Fear of flying?

Despite being one of the safest means of transport, planes are a source of anxiety for many of us. 

Boeing Corporation found out that 17% of Americans declare to be scared of flying and that this fear is the third most popular reason for avoiding planes (Laker M, 2012). Furthermore, it seems that around 6% of the population suffers from a diagnosed plane phobia, the so-called aviophobia. 

This means that if you are afraid of flying, you are most definitely not alone. 

Fear of flying can manifest itself in different ways and its consequences can affect us by impacting several aspects of our life. In less severe cases, it may just generate mild and unpleasant uneasiness when travelling, while for others, it may cause intense anxiety well ahead of time, making our airborne journey a very distressful and negative experience. Anxiety can be managed using any sort of safety behaviours like choosing a specific seat or side of the plane, or having specific rituals before the flight such as checking the weather forecast, as well as self-medication (homeopathic or non-homeopathic) or a glass of wine aboard to calm the nerves. Again, for others, the idea of flying may be terrifying to the extent that setting foot on a plane is utterly inconceivable.

Different factors may trigger this fear, such as being exposed to a traumatic event related to flying (directly or indirectly), or behaviours taught by a “model” of behaviour (the so-called social learning), or suffering from other phobias (i.e. claustrophobia or fear of heights) or other psychological disorders.
Specifically if you suffer from a panic attack disorder and you experience one of them during a flight, it is most probable that you will be very anxious in future flights; instead if you suffer from a generalised anxiety disorder, it is very likely that you will be very distressed when travelling in general.

Several psychological factors affect this problem. Very often, flying phobia stems from the lack of control experienced while on a plane. Avoiding to fly is a maintaining factor and will worsen fear in the long-term, as fear has to be faced to be overcome. Some cognitive biases can contribute to the fear of flying, like the tendency to catastrophise noises, turbulences and our own bodily reactions and emotional responses (as possible cues of an upcoming disaster), cognitive distortions (by perceiving a low-probability event as a highly possible one) and intolerance of uncertainty.

If you feel that your fear of flying is negatively affecting your life, lifestyle, work and relations by limiting your degree of freedom, you should think about asking for help. Cognitive behavioural psychotherapy can help you manage anxiety by changing the negative beliefs and biases in which your fear is rooted, so that you can start enjoying the pleasure of flying and travelling again. 

References
Laker M, “Specific Phobia: flight”; Activitas Nervosa Superior 2012, 54, no 3-4.

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Written by Ilaria Tedeschi

Ilaria Tedeschi is a cognitive behavioural psychotherapist, BACP and HCPC registered, working in Marylebone and Chelsea both in English and Italian, with adult and adolescent clients experiencing depressive, anxiety, sleep and relational issues.… Read more

Written by Ilaria Tedeschi

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