Airport anxiety: How not to feel overwhelmed from check-in to baggage claim

Airports, with their busy crowds and the excitement of travel, can be an exhilarating experience for many. However, for some individuals, the hustle and bustle of airports can lead to a condition known as “airport anxiety.” This specific fear is not related to the fear of flying, but rather stems from having to adhere to strict timelines, remember various documents, navigate through crowded spaces, and deal with the sensory overload that airports often provide.

According to Dr. Ruhil Badiani, a family physician, airport anxiety is more prevalent than one might think, especially among people with social anxiety, a history of trauma, those who are neurodivergent, or individuals with sensory processing issues. The constant stimulation, noise, and movement can be overwhelming, especially when traveling with children.

Airport life is distinct from everyday life due to the strict airline schedules, procedural requirements, and lack of personal control over one’s activities. These factors can contribute to feeling stressed and anxious. Dr. Salman Kareem, a specialist psychiatrist, explains that while airport anxiety is not a distinct clinical diagnosis, it can be considered a specific manifestation of generalized anxiety, travel phobia, or claustrophobia.

The airport, being a transitional space between two destinations, can feel neither here nor there, contributing to a feeling of disconnection from the normal routine of everyday life. This disconnection, coupled with heightened awareness due to navigation requirements, can make the airport experience different from the everyday mundane.

Some of the most stressful areas of the airport include baggage check-in, waiting in long lines, and the baggage claim area. Bright lights, loud noises, and frequent announcements can also overwhelm the senses.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed at the airport, it is crucial to seek help. Experts recommend sharing your feelings with a travel companion, doing breathing exercises, and focusing on eating or drinking something. If you’re traveling alone, find a quiet space away from crowds or approach airport staff for assistance.

To lessen airport anxiety, it is advisable to plan ahead by pre-booking transport, keeping essential documents handy, checking-in online, and having entertainment for children. Early baggage collection and familiarizing oneself with airline baggage regulations, security processes, and travel documentation can also help reduce stress.

Dubai Airports provide medical facilities and response teams available 24/7, with Guest Experience Ambassadors (GXAs) strategically placed to guide guests to the nearest medical center or pharmacy. For guests with hidden disabilities, the GXAs and front-line staff are trained to provide tailored assistance.

Focusing on your senses, moving your body, visualizing a safe place, or listening to music can help manage stress and anxiety at the airport. Remembering to get adequate sleep before travel and practicing relaxation techniques can also contribute to a less stressful airport experience. As Dr. Jade Sayers puts it, “We cannot control or know everything, but the aim here is being as prepared as we can be.”

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