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How To Overcome Fear Of Flying: Part 1

Trusting Airplanes & The Crew

Has learning how to overcome fear of flying become a priority for you? Do you imagine that everything that could go wrong on a plane, will go wrong? Does your anxiety cause your heart to race uncontrollably before, during and after the flight? Has your fear of flying prevented you from even getting on a plane?

If any of these are familiar to you, you’ve come to the right place. Most fear concerning flying is irrational—it is a set of fears based on events that will very likely never take place. This guide will addresses safety issues of the air travel industry and help you begin approaching flying based on facts rather than unfounded fear.

 

Eliminating Irrational Fears

Virtually all forms of the fear of flying come from three root fears:

  1. Fear of the unknown
  2. Lack of trust in the airplane itself
  3. Lack of trust in airline personnel (pilots, mechanics, air traffic control, etc.)

 

how to overcome fear of flying


My aim is to shed some light on the unknown and provide relevant information on the airline industry in general to help bring your level of fear down. It is important to note that the fear of flying is not a rational response to a legitimate danger.

It is a response based on irrational fear from within yourself. 


As you learn the facts about airline safety, you will be able to replace irrational fears and anxiety with a calmer mindset based on facts about airline industry safety. Armed with this information, you will hopefully learn how to overcome fear of flying quickly and for good.

No one can truthfully say that air travel is completely risk-free. But it is the safest mode of transportation. Consider this quote from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) website:

 

Air travel is the safest mode of mass transportation. According to Dr. Arnold Barnett of MIT, based on the accident rate over the last few years, you would have to fly on average once a day every day for 22,000 years before you would perish in a U.S. commercial aviation accident. In 1998 there were more than 10 million departures and not one fatality aboard a commercial aircraft.
 

Let’s look at another angle of how to overcome fear of flying in airplanes. Here is some interesting data:

 

Average Deaths Per Year

  • Bicycle 1,000
  • Gunfire accidents: 1,452
  • Medical procedure complications: 3,000
  • Drowning: 5,000

SOURCES: Bureau of Safety Statistics, National Transportation Safety Board



Compare those stats with this one: From 1982 through 2010, 3,288 people in the U.S. died from airplane related causes. To emphasize, these stats are not from one year, but from 30 years combined.

How To Overcome The Fear Of Flying: Part 2

 

7 Anxiety-Crushing Facts

Now we’ll take a look at seven common questions, fears and attitudes involving the fear of flying, along with the facts involved:

 

  • A Car Feels Safer
  •  

    A big part of this rationale goes back to the trust issue: In a car, you control your destiny and feel safer, while in a plane, you are not in control and experience more fear. This may be true—to an extent—but does it mean you are safer? Consider this: To obtain a pilot’s license, you need years of training. To obtain a driver’s license for yourself, you merely need to pass a basic written and driving test. Plus, as a driver, you cannot control what other drivers do. Other drivers often drive while intoxicated or are distracted by talking on a cell phone, texting or fiddling with the radio.

    Pilots, on the other hand, are constantly monitored through radio during a flight. From 2002 to 2007, there were 109 deaths due to aircraft crashes according to the FAA. During the same time period, 196,724 people died in automobile accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The FAA has estimated that flying is about 200 times safer than automobiles, which the previous statistics bear out.

     

  • How Do Airplanes Stay in the Air? Are They Really Safe?
  • flying data

     Fear of flying statistics reveal that 73% of fearful flyers are afraid of mechanical problems during flight. So an important part of how to overcome fear of flying is understanding of how an aircraft works and learning to trust it.

    There are four forces that work together to allow a plane to fly: gravity, drag, lift and thrust. I won’t get into the scientific explanations, but suffice it to say that the process allows planes to fly as naturally as it is for us to walk. As one pilot said it best, “planes are the happiest in the air.” Everything about a plane is designed to fulfill its purpose—to get its passengers and crew safely from one place to the other through the air.

