The fear of flying is a common phobia and for many it is a mixture of anticipation and excitement for a trip. However, for some, it is a case of serious dread.
There are those who are overwhelmed by their fear. In fact, the fear of flying can be an extremely debilitating issue in their lives. Relatives and friends get frustrated when you cannot go on a trip, marriages can be adversely affected and careers can be destroyed or new opportunities lost.
How reasonable is a fear of flying?
Frankly, it’s not. You’ve probably heard the statistics – you should be far more nervous every time you get into your car because the chances of an accident are greater. But all the logic in the world will not convince someone if they have a deep fear of flying.
Traveling the world should be available to everyone and it’s a shame that this phobia can completely restrict any chance of that travel.
- Flying is 22 times more safer than driving car
- You’d have to fly 22,000 years to have a crash
It is not a natural thing to do – to be powered by huge jet engines into the lofty heights where clouds roam freely.
And this is the deep rooted sense of reason that someone with a phobia of flying would have.
A tube with wings, weighing tons, defying gravity, and heading skywards, thousands of feet off the ground?
With all that luggage and cargo and people on it? No way! That will be the thought process of most who have a dread of boarding an aircraft.
Aviophobia is the official name for the fear of flying. This essentially is the fear of flying either in helicopters, airplanes and other flying vehicles.(Aerophobia could describe it but it also means the fear of drafts or fresh air)
In some patients, Aviophobia may be present along with other fears or phobias like Claustrophobia (fear of closed and confined spaces) or Acrophobia (fear of heights) etc.
Later, my career choices forced me to fly. I still did not enjoy the experience. Weeks before departure I would feel that gnawing of discomfort in my gut.
With white-knuckles I endured every takeoff and landing, every bank and each bump of turbulence.
I hid my fear from most but inwardly I was terrified. It affronted my ill-perceived macho persona. I kept it hidden like a shameful secret.
It was seriously messing my life up. My girlfriend at the time would hear a complicated, convoluted web of lies as I tried to explain why I couldn’t join her and her parents on a vacation.
I would always look for an excuse not to go anywhere. I was desperate to go on vacation but always opted for a bus, train or car journey.
Getting fed up enough with the fear of flying, I decided to do something about it….
I knew I had to do something about my fear of flying. One day I bought the MS Flight Simulator and taught myself to desktop fly. This was a breakthrough – in my mind I became a pilot.
I read navigation maps and flew all over the world via my PC. As I learned the dynamics of flight, I began to accept the fact that it would take a million convergences of ill fate to actually crash.
Pre-911, I was fortunate enough to fly jump seat on several airliners (I knew people “smile”) It taught me to overcome the fear to a point where I could be as comfortable in an aircraft as I would be in a car.
Perspective is everything
When you have a front row view in the cockpit of what’s ahead, it’s a lot more comforting then a side passenger view which seems to distort the turn and make it seem to a nervous flyer the plane could slip out from the sky.
I also began to be so fascinated by the concept of flight and thus my obsessive nature kicked in.
My little exercise of desktop simulator flying became my hobby distraction and eventually I took it further. I went to flying school to learn to be a single engine pilot.
Now obviously I’m not suggesting that you go learn how to fly a plane to overcome your fear of flying. However, there are practical ways to tackle the issue you may be having.
It’s all about looking at your phobia head on and then attacking it. Easier said than done, I get that. It’s terrifying but with adequate research you can find a method that can help you overcome.
So what’s the cure for a fear of flying?
Some airlines offer courses to allay peoples fears by demonstrating to them the physics of flight and familiarising them with the bumps and noises that they would hear. This understanding of flight physics and desensitization to noises helps enormously.
It’s really about embracing all that you can when understanding what it takes for a plane to take off, land and cruise. You cannot focus on that one plane crash report and think that’s your fate.
It’s more rational to focus on the twenty accidents that happened on the freeways during the traffic reports and never get into your car again. And we both know that would be insane.
Other methods to overcome your fears
Having a few hypnotherapy sessions would also possibly help or you can check out a highly effective method called emotional freedom technique (EFT).
I use this method all the time to deal with any issues life throws at me. I find it very effective. It’s worth giving it a shot. It won’t cost you a dime to learn how.
Here is an excellent video for those who suffer from a fear of flying.
* For some, present day COVID air travel adds more to the stress of flying, with the mandatory wearing of a mask. This would give those with flying anxiety or claustrophobia, a sense of not getting enough air. Be sure to practice wearing your mask for longer periods at home before taking a flight. You want to eliminate any extra challenges prior to embarking an aircraft.
