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Fear of Flying

Srivathsa H N
7th sem, sec B
Fear of flying is a complex psychological issue, one that has been made more complex by
the security concerns of the recent years. Without getting too technical, fear of flying, is an
anxiety disorder. It is a fear of being on an airplane, or other flying vehicle, such as a helicopter,
while in flight. It is also referred to as flying phobia, flight phobia, aviophobia or aerophobia
(although the last also means a fear of drafts or of fresh air). Such fears can come about during a
flight, or even well before a person gets to the airport.


This phobia receives more attention than most other phobias because air travel is often
difficult for people to avoidespecially in professional contextsand because it is common,
affecting a significant minority of the population. According to a survey conducted on
Americans, 18.1% answered affirmatively to the question "Are you afraid of flying? An
additional 12.6% reported anxiety with regard to flying. Added together, these two figures show
approximately 30.7% of the adult population - about one person in three - is anxious or fearful
about flying.


Anticipatory anxiety of being out of control and overwhelmed can prevent a person from
planning to travel by air. Inability to maintain emotional control when aloft may prevent a person
from going on vacations or visiting family and friends, and it can cripple the career of a
businessperson by preventing them from traveling on work-related business. Ronald Reagan, 40th
U S President, developed his phobia after a rough flight to the Californian island of Catalina in
1937. He was offered a contract to narrate and occasionally act on the Sunday night TV
programme General Electric Theater in 1954. To earn his $150,000 annual salary he was
required to make regular visits to General Electric plants and had it written into his contract that
he must travel by train. By the time he ran for governor of California in 1966, political ambition
had finally trumped fear of flying. But it was still an ordeal.


phobia are the writer Isaac Asimov, actress Jennifer Aniston, etc.

Dept. of Mech Engg, NIE, Mysore

Other notable people with this

[4] [5]

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As an anxiety, the fear of flying is more concerned with what might happen than with what
actually is happening. The fear of flying has many components, not all of which are specific to
flight itself. Some of these components are anxieties about


Enclosed spaces

Fear of being over water or having the aircraft land in water

Fear of the dark (flying at night)

Crowded conditions

Sitting in hot, stale air

Being required to wait passively

Not understanding the reasons for all the strange actions, sounds, and sensations
occurring around you

Worrying about the dangers of turbulence

Being dependent on unknown mechanical things to maintain your safety

Being dependent on an unknown pilots judgment

Not feeling in control

The possibility of terrorism[6]

In 1980, The Boeing Company published a report entitled Fear of Flying, Impact on the U.S.
Air Travel Industry which surveyed the results of five studies done on fear of flying. Of studies
included in the report, the study by Opinion Research Corporation appears to provide the best
view of American adults. According to the OCR study, among fearful fliers, the highest levels of
anxiety occur during segments of air travel that involve heights and life-threatening situations.
Of those afraid of flying, 73% were frightened of in- flight mechanical difficulties, 62% of bad
weather flights, 36% by on-ground mechanical difficulties, 33% of overwater flights, and 36%
by flying at night.


The thought of an upcoming flight can cause great distress, particularly when compelled to
travel by air. The most extreme manifestations can include panic attacks or vomiting at the mere
sight or mention of an aircraft or air travel. Generally, people who experience a fear of flying
report two basic kinds of symptoms.

Dept. of Mech Engg, NIE, Mysore

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Physiological reactions to fear and stress include:

Muscle tension; tremors

Heavy, labored breathing

Heart palpitations; chest pain

Abdominal and intestinal discomfort

Sweating, weakness, dizziness, prickly sensations, dry mouth, flushed or pale face

Psychological symptoms include:

Impaired memory

Narrowed perceptions

Poor or clouded judgment

Negative expectancies

Perseverative thinking[6]

Fear of flying may be a distinct phobia in itself, or it may be an indirect combination of one or
more other disorders, such as:

Claustrophobia - a phobia of being restricted, confined, or unable to escape.

Acrophobia - anxiety or dread of being at a great height.

Agoraphobia - fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or help wouldn't
be available if things go wrong.