    Safety procedures includes repair and upkeep. Airlines engage in ongoing routine maintenance and overhaul planes as needed. For every hour that it flies, a modern airplane undergoes 11 hours of maintenance.

    It may surprise you to know that jet engines are much simpler than those in automobile engines or even lawnmowers. This makes them much more durable and less likely to break down. And in the unlikely event that one of the engines fail? A plane is perfectly capable of running on one engine.

     

  •  Turbulence
  •  

    A bumpy ride on a plane tends to make those with flight anxiety even more nervous. But once you understand what causes it, you’ll understand why turbulence is a very normal part of flying and not a cause for fear or concern. You may have learned from weather reports that air pressure can fluctuate from one area to the next.

    When a plane flies through an area of low pressure to high pressure (or vice versa), it causes a “bump” in the ride. These bumps aren’t dangerous, but pilots intentionally navigate away from strong turbulence to ensure the smoothest possible ride and the least anxiety for passengers. Another fact to keep in mind: Modern planes are designed to handle much more intensive turbulence than they would ever encounter.

     

  • Weather Concerns
  • Many people have a particular fear of flying in thunderstorms and other inclement weather. The weather is always monitored before and during the flight time, and sophisticated weather radar in planes can detect storms from 160 miles away. If weather is too dangerous for flight, the flight will be delayed, or if you have already taken off, the pilot will fly around it or land at an alternate airport.  Rain doesn’t affect a plane’s ability to fly, and planes are equipped to withstand lightning strikes.

     

  • Will the Plane Crash Into Another Plane?
  •  

    This is a common fear, but planes crashing into one another is highly unlikely. Airliners are always in contact with Air Traffic Control (ATC). ATC can track all planes’ movement by radar and ensure they maintain a safe distance from each other. Additionally, planes have Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS) on board which lets them know to adjust their path as needed, so this is another flying fear that is largely unfounded.

     

  • Can the Plane Door Come Open During Flight?
  •  

    No. Once the aircraft is pressurized, there is nothing to fear; it is impossible for the plane door to be opened. At around 30,000 feet, there is 20,000 pounds of pressure holding the door shut.

     

  • How Qualified Are Pilots? What Training Do They Receive?
  • Another key component of conquering the fear of flying is learning to trust the pilots, so I thought I should expound on the qualifications and training of these professionals. Airlines hire people who already know how to fly. These pilots come either from a military or civilian backgrounds and have already earned an air transport pilot (ATP) license and logged a minimum of 1,500 hours required as a prerequisite to applying at a major airline.

    The training pilots get from airlines after hire focuses on learning to fly commercial airplanes and following Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines. Potential hires are thoroughly screened. They receive a battery of psychological tests to assess abilities and to ensure a stable personality. They must then prove their flying abilities in a simulator. A physical and health history is also obtained; the presence or family history of a serious condition will likely end an applicant’s candidacy for the job. At the end of the process, a panel of pilots will perform an in-depth interview of the candidate.

    When pilots are hired, they are trained for a period of time—an average of two to three months—on aircraft systems as well as FAA and company policies and procedures. The pilot must pass computer generated tests and an oral exam given by an FAA representative or FAA-appointed representative.

    Next, simulator training prepares the pilot for a wide variety of events—both routine and abnormal—that a pilot will encounter in the air. This training covers instrument gauges, computer systems and emergency procedures. The newly hired pilot must demonstrate proficiency in every aspect of the job to an FAA or FAA-approved instructor (also called “check airman”) before continuing training.

    In the first 15-25 hours on the plane they are assigned a company check airman. New hire pilots begin as a “first officer” and are supervised by the captain, who is also in charge of the rest of the crew as well as the plane and its cargo.

    First officers begin on a one year probationary time period. The captain submits an evaluation of a new pilot’s performance each month. If the ratings are satisfactory, the probationary status is removed. It may decrease your anxiety to know that both captains and first officers undergo regular and extensive continuing flying education. They are also rechecked for proficiencies—annually for first officers, every two years for captains.

