2019 at 6:45 am

    The Dreamliner is the worst airplane I’ve ever been on

  3. kkua

    May 10, 2019 at 7:24 am

    All variants of the B787 should not be on the top of the list because airlines are now cramming 10 seats per row. I only fly the B787 with airlines that retained the original manufacturer seat configurations of 9 per row.

    As for the A350, the original XWB designation meant for XtraWideBody. The width of the interior cabin is almost half a foot wider than the B787. So, even if I’m stuck on an airline that crams 10 seats a row, It’s safe to know I don’t have to teabag passengers both sides of the aisle when I reach the overhead bins. At least the aisles are comfortably wide.

  4. Viscount724

    May 10, 2019 at 11:27 am

    The comment from kkuat re B787 seating is wrong. There are no 10-abreast 787s. It’s not possible. All 787s now in serice are 9-abreast in Y (3-3-3) except those operated by Japan Airlines which are a much more comfortable 8-abreast (2-4-2).

    And there are almost no A350s with 10-abreast in Y. I believe the only current A350 operators with 10-abreast Y class (3-4-3) are two small French charter/leisure carriers, Air Caraibes and Fly bee, which combined account for only 4 A350s out of roughly 250 in service with 10-abreast in Y. All others are 9-abreast (3-3-3).

  5. quicky

    May 11, 2019 at 7:56 am

    As most airlines squeze 9 seats per row into the 787 it is very uncomfortable and I avoid that plane as well as the 777 with 10 seats per row. ANA for exampale has only 8 seats in the 787 which is reasonable.

  6. azmojo

    May 12, 2019 at 11:50 pm

    The 717 is just a modernized MD90, initially called the MD-95.

  7. Dave737

    May 14, 2019 at 9:28 pm

    also, there are no “original manufacturer seat configurations”.

    all aircraft interiors are spec’d by the airline when ordering the aircraft. if it started with 9 across then went to 10, blame the airline, not the manufacturer.

  8. IanFromHKG

    May 14, 2019 at 11:18 pm

    The A350 is not only more spacious than the B787, it actually contains more composites. There is nothing listed in the article above for the B787 apart from the window shades (which many don’t like because they don’t cut out all light) that the A350 doesn’t have, or do better

  9. kkua

    May 29, 2019 at 8:23 am

    I stand corrected. The B787 was designed with 2-4-2 layout in economy… but airlines have added an extra seat in each row to 3-3-3 abreast. It was the B777 that was designed with 9-abreast, but converted to 10-abreast by the airlines.

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