Aviophobia: How to get over the fear of flying
Flying is the fastest way to get across continents, and also around the world. But although flying is common, quick and convenient, a study by the International Civil Aviation Organization shows that up 40% of adults suffer from a debilitating fear of flying, known as aviophobia.
What is aviophobia?
Aviophobia, sometimes alternately called aerophobia, is characterized by an extreme, debilitating fear of flying, whereby sufferers will do anything to avoid air travel, and if forced to fly, can suffer from mild anxiety to full-blown panic attacks.
Although aviophobia may seem to be a fear of flying, in most cases it stems from a few other psychological conditions.
Claustrophobia is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by a fear of small, enclosed spaces. When in a confined space, sufferers genuinely believe that they will run out of air and not be able to breathe. However, it is important to note that it is not only small spaces that can trigger panic symptoms in claustrophobia sufferers – being in any enclosed or restricted area can cause them too.
It’s easy to see how claustrophobia can contribute to flying anxiety, because the entire air travel experience involves being confined in one way or another – in queues, or busy airports, for example – and in a small, restricted area like the airplane cabin.
Enochlophobia and agoraphobia
Both of these anxiety disorders can be exacerbated when flying (commercially in particular). Enochlophobia is a severe fear of crowds, whereby the sufferer is worried that they won’t be able to hear, that their personal space will be invaded, and other negative situations could arise as a result of being around lots of people. Naturally, when in busy, crowded airports, enochlophobia sufferers find themselves in a panicked state. If someone is suffering solely from enochlophobia (which isn’t related to a fear of flying, but rather the fear of busy airports), they can consider traveling via private jet charter, where they won’t have to encounter the large crowds or long queues that come with flying commercial.
Agoraphobia sufferers fear any unfamiliar environment or places where they feel they do not have any control. These types of places can include outdoor areas, public transport, shopping centers or simply anywhere outside their own home. Naturally, flying on an airplane, and every step of the process in getting to the airport through to the destination, can trigger an agoraphobic panic attack.
Not to be confused with a hesitance or dislike of heights, acrophobia is an excessive and debilitating fear of heights. Interestingly enough, some scientists suggest that all humans have an innate fear of heights, tied into our natural fear of falling – but acrophobia takes it one step further.
Understandably, acrophobia sufferers are almost always unable to fly on airplanes, and even just the thought of being in one sends them into a state of panic.
What the experts say
David Carbonell is an American psychologist who specializes in fears and phobias. He’s also a coach at the popular self help website, www.anxietycoach.com, and the author of Panic Attacks Workbook and The Worry Trick. He explains that “Fearful fliers generally recognize that their fears are exaggerated… But they try so hard to clear their minds of any doubt and their bodies of any anxiety that they become more afraid rather than less.”
Sometimes people who were once fine flying, develop their fear of flying if associating flying with a traumatic experience – such as routine air travel to visit an ailing parent, or flying during a particularly fraught period in their lives. In this way, flying comes to symbolise something uncomfortable and frightening for them. Dr. Jason Guy Richards, a psychologist who specializes in anxiety disorders explains that “Somebody who develops an anxiety disorder around flying reacts to it in a kind of catastrophic way.”
With regards to aviophobia sufferers who display “escape and avoidance behaviors” such as refusing to drive near an airport terminal, let alone fly in a plane, Dr. Richards adds that “they are distracting themselves rather than processing it out. If you find ways to reify its danger, that’s what causes it to grow.”
Because the disorder can stop you from vacationing with family and even harm your career if your job involves regular travel, it is important to get treatment. Fortunately, there are ways to conquer your fears and overcome aviophobia – from harnessing the power of technology, to traveling by private jet.
Along with Dr. Richards, Matthew Price, a clinical psychologist at the University of Vermont, who researches anxiety disorders, and psychologist Robert Bor, a pilot and psychiatric consultant to the Royal Air Force, all agree that the best way to overcome the fear of flying is with controlled exposure.
Controlled exposure involves someone gradually being exposed to the different stages of flying, usually under the guidance of a trained therapist. Another excellent option for controlled exposure is using virtual reality equipment and flight simulators. There are specific types of virtual reality flight simulators that enable the user to go through every step of the flying process, including a simulated airport with large crowds around.
Both types of exposure should always be done under the supervision of a qualified professional who will be able to help manage the process and give support and guidance.
Thanks to technological innovations, a revolutionary app called SkyGuru has been created by Alex Gervash, an FAA and EASA licensed commercial pilot with a degree in psychology, to help people who suffer from aviophobia.
He realized that the best way to calm travelers with a fear of flying was to have an expert with them throughout the flight providing real-time explanations about weather conditions and turbulence, which is exactly what SkyGuru does. Here’s how it works:
- Passengers enter their flight number, date, and departure time into the SkyGuru app before they fly. The app gathers information from the last seven flights on that route and meteorological data to provide real-time information about the user’s specific flight.
- SkyGuru provides comfort and psychological support throughout the flight and monitors real-time weather conditions so it can predict when there will be turbulence. The app provides explanations to calm passengers, especially during times when the flight crew is unavailable – for example, during take-off, landing, and periods of turbulence.
In short, SkyGuru is the next best thing to having a pilot and personal therapist sitting next to you when you fly. SkyGuru is available on app stores.
If you have flying anxiety, seeking help from a professional help can help you manage and overcome your fear of flying. Some options include psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, or cognitive behavioural therapy.
Carbonell’s aviophobia treatment plan involves helping sufferers accept their fears and practise coping with them, using breathing techniques, desensitization, and journaling onboard a flight.
“My groups take a flight together, not to try to be calm, but to get afraid and see that they can handle it,” Carbonell explains. “It’s okay for a passenger to feel afraid, and it’s easier to fly when they come to accept that. The fears will diminish, but only after they have some experience with flying, not before.”
Regardless of which type of therapy or coaching treatment you opt for, always remember to do everything by the book when flying. This includes any breathing exercises, things to read, and other means of coping that you are taught whilst in therapy.
Some sufferers speak to their medical practitioner to get prescribed medication to help soothe their flying anxiety. These medications are always for use in the short-term.
Always remember that you should never self-medicate, and that anything the doctor prescribes will not cure your fear of flying, it will just help soothe the symptoms of your phobia.
Remedies for flying anxiety include breathing exercises, some of which you can find online. Download guided meditations or breathing exercises and listen to them with your earphones in throughout the journey.
Food and drinks containing sugar and caffeine should be avoided at all costs, as they increase energy levels and can aggravate anxiety. The same goes for alcohol – although it might seem able to take the edge off, it will just make your anxiety worse when the effects wear off.
Chartering a private jet
Opting to fly by private jet charter, to your destination of choice, could alleviate some of the symptoms of aviophobia by offering a more flexible and comfortable experience. When you charter a private jet, the check-in and boarding process is quicker and easier, which helps eliminate the nervous flight build-up. Traveling in a private craft without crowds of strangers can also reduce claustrophobia and the fear of losing control and panicking in front of others. Personal air crew can explain flight conditions, help you work through your worries, and create a more tranquil environment.
When you charter a private jet, the check-in and boarding process is quicker and easier, which helps eliminate the anxiety around crowds and the anticipation of the flight ahead. Traveling in a private jet without crowds of strangers can also reduce claustrophobia and the fear of losing control and panicking in front of others. Personal air crew can explain flight conditions, help you work through your worries, and create a more tranquil environment.
So, there’s no need to let your fear of flying control your life any longer. Whether you choose to seek help from a trained anxiety coach, download an app or opt for a more tranquil, personalized private jet service, combat your fears with one of these revolutionary techniques.