 

Wrapup

Hopefully I’ve given you some information that will help you with overcoming the fear of flying. There is much more information that you can check out for yourself. See the related articles below for more information, tips and resources, including the fear of flying tips, fear of flying help for children, and tips for first time flyers guide. Good luck with everything and happy flying!

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There are 15 comments so far

  • Deidre
    2 years ago · Reply

    Hello,
    I would like to know about fear of flying after you’ve been involved in an incident. Though the incident was over 20 years ago, my fear is present and isn’t so irrational because, something did happen. (USair flight 105). Any tips are appreciated.

    • Darrell Davis Author
      2 years ago · Reply

      Sorry to hear that, Deidre. And you make a good point–while most people’s fear of flying is based on events that haven’t happened, some people, like you, have experienced a scary incident while flying.

      I could say the statistics are even more on your side now, but I doubt that would make you feel any better. I would suggest a counseling session with Captain Tom Bunn. He is the President of SOAR, a leading fear of flying program. Captain Tom is an airline pilot as well as a licensed therapist, making him uniquely qualified to help those with flying anxiety. You can join free group phone counseling sessions every Wednesday night or arrange a personal session.

      To learn more, visit fearofflying.com. Best wishes and let me know how you are getting along.

      - Darrell & The FlyFright Team

  • shrikant
    1 year ago · Reply

    Hi I am flying from last 6 years as cabin crew. In January 2013 I had experienced severe turbulence due to weather (hailstorms) while landing and since then I get panic and cannot breathe normally during turbulence. This is seriously affecting my work and now I am confused whether to fly or not. Please advise

    • Darrell Davis Author
      1 year ago · Reply

      Hi Shrikant. I’m sorry to hear about your difficult experience. My suggestion is to check out the SOAR fear of flying program, developed by Captain Tom Bunn, a former pilot and current licensed counselor. He specializes in the fear of flying. For free group phone counseling, click this link, then click the “resources” tab at the top of the page, then scroll down to group phone counseling. This free session happens every Wednesday at 10 pm Eastern time. Good luck and let us know how you are doing.

  • Saleem
    1 year ago · Reply

    hi.I am also having a lot of fear to fly . I didn’t fly yet,but i must have to fly as to go abroad to give some of my exams ..so I am very much confused! please do advise me on this ,i cannot control my nerveous system while think of flying and this fear is from a long time:(

    • Darrell Davis Author
      1 year ago · Reply

      Hi Saleem, since you haven’t flown yet, it will probably help to check out our first time flyer guide. After that, I recommend the free resources from the SOAR fear of flying program. You can access them by clicking here.

  • Avery
    1 year ago · Reply

    Wow, this is extremely helpful. I’ve tried breathing techniques and taking my mind off of it, but it never seems to work. I have this habit of never trusting whatever I am on if I cannot directly control it. (Including riding a horse) But knowing the facts and how darn hard it is to become a professional Airline pilot and how driving is actually more dangerous that flying in a commercial Airliner really helps. Thanks for writing this, have a good flight!

    • Darrell Davis Author
      1 year ago · Reply

      Thanks Avery! It always makes our day to hear that we helped someone. And by the way, one of our staff just informed me he doesn’t trust horses either, so I guess you’re not alone there :)

  • Nadir
    1 year ago · Reply

    Hello,
    My name’s Nadir and I’m 20 years old. I made my mind to enroll in a flight school in Spain next March, but before doing so, I need to seek your advice first, sir.
    My problem is that I have an abnormal fear when I travel by plane, I can’t feel safe anymore, I always imagine that the Aircraft will fall ! Can I really get over my fear of flying and become a successful pilot as I wished, or the domaine of aviation is not for me ? Your help would be greatly appreciated.
    Best,
    Nadir

    • Darrell Davis Author
      1 year ago · Reply

      Hi Nadir, I don’t know you well enough to advise you on your career choice, but I personally believe in following my dreams! And whether or not you decide to pursue aviation,I imagine that you will want to conquer your fear of flying. I would suggest you check out the SOAR program. The President is Tom Bunn, an airline Captain and licensed therapist specializing in dealing with the fear of flying. Since he is a pilot AND a licensed counselor, he is well-equipped to work with people regarding flight anxiety.

