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Fear of flying

Fear of flying effects a number of people, the very idea of flying invoking severe anxiety. Fear of flying or aero phobia is a fairly common phobia, which can be experienced to differing extents. It is, however, one of the few phobias which can reoccur after treatment.

At the low end of the scale flying is merely an uncomfortable experience, with a vague fear of flying; however  at its worst, the concept of flying can lead to anxiety disorders. In the majority of cases a fear of flying is caused by a general lack of understanding, that flying is one of the safest modes of transport in the world. Far more so, in fact, than driving.

Studies shows that middle aged people are more likely to be effected by aero phobia than the young and elderly. Woman show an overall higher likelihood to fear flying than men.

Like all phobias, aero phobia is the product of a complex combination of factors. The main components of this fear are as follows:
  • Fear of heights, compounded by flying at altitude. 
  • Fear of crashing due to adverse weather, mechanical failure or terrorist attack (accentuated post 9/11) 
  • Fear of lost control. Namely a panic related attack, whereby the individual is unable to vacate the confines of the airplane if she has a heart attack or other medical condition 
  • Claustrophobia, in which the person feels trapped and fears suffocation.

Dealing with your fear

There are various methods of treating aerophobics -
  • Take a course to manage your fear, most airlines run courses for fearful flyers.
  • The medical profession provides psychotherapy through chartered clinical psychologists (UK) and cognitive behavioural therapists (US).
  • Stress therapy such as transcendental meditation is a useful alternative to clinical intervention.
  • Confronting the fear directly. This method, based on behavioural concepts such as desensitization, is practiced by many airlines.
  • The fear is gradually overcome through repeated confrontation of the object or situation.
Those who like to feel more in control of the situation may benefit from trying out a simulator in which they can experience ' piloting ' an aircraft for themselves.