The effects of the fear of flying are pervasive
As a cruise director, I was amazed at how many people chose to cruise because their wife or husband was terrified of flying.
Many would travel from as far as NY by car or train to get to Fort Lauderdale or Miami for a cruise.
Their lives were limited by their fear. They had never gone overseas, never taken a cruise without being sure it came back to the home port.
They were the park and cruise brigade. It saddened me that they should have to be so limited in their vacation choices.
One woman I spoke to could not see her daughter with a young family because she lived in Fort Lauderdale and her daughter was in LA.
She watched her grand-kids grow up through webcam via Skype. Her daughter could not leave LA for a vacation for three years due to complications in her personal life. How awful!
This flying phobia can end your career
Then there was the guy I chatted to after a show one night. He said he had lost his job prior to the cruise.
He explained he had been promoted but that meant he had to fly to meetings across the States and overseas.
His fear was so immobilizing that he had to resign the promotion when the first meeting out of State came up. His old position was not available so he was out.
Few people realize how a fear of flying can wreck a person’s life. It can be a serious problem. It can destroy marriages, relationships, careers and the joy of travel.
Aircraft Turbulence - the additional demon to a fear of flying
For most flyers, nervous or not, the moment the aircraft gets into an area of turbulence, the seat belt light goes on, the nerves may follow.
At first, a few little bumps. All good. No problem at all, right? Then the pilot announces that they are expecting some really bumpy air for the next 20 minutes.
You shrug and get a little more comfortable. A few bumps later and then suddenly, all hell lets loose.
You hear the cutlery rattling around. The plane starts to dip and rise aggressively and you start to hear a few fellow passengers exclaim with “Whoa” and “Aaargh”. This is when the nerves really kick in.
This is no longer harmless bumping along. This is a roller coaster ride that you don’t want. Voices drop and an eerie silence permeates through the cabin, punctuated by the occasional exclamation.
The plane starts to lurch to and fro and continues its dipping. An overhead storage unit unlatches and a cabin attendant wrestles their way up the aisle to close it, saving the heavy carry-on baggage from spilling out and falling.
Fear starts to kick in
The air attendant is not smiling. This is not a fun time for them either. Their concern is for your safety regarding falling carry-on luggage and the items in the galley.
However, their serious look can easily be misinterpreted as there being something really wrong with the plane.
Mental strength to keep the thoughts of doom are shattered. Sane thinking gives way to blind panic.
You just know those wings are going to break off and this steel tube is going to tumble 35 000 feet to the ground.
This certainly was my experience when I had a deep fear of flying. I would go inward and sit in a traumatic neural network of terror.
The sense of not having control and being so exposed to perceived threat and danger is overwhelming.
Your heart rate increases, your breathing is fast and shallow. If you don’t die from an air crash, you feel like you may just die from a heart attack.
But….if only I had understood the fact that turbulence was a common occurrence and that aircraft were designed to withstand far more powerful forces than the turbulence experienced on that particular flight.
Knowledge is power. Once you understand the dynamics of flight and design of modern aircraft, the fear is transplanted by calm understanding.
The facts about turbulence:
Turbulence is not a concern. It is uncomfortable and annoying. It could make you feel nauseous but it is not endangering your life.
A modern aircraft is put through very rigorous tests. Manufacturers now build aircraft that are put into a simulated environment so extreme that it would not be found in normal operating conditions.
Both the fuselage and wings are tested with Airbus having loaded their designs with 1.5 times the loads they would ever receive in service. With the test of the A350, the airplanes wing deflection exceeded 5metres which meant the wings were bent to 90 degrees!
When the pilot comes on the PA to state the cockpit crew would be trying to fly around the turbulence, this is not a safety concern, rather, it is nuisance avoidance.
If all the stats in the world still do not allay your fears, you can lower your chances of enduring strong turbulence by booking flights at the start or end of the day.
Certainly for shorter flights this would help – dawn or sunset. This is a time when the sun has not warmed the earth too much and reduces the chances of thermal activity.
Of course, if you’re doing an international flight, that really is not something you can control. However, a tip I would give you is to book your seats directly over the wings. Both the front and the back of an aircraft would feel more pronounced turbulence.
If you can overcome the fear, it will truly set you free. Try a couple of short haul low cost flights to get your way into the mainstream of jet travel. A 45/50 minute flight would be a good start.