Flight fright can cut your wings

Wednesday 1st June, 2016


Aviophobia is an irrational fear because aeroplanes are statistically the safest means of transport. The chance of being in a plane crash is one in 11 million, and 96 per cent of those involved survive.

Image: Ingrid Fadelli

Plane travellers are well acquainted with that one passenger who frantically grabs the armrests throughout the flight, desperately looking around as if danger is impending and jumping at the aircraft’s every movement.

You might even be that passenger.

One in three people are estimated to find flying either uncomfortable or terrifying at some point in their life. For example, American film director Stanley Kubrick shot many of his films in Britain because he developed aviophobia, fear of flying, and would refuse to get back on a plane.

Many other celebrities are afraid of flying, including Miley Cyrus, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Aniston.

Statistically speaking, aeroplanes are a lot safer than motorcycles and cars. Technically, you have a greater chance of dying of a heart attack than in a plane crash. In the 21st century, plane travel is much more accessible than it used to be, and aviophobia can mean more than just a temporarily uncomfortable feeling.

You could turn down a job that requires regular travel because you can’t endure the experience. You could also miss out on holidays with friends and family just because the journey is too much to bear.

Image: Ingrid Fadelli

Ironically, the safest part of the flight, cruising, is the worst for the many who dislike the idea of being in a constricted space above the ground. Others feel helpless or claustrophobic, with no escape in case they have a panic attack.

The gory pictures of plane crashes in the media probably don't help either. Sometimes the fear comes from a more general anxiety issue, after a particular traumatic life event or after an upsetting flight.

A 22-year-old student at King’s College London, has had a fear of flying for five years. Like many aviophobes, she takes prescription drugs every time she flies. She said: “I used to travel less because of my fear, but after I started taking benzodiazepines aboard, I travel regularly.”

On average, the student in question takes 15-20 short flights annually.

She said: “I would love to overcome my fear of flying without drugs so I push myself to take lower doses each time. I realised the more I fly, the more comfortable I get with the plane environment, but my fear never disappears completely.”

Sara Yamane, 25, has been an Etihad air hostess for years. She flies every day and says that it's "just like any other job”.

She often comes across passengers who anxiously look at her for reassurance, particularly during turbulence. She said: “They usually hold on to their seat and armrest and watch me closely to see my reaction. When they look at me, I just smile at them to let them know that this happens at times and it's okay.”

Image: Ingrid Fadelli

During take-off and landing, the most critical phases of the flight, she wonders what she would do if something serious happened.

“I like to think I would do whatever is best. I can confidently say I'm not afraid of flying whatsoever, even during heavy turbulence. Incidents can happen at any point in life, and there is no way to know about it.”

There are three simple ways of working towards reducing your aviophobia.

  1. The first way is to stop dreading the experience days before you fly. Try to see it for what it is: a journey that will get you to a beautiful new place.
  2. Another similar strategy is to avoid fighting the fear when you’re aboard. Try to sit back and relax, and think positive thoughts - although that's easier said than done.
  3. But, ironically, the absolute best way to deal with your aviophobia is by flying. After all, life is too short, and the world is too beautiful to let an irrational fear trap you in the same place forever.