Fear of Flying: It Can Be Controlled

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At this time of year, with winter a wet and distant memory and spring definitely springing, a lot of thoughts are turning to foreign holidays. And so, it’s about this time of year I see an increase in people wanting help with their fears of flying (even more so since the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370). This increase in anxiety has even been noted in the press (click here). But fear not, for help is at hand!

A fear of flying is usually down to a demand for certainty. You have to know that your flight is safe. In order to feel safe and secure, you absolutely have to know that your flight is not the rare statistical anomaly that’s going to disappear into the ocean, or come crashing down in flames, or plummet out of the sky due to a total systems failure.

Without that certainty, without that knowledge, your imagination and fear run riot: every grind and rumble, every wobble, every seatbelt sign is the herald of impending doom. You constantly scan the faces of the cabin crew for signs of something wrong and you medicate your fears with prescription drugs and/or alcohol.

Pteromerhanophobia (or aerophobia, or aviatophobia) to give it its posh names can manifest itself in all sorts of ways. The most obvious is the point blank refusal to fly anywhere at all, causing misery not just to you, but to your family and friends too.

However, most flight phobics choose to fly under extreme duress, panicking, crying, self-medicating, questioning the crew and asking to see the pilot every aeronautical mile of the way.

In your anxiety, the fact that flying is still one of the safest forms of travel gives you no comfort at all, instead you focus on the fact that you’re strapped into several tons of high-speed metal that, to your mind, is defying both sanity and physics.

Therapy then, focuses on removing the need for certainty. You don’t ask for it when driving your car, or crossing a road for instance, both of which are potentially more hazardous activities.

When we remove this need, you bring your anxiety down to a more manageable level. Rationality creeps back in and the statistics about flying become that much more reassuring.

If flying were as dangerous as your fear thinks it is, being a pilot or cabin crew would rank as the most dangerous jobs in the world.

Malaysian Fight MH370 is big, big news for a reason. Events like this are incredibly rare and there are thousands of flights in the air at any given time.

When you remove your demand for certainty, you still might never fully enjoy flying, but you will enjoy being somewhere hot and sunny, of that I am certain.


Those pesky statistics:

  • The odds of dying in plane crash are 11 million to one
  • You are 99.9999815% likely to survive your next flight
  • Cycling, driving and travelling by rail are all more dangerous than flying
  • More than 3 million people safely fly every day
  • A Boeing aircraft takes off or lands every two seconds somewhere in the world – all day, every day