Whether you’re out to travel for business, or to visit a loved one, flying is the smartest, most efficient way to travel between countries and regions. It’s quite a convenience, compared to more primitive means of getting around like ships and land travel.
Just imagine after queuing, a few checks here and there, you’re hopping in on the jet bridge and into the plane. In the seat you go, and voila - you’re cool, comfortable, and waiting for take-off.
Yeah, maybe save for a few safety instructions.
Oh. That was quite a mouthful.
“So, what exactly do we do when the plane crashes?”
“Do I need to put on that oxygen mask just in case of emergency...because hey, I kinda need it NOW.”
“Seeing clouds means I’m suspended some x miles above ground..which means this CAN’T be good!”
Do you find yourself saying one of these phrases, or perhaps a combination of them? You may have aviophobia, also known as the fear of flying.
Aviophobia, “flying phobia” or the fear of flight, is a crippling form of anxiety that is classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V) as a specific phobia. It is characterized by a marked aversion towards flying on airplanes or any type of aircraft in general.
This is a kind of anxiety disorder wherein sufferers fear not only the actual boarding procedure. Even the very thought of flying on a plane, or the anticipation of future travels, can make someone with flying phobia jittery and restless.
Like any type of anxiety, there are levels to be dealt with: some people can manage to board and fly the plane without any major problems, in particular, being more wary about their surroundings (mild anxiety). While others may have it a bit more difficult, and tend to feel more physical symptoms than usual like muscle tension and sweaty palms (moderate anxiety).
What causes aviophobia?
Various factors may contribute to the eventual development of aviophobia, including:
- The news - plane crashes, hijackings, malfunctions, etc.
- Other phobias, such as the fear of heights (acrophobia), the fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), or the fear of crowds (enocholophobia)
- Airport security measures - screenings, drug dogs, TSA agents.
The most common being the amplification of plane crashes and other malfunctions on the media, triggering fear and anxiety among the masses.
Prominent examples of these kinds of significant events that instigated worldwide fear are the September 11 attacks, and the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. If somebody isn’t that knowledgeable about the actual risk involved or has little to no experience with flying, then it may form preconceived notions about airplanes in his/her mind.
Another common factor is the presence of negative experiences with flying, which may have solidified one’s prior fear or may have caused it in the first place. There are various accounts of plane controls going haywire, or a forced landing that was jarring (physically and emotionally).
Some people have different preexisting phobias that may intertwine with aviophobia. For example, claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), acrophobia (fear of heights), or the fear of terrorism and hijacking .
Common Fear of Flying Symptoms
- Heart Palpitations (Racing Heart)
- Feelings of Danger, Panic, or Dread
- Trembles, Muscle Twitching
- Shortness of Breath
- Panic Attacks
- GI Problems - Gas, Upset Stomach
- Overthinking - "What if this happens?"
- Mind Racing
Celebrities with a Fear of Flying
If you could relate to this type of anxiety, you are not alone. Some celebrities reportedly have this phobia, or had this kind of aversion at one point in their lives. You can see more celebrities with a fear of flying by clicking the link.
Whoopi Goldberg (comedian) - The fun, sassy actress-comedian had flight jitters for about thirty years. This was brought about by witnessing an actual collision from her balcony window, which she shared on her now-defunct talk show Whoopi.
Jennifer Aniston (actress) - Best known for her role as Rachel on the legendary sitcom Friends, the bubbly, beautiful Aniston has revealed that she developed this phobia due to a previous incident involving a flight from Toronto to New York during an electric storm.
Wes Anderson (filmmaker) - Well-decorated filmmaker and creator of Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson has a knack for the grand, vaudevillian, and odd.
Aretha Franklin (singer) - The late queen of soul, Aretha Franklin, refused to fly for over thirty years because of her crippling flight anxiety. Because of her bad experience with a bout of turbulence, she developed nervousness even with some episodes of bad weather.
But this wasn’t the case some years ago when she was still a young and upcoming singer who toured across the continent. She enrolled in a course to overcome her aviophobia, missed two weeks of class, and eventually flunked, which she weathered with her wit and candor during interviews .
How to Deal with Aviophobia
There are various ways to help you cope with your anxiety better:
- Gaining insight. First of all, you must look at your fear in the eye and identify what it is that makes you tick. Some may have bouts of panic during security checks and enclosed spaces; others may have issues with landing and take-off. That will help you address the underlying cause more effectively.
- Control what you can: If it’s the pressure in your ears upon take-off that’s setting you off, consider wearing earplugs while on the plane. If you have a terrible fear of heights, arrange to have an aisle seat or any available option that’s away from the window. From your previous observations, you can identify the factors that you can control and work on them.
- Deep breaths. Those deep breaths you took in yoga class? Do them. Fill your abdomen with air, and slowly release. Deep, gentle breaths, especially when your stress levels are skyrocketing, have been known to slow down one’s pulse and relieve any tension in the body. Try box breathing, where you have to inhale slowly up to a count of four, hold it for the same duration, and then exhale up to four counts.
- Simulate the fear. For the sake of practice, you can look at videos or other media which can ‘simulate’ or at least trigger your anxiety even just a bit. Some videos of bungee jumping, or even skydiving, may be an excellent place to start if your primary concern is acrophobia. You can also listen to ASMR-type media related to the airport or boarding the plane. Observe your physiological and psychological cues, but know your limits, where you can indulge your inner daredevil for a while. Exposure therapy is an excellent way to overcome your fear of flying and virtual reality offers a safe way to do it from home.
- Treat yourself: With this simmering fear in you, it can get more stressful than usual. Try to be a bit nicer to yourself in-flight, and focus on making yourself comfortable and satisfied. Bring your favorite snack, or listen to your favorite music on board the plane. Dress comfortably, nothing too constricting, as this may make you more tensed.
- Seek help accordingly. If you feel that all these mental and breathing exercises aren’t as effective for you, or if you’ve been suffering from severe panic attacks over some time, then you may need to seek professional help about this matter. These professionals will help you work out your traumas and make the healing process a breeze.
Know that, like any other phobia, there is a way to cope even if you have a fear of flying. It is normal to be afraid of something because these reactions are made to protect us from danger. It is merely a tool for survival - something that can be addressed with the right methods. Enjoy the ride, and know that just a bit of progress is already a big step in itself.
 Clark, G. I., & Rock, A. J. (2016). Processes Contributing to the Maintenance of Flying Phobia: A Narrative Review. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 754. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00754
 Chartered Accountants’ Benevolent Association. (2019). What’s Your Anxiety Level? Retrieved from: https://www.caba.org.uk/help-and-guides/information/whats-your-anxiety-level
 Cowley, G. (2017, July 18). Fear of flying (aviophobia): How to defeat it. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/10609.php#causes_aviophobia.
 5 Celebs Who Suffer from Aviophobia (and 1 who used to). (2007). Retrieved from https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/17154/5-celebs-who-suffer-aviophobia-and-1-who-used.
 Amsden, D. (2007). The Life Obsessive With 'The Darjeeling Limited' Director Wes Anderson -- New York Magazine - Nymag. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/movies/filmfestivals/newyork/2007/38024/.
 Matheson, W. (2004). Pop Candy. Retrieved from https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/columnist/popcandy/2004-03-02-pop-candy_x.htm.
 Hitt, T. (2018). How Aretha Franklin (Almost) Conquered Her Fear of Flying. Retrieved from https://www.thedailybeast.com/why-aretha-franklin-never-conquered-her-fear-of-flying-who-cares