Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Fear of Flying - Part 2: Causes

Why are some people afraid of flying whereas others have no problem with it? For me personally, I had a particularly turbulent flight once and quite a few people on the plane were visibly and audibly concerned (including myself and the friend I was sitting next to). However it can be for a whole host of reasons.

Sometimes it is a bi-product of having another anxiety problem, such as claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), acrophobia (fear of heights), or agoraphobia (fear of panic attacks in public). In these cases it's not flying in particular that is the issue, but more that being in a plane brings up these other problems. These issues would need to be tackled first, and then you might find that flying isn't so bothersome after that. As such it is probably outside the scope (at the moment) for me to talk about these in great length. Generally though, being a bit nervous about flying isn't a problem, but it's when it starts to interfere with your life (e.g. passing up on a job promotion because it would require frequent air travel, or not going to a loved one's wedding due to flying) that you know that you might need to do something about it. Here are some common reasons why people are afraid of flying...

  • Lack of control: as passengers, we're not in the cockpit, and have no control over how the flight is going and whether we will arrive safely. As such we have to trust the pilots (who we often don't even see) that they're going to do their job properly, and that the people who build and maintain the planes also did their job. I will talk in more detail about how stringent the criteria are for pilots, mechanics etc to get their jobs, and keep them; as well as the rigorous testing that planes undergo to make sure they are safe for us to fly in. Think about this in the mean time though: why would pilots and flight attendants take jobs they thought they would die from??
  • Previous bad experiences or hearing of crashes in the media: Prior to the incident I mentioned earlier, I quite enjoyed flying, but since then I can't forget how I felt during that flight. For others, due to the media not reporting all the flights that land safely (the vast majority), it can make people think plane crashes are the rule rather than the exception. Not to mention the increase in TV shows like "Air Crash Investigations" - seriously, who watches those!? Unfortunately, the best way to get over this issue is what's called exposure therapy: being exposed to the feared object until the fear dissipates (so the more flights the better). Additionally, a greater understanding of just how unlikely it is you will die from flying can help too (honestly, you should be more afraid of driving, slipping in the shower, and being bitten by dogs, along with a whole host of other dangers. Though try NOT to be afraid of all those too haha).
  • Lack of understanding of principles of aviation: I am definitely not an expert on this topic, but what I have learnt has been a great comfort in understanding what happens during the flight, and what can be done if things go wrong (as long as I think about these things instead of irrational thoughts!). There can often be misunderstandings as well about how factors such as weather and turbulence impact a flight (usually it's not much at all).
These three areas are the ones I plan to talk about in more detail in upcoming posts. If you're afraid of flying, which of these causes you the most problems? Let me know if you have a particular pressing issue that's not there that you want me to cover and I'll see what I can do.


  1. I don't think I have any of the other symptoms other than 'fear of falling from a height' but that is pretty normal right? Other than those crazies who think skydiving is fun. (seriously, are they mental?)

    I was a goo flyer once upon a time too. Then I had to fly home from L.A on the day after the Liquid Bombs scare in London and after having army men search my bag before I got on the flight and then 17 hours of turbulence on the way home, well let's just say the days of easy flying are OVER. OV-ER!

    Exposure to all the bad things in the media add to my problem. Qantas aren't in my good books. Is it just coincidence or media influence that ever since the majority of their maintenance and service got outsourced to India that all these problems including a HOLE IN THE ROOF are happening what feels like one after the other?

    Personally, the bumpy, shake turbulence is not a problem for me. It is when it is coupled with the falling, my stomach is in my throat, turbulence is when I go into crazy-marge-running-up-and-down-the-aisles mode:

    Oh this was me on the way to Melbourne with my friend last year and I suspect on my 9 flights this year!!!!!

    "we're going down we're going down.... " Haha.

    Love this little series. :D

  2. Love that Simpsons one. LET ME OFF LET ME OFF LET ME OFF LET ME OFF LET ME OFF LET ME OFF LET ME OFF LET ME OFF!! Hehehe. I haven't seen that movie though, looks interesting!

    Yeh the falling feeling gets me too. Luckily, one of the things I'm going to talk about soon (ooh a sneak peak haha) is that planes can't just fall out of the sky, and that although it feels like a long drop during turbulence it's usually tiny! Still it's a bit hard to think about all that when it's happening!

  3. I'm pretty good with flying, thank goodness! But it's taken me some time. When I first started flying, the lack of control issue REALLY got to me. I have difficulties in any situation when I'm out of control, actually.

    My husband HATES the feeling of taking off and landing. It really freaks him out!

  4. I have no problem with flying, but I flew a lot when I was a kid. I think for some people, if you have your first few flights when you are older, you have a lot more understanding of what's happening and what could happen...

    I love flying, the food on little trays, planning what stupid movies to watch etc. I will however highly recommend Complete Sleep by Nature's Own (although someone told me sleeping tablets on a plane are a bad idea... I guess its a glass half full thing). I have given them to hubby on long flights so he will sleep because he gets travel sick (motion sickness - not fear) but these kinds of fears fascinate me because I don't have that problem, if you know what I meat. Don't worry though, I have lots of other problems!

  5. Popping over from 20sb! I have absolutely no issues with flying, but I think that's because it became completely routine to me at an early age. Starting from age 10-11 I flew regularly several times a year and I just thought of it as a fun "grown-up" thing to do (I was flying alone) so I didn't question the process too much. I've thankfully never had a truly horrible flight but have flown with a lot of people who are seriously bothered. And I understand WHY (I mean, it's kind of crazy if you think about it and not irrational), but it doesn't bother me so I'm not always the best help to them :)

  6. Hmm, that's interesting. I do agree that the more you know, the better it is. There used to be a sound that would absolutely freak me out during landing and then one day I sat next to a guy who flew for a living and he explained that the sound was a GOOD thing. Ohhhh. Now I like hearing it lol.


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