Go-To Airplane Anxiety Snacks, from a Very Anxious Flier

There’s no place my anxiety kicks in more than on an airplane. I’ve flown hundreds times, and I still find it distressing to be hurtling through the sky at 500 miles per hour in a big ol’ aluminum dragon. It’s far too easy for your mind to race while you’re up there, trapped in the sky inside a machine you don’t understand, piloted by someone you’ve never met. I try to be proactive, though. Sometimes, before takeoff, I slip the pilot five bucks in a handshake and say, “There’s more where that came from if we land safely.”

I have gotten a little better at flying over the years. I don’t fully freak out anymore, but my knee still furiously bounces up and down during turbulence. I will absolutely grip the seat in front of me for dear life if I feel a hard dip in altitude. And sometimes for a moment during takeoff, I turn into a religious zealot and pray (just to cover all of my bases). That’s how prayer works, right?

How I cope with my terror of flying is by eating. I’m an anxious eater. It’s my coping mechanism, folks. And what I have come to realize is that not all snacks are great for a sky binge. I have mistakenly devoured an entire pack of gummy worms on a plane only to feel sick afterwards. I’ve wasted more than 2,000 empty calories on chips and chocolate during a connecting flight. Anxiety eating, I have learned the hard way, is a delicate art. This isn’t about seeking sustenance; it’s about distracting your brain from doom. But there’s a way to do it without making yourself feel much worse.

I now have my anxiety eating down to a science. I try to pick low calorie snacks with unique packaging in order to keep my hands, mouth, and brain busy. I call these activity foods. They keep me engaged, distracted, and most importantly, eating. That way, I don’t have to think about what a tragedy it’ll be if I die flying to Cincinnati (sorry, Cincinnati). 

Fruity Tic Tacs

tic tacs
Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Target / Instacart / Amazon

Tic Tacs are one of the best airplane anxiety foods out there, mainly because there’s so many of them. There are 60 Tic Tacs in a box. That’s 60 pieces of candy to take your mind off the (albeit slight) possibility of your own horrific death. Plus, Tic Tacs are wonderfully crunchy and sugary. Eating three or four at a time is a delight, as the hard little crystalized sugar breaks down in your mouth. I go for the delicious orange, berry, or tropical. Just don’t buy into the nutritional facts saying they have zero calories and sugar per serving. That’s a cheap trick, and a technicality. A pack of Tic Tacs contains a lot of sugar and about 75 calories.


Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Target

No candy keeps your hands busy and your eyes focused like a Starburst. The act of opening one is a joyous unfurling, and the candy is luxurious and fruity. Quite frankly, it’s impossible to be anxious while savoring a Starburst. The only problem is that you’re left with a bunch of Starburst wrappers at the end of your binge. I often stuff them in my travel bag that I keep underneath my seat. At any given time, there are at least 10 to 15 Starburst wrappers in my bag that I have to throw away before I pack for my next trip.

Biscoff Cookies

biscoff cookies
Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / iStock

Biscoff cookies are one of the only reasons I like flying Delta. That and watching episodes of Chopped (comfort TV to go along with my comfort food). There’s something irresistibly simple about Biscoff. They’re sugary, nutty, crunchy, and just a straight solace. I always ask for two packs when the snack cart comes around, and usually Delta employees are more than happy to oblige. Forget about the fact that you just saw somebody duct tape the wing of your airplane an hour ago and now you’re 35,000 feet in the air. Enjoy some Biscoff cookies! Yum!


Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / iStock

This idea came from staff writer Jordan Myrick, and after hearing her reasoning, I’m also going to give them a shot. Jordan says she only eats Bugles at the airport. “They’re just plain, and salty, and crunchy,” she said. When you’re anxious, there’s a great comfort in plain food, and Bugles are plain, but also fun. Put them on your fingers and eat them five at a time while the pilot warns everybody about “bumpy air.”

Snyder’s Pretzel Snaps

snyder's pretzel snaps
Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Instacart

Pretzels are a great anxiety food due to their plain but salty, toasty, and crunchy nature. This is doubly true for Snyder’s pretzel snaps, which are known for their quintessential buttery flavor. I prefer bringing my own small bag of Snyder’s Pretzel Snaps aboard and eating those instead of the infant-sized bag of Rold Golds the flight attendants hand out. Most pretzels aren’t that great, but Snyder’s is a top-shelf salted snack you should bring with you on a plane if you’re a pretzel fan. Plus, paired with a Dr. Pepper? That’s heaven on earth (and heaven in the sky).

An Orange

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / iStock

A few years back I was on an airplane, and I was sitting next to this adorable, older couple sharing an orange. As the wife gently peeled off the dimpled orange skin and neatly stashed it in a Ziploc bag, the smell of fresh, citrusy rind filled the air. It was complete aromatherapy. The pleasant, grassy orange scent comforted and calmed me while I sat there horrified at the thought of takeoff.

A fresh orange is a great food to eat while you’re flying because it keeps your hands busy, and doesn’t leave you feeling guilty and horrible afterwards. Fresh fruit is such a damn gift. Who knows why certain random memories linger with us, but that couple happily peeling an orange is forever burned in my brain. That’s the power of orange zest.

About the Author

Danny Palumbo

Danny is a comedian, cook, and food writer living in Los Angeles. He loves gas station eggs, canned sardines, and Easter candy. He also passionately believes that all the best chips come from Pennsylvania (Herr's!). If you can't understand Danny when he talks, it's because he's from Pittsburgh.

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  • Biscoff cookies with a cup of coffee is one of the small pleasures of flying. Dipping the cookie in a hot cup for a quicj second so its a touch softer but still has a crunch is amazing.

  • Bring those Bugles and a can of Easy Cheese (or the Walmart knockoff, Cheese Wow!, which is just as good and way cheaper). Fill about every other Bugle with the Easy Cheese/Cheese Wow!, and you will be pleasantly distracted by both the assembly process and the horrified stares of those around you.

  • This is a sweet article. Wishing you well.