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Background: A significant proportion of air travelers experience situational anxiety and physical health problems. Takeoff and landing are assumed to be stressful, but anxiety related to other aspects of the air travel process, anxiety coping strategies, and in-flight health problems have not previously been investigated.

Methods: We aimed to investigate frequency of perceived anxiety at procedural stages of air travel, individual strategies used to reduce such anxiety, and frequency of health problems on short-haul and long-haul flights. A questionnaire measuring the occurrence and frequency of the above was administered to two samples of intending travelers during a 3 month period to: (a) 138 travel agency clients, and (b) 100 individuals attending a hospital travel clinic.

Results: Of the 238 respondents, two thirds were women. Take-off and landing were a perceived source of anxiety for about 40% of respondents, flight delays for over 50%, and customs and baggage reclaim for a third of individuals. Most frequent anxiety-reduction methods included alcohol and cigarette use, and distraction or relaxation techniques. Physical health problems related to air travel were common, and there was a strong relationship between such problems and frequency of anxiety. Travel agency clients reported more anxiety but not more physical health symptoms overall than travel clinic clients. Women reported greater air-travel anxiety, and more somatic symptoms than men.

Conclusions: Significant numbers of air travelers report perceived anxiety related to aspects of travel, and this is associated with health problems during flights. Airlines and travel companies could institute specific measures, including improved information and communication, to reassure clients and thereby diminish anxiety during stages of air-travel. Medical practitioners and travel agencies should also be aware of the potential stresses of air travel and the need for additional information and advice.