“Have a safe flight – and please let me know when you land”, is a familiar refrain shared between friends, family, lovers and colleagues the world over, as they get ready to hitch their fate to a plane ticket and ascend into the sky.
Indeed the concept of flying can seem so incongruous to us wingless mammals, that despite it being considered to be one of the safest ways to travel, it still has the power to scare some of us witless, especially during those more bumpy rides.
However, flying is so safe that in 2017, there wasn’t a single fatality from commercial airline travel, according to statistics from the US National Transportation Safety Board.
So, why do 40% of adults still suffer from aviophobia or get nervous about flying? And what exactly is aviophobia?
What is Aviophobia?
Aviophobia or aerophobia is simply the fear of flying. Unlike the nervous flyer who holds the hands of strangers during take-off and landing, people who suffer from aviophobia often have visible physical reactions to either the thought of flying or the experience itself. In most cases, however, they never let it get that far.
Some of the symptoms of aviophobia include:
- Heart palpitations
What are the causes of Aviophobia?
There are a few known causes of aviophobia and understanding which one affects you will make it easier for you to overcome.
Logically, there is no reason to fear flying more than being transported by any other means. Many people suffering from aviophobia have no problem driving, riding a motorcycle or even volunteering for military service!
So, what makes flying so scary?
Research shows that many of the causes of aviophobia are other psychological conditions, the symptoms of which are mimicked when flying commercial in particular.
Some of the related conditions are:
Acrophobia – most adults are afraid of heights, but the condition reaches new altitudes of terror for roughly 5% of the population. And of course, if you’re afraid of heights, you’ll most likely be afraid of flying.
Agoraphobia – the fear of unfamiliar environments, especially one you think is out of your control, can also be a reason for aviophobia.
Claustrophobia – the fear of tight spaces, or being confined to a place where movement is limited (sitting between two passengers for example) is a common condition that can trigger aviophobia.
Enochlophobia – the fear of crowds makes it very difficult to be in a crowded airport or a jumbo jet.
From these symptoms, you can see that any attempt to force a person to fly could cause serious panic attacks.
There are other causes of aviophobia, such as associating it with a traumatic event or having suffered a bad experience. This is more common in people who once enjoyed travelling by air.
How to overcome aviophobia?
If you have to get over your fear of flying either for personal or professional reasons, you need the help of a trained specialist. Medical conditions should only be diagnosed by medical professionals. Likewise, you should only go to a certified psychiatrist or psychologist for treatment.
The most common and most effective method of treatment is exposure therapy or controlled exposure. This is when a qualified therapist guides the patient through different stages of the flying process.
Your therapist will offer counselling, support or any other form of assistance you might need, as you safely simulate the travelling experience. One immediate advantage of this is that it makes it easier to identify what causes the panic, and by default, the underlying fear causing it.
A great way to go through the different stages of flying is with the use of virtual reality flight simulators. What better way to mimic the experience than to actually see yourself in it?
Breathing techniques, meditation, and soothing music are just some of the tools you might need as you learn to overcome anxiety.
Your psychologist may also use cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, or hypnotherapy. These methods are very successful, but only when administered by a professional.
If your aviophobia only occurs when you are on the plane, then technology might be the best solution for you. Apps such as SkyGuru help you understand every step of the journey. The app considers the flight time, weather, and numerous other factors, as it talks you through your journey.
This constant companion gives you a better sense of control and comes in handy when you are facing turbulence.
If your phobia is connected to problems only faced when flying commercial, then traveling on a private jet might be your best option. You avoid crowded airports, enjoy a quicker boarding experience, and the jet has plenty of legroom so you don’t feel claustrophobic.
Other benefits include constant access to the cabin crew, or the pilot if need be, who can explain what is happening, thus eliminating the fear of the unknown.
Sounds expensive? Well, it is certainly cheaper than missing out on the best experiences of your life. Don’t you agree?