      SOAR offers a number of free resources along with counseling with Captain Tom as an additional option. Click here to visit SOAR.

      I wish you the best in overcoming your fear and becoming a pilot. Let me know how things work out for you.

  • G
    1 year ago · Reply

    Hi there wondering if you can offer me some advice. I have developed a massive fear of flying over the last 10 or so years. I have flown several times before (admittedly not for 3 or so years due to f of f ) however I am now unable to fly. I am a 30+ male and I have attended a fear of flying course a few years back and enjoyed the flight however I am now unable to even consider flying without losing appetite / vomiting and becoming completely obsessed by the thought of flying even before we have booked anything. It’s got to the point where I am now on anti ds as I can’t handle the places that it makes me go. Can you suggest any possible therapies (I am going to discuss with my doctor) but just wondered if you could offer any advice. I want to overcome this for work and personal reasons but not sure how best to approach it.

    • Darrell Davis Author
      1 year ago · Reply

      Hey G, the good news is that you addressed your fear before and was able to overcome it. It’s not uncommon for a fear to resurface, but if you conquered it once you can do it again!

      Like I’ve mentioned to several others, I think the SOAR program is the best option for people that need a bit more intensive help. Tom Bunn is the President of SOAR. He is an airline Captain and a licensed therapist, so he naturally specializes in helping people overcome their fear of flying. The SOAR program is a proven solution–it was established in 1982–on its own, but Captain Tom is available for personal counseling as well.

      I have spoken to Captain Tom and I know he is passionate about helping people just like you. Click here to visit the SOAR website. From here, you can take advantage of several no-cost resources (such as free group phone counseling on Wednesdays) or look at the paid programs or counseling. Compared to traditional therapy, it is very cost effective.

      Good luck! I hope you will soon be able to enjoy a flight again.

  • Elizabeth
    1 year ago · Reply

    I am happy to have come across your website. I have been traveling on airplanes since I was 6 months old. I have always enjoyed traveling. After I had children, I developed a fear of flying and to this day, I start to get nervous as soon as I click purchase ticket! I am scheduled to fly from NYC to Florida tomorrow morning and my question is how do airplanes manage in the bitter cold? We are currently under a major arctic blast in NYC and it is supposed to be brutally cold in the morning. Does the extreme cold affect a plane? During take-off, in the air, etc? This is a trip I’ve been trying to take since last month and have rescheduled 3 times. I am thisclose to canceling again and am considering Amtrak. Thank you.

    • Darrell Davis Author
      1 year ago · Reply

      Hi Elizabeth. To answer your question, yes, cold weather does affect airplanes. However, you’ll be happy to know that flying in cold weather is quite safe. Airlines have procedures to follow when operating flights during cold weather. This includes deicing the plane, using certain materials that help keep snow, frost and slush from accumulating on the plane during winter conditions and performing special winter maintenance procedures.

      If weather conditions are to the point that flying is unsafe, the flight will be delayed or cancelled. I have personally flown many times during extreme Minnesota winter conditions, and have never experienced any problems other than waiting a few extra minutes for the plane to be deiced. It’s up to you which transportation method you take, but I hope this helps your decision.

      - Darrell Davis

  • RENAY
    7 months ago · Reply

    I HAVE A FEAR OF HEIGHTS PERIOD BUT FLYING IS ON MY BUCKET LIST OF THINGS TO DO IVE NEVER RIDEN IN A PLANE AND IM EVEN SCARED OF DRIVING OVER BRIDGES AND EXPRESSWAYS THATS HIGH ,SO HOW DO I JUST IN AND GET ON A PLANE AND IF I HAD A FEW DRINKS BEFORE I GOT ON WOULD THAT HELP ????

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