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Behavioural Therapy Blog Archive

Fear of Flying

Date Posted: 13th December, 2015

Whilst air travel is becoming more common, more and more people experience stress associated with flying. These stresses can lead to a state of fear, if they are unable to be controlled effectively, resulting in a phobia of flying. The fear usually occurs when the person is present in an aeroplane, helicopter or any other flying vehicle before, during and/or after flying takes place. However, it is also common to experiance the fear of flying before even being present in a particular flying vehicle.

There is a range of phobias and fears that could be responsible for the onset of a flying phobia. These may include a fear of having panic attacks and causing embarrassment, otherwise known as social phobia; a fear of enclosed places, otherwise known as claustrophobia; a fear of heights, otherwise known as acrophobia; a fear of death or injury; a fear of not being in control; a fear of turbulence; and a fear of terrorism.

In addition to the many phobias and fears that could underlie the fear of flying, there are several external factors that could also contribute towards a flying phobia. The media has a great influence on attitudes towards flying by being selective about the information that is reported and only focusing attention on particular events that will attract the most interest. Another aspect that can contribute towards a fear of flying is a lack of understanding and information about air travel.

Whatever the reasons, fear of flying is a problem that handicaps many people in respect of their family, social and work lives. Families have to organise their holidays so as to accommodate the sufferer. Even job selection can become seriously limited if the person has to reject certain opportunities because of restrictions in long distance travel. Alternatives to air travel may simply be too expensive or take too long.

In treating fear of flying, psychologists take a combination of approaches. One deals with the physical anxiety symptoms such as rapid heart rate, sweating, tension and sleeplessness. The approach that usually offers the most relief is quick relaxation training, which most sufferers can learn within 1-2 weeks, given an effective training programme.

The second approach is cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), which helps the sufferer to understand how their attitudes and thinking can become distorted in such a way as to produce repeated negative or "catastrophic" thoughts about flying. CBT teaches the sufferer how to place flying into a more appropriate perspective, rather than seeing it as an unreasonably hazardous activity.