Emetophobia - fear of being nauseas

The precipitating cause may be a traumatic flight, a flight regarded near- fatal, awareness of
personal vulnerability, the death of a loved one, or increased responsibilities, particularly when
becoming a parent. In these cases it is advisable to consult psychologist to deal with the
underlying issues themselves instead of fear of flying. Ignorance or misunderstandings of the
working of an aeroplane may also contribute to the fear. Anxiety can be caused by concrete
thinking such as if nothing can be seen holding the plane up, it should fall. Unable to grasp the
principles of aerodynamics, many anxious fliers are uncomfortable at the thought of being held
up high by something they cannot see.

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Some suggest that the media are a major factor, and claim that the media sensationalize airline
crashes (and the high casualty rate per incident), in comparison to the perceived scant attention
given to the massive number of isolated automobile crashes. If only the crashes are reported by
the media and not the successful ones, the overall (and incorrect) impression created may be that
air travel is becoming increasingly dangerous, which is untrue. In a way, the media coverage is
forcing confirmation bias on viewers.
Talking of perceptions and statistics, the most of quoted statistics is perhaps the air crash
versus car crash numbers. It essentially says that there is a greater chance of getting killed while
driving around, rather than on a flight. As 95% of air crashes occur during landing or takeoff, the
total flight distance does not matter and only the number of trips matter. But with a car, the risk
of fatality depends upon how many miles are driven.
Considering the safest route, the risk of driving about 10.8 miles on a rural Interstate highwa y is
equal to the risk of one domestic flight on a major U.S. airline. Driving on urban or suburban
Interstates will be even more risky. It would be 2 or 3 miles compared to a trip of aeroplane.
In terms of time, at 55 MPH, 11 minutes 47 seconds of driving equals the risk of taking a
flight. Since the average airline trip is 694 miles and takes about an hour and a half, 11 minutes
47 seconds of driving has the same risk of fatality as the average airline flight. But it also means
that 11 minutes 47 seconds of driving equals flying eight hours to Europe or flying fourteen
hours to the Orient.[7]
The problem with the above statistics is that they do not stop people from being afraid of
Statistics do not help because the fear of flying actually has little to do with risk as such.
If the fear of flying were actually caused by the potential for an accident, then everyone who
fears to fly would be even more afraid to drive or ride in an automobile. But that is clearly not
the case. Fear, being an emotion, like others, is beyond reason and logic. While risk is directly
related to hazard, the fear is directly related to control. Thus, even though automobiles are
riskier, because people can exercise more control while driving, they do not feel afraid. If
anything goes wrong while driving, there is something that can be done like swerving, braking or
jumping out of car, however infeasible or ineffective they may be, whereas if something terribly

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goes wrong in the plane its a long fall to death. Its this helplessness that causes the fear in most
In fact, according to the OCR study, a majority of fearful fliers DO NOT consider flying
unsafe, but avoid flying in order to escape the emotions experienced when they fly. When asked
why they avoid flying, fear itself (48%) was reported as the primary factor. Still, a significant
number cite safety concerns (15% of fearful fliers and 29% of non-fliers). Only 6% of adults in
general consider flying unsafe.[2]
Though these statistics do not make the fear go away, they certainly help in educating
oneself and doing away the myths that lead to fear. For in the face of unknown, the best weapon
is knowledge. In some cases, education can considerably diminish concern about physical safety.
Learning how aircraft fly, how airliners are flown in practice and other aspects of aviation can
reduce anxiety.
Some educate themselves; others attend courses offered by pilots or airlines. The first
such course was started by Pan Am by Captain Truman Cummings


They generally teach

relaxing techniques, deep breathing exercises and detailed working of the airplane, contingency
in different situation. The fearful people are taken into a real cockpit and there may also be a
graduation flight.[9]
Though education plays an important role, the knowledge that turbulence will not destroy
the aircraft does not stop the amygdala - the part of the brain responsible for the release of stress
hormones - from reacting. In turbulence, repeated downward movements of the plane trigger one
release of stress hormones after another. A build- up of stress hormones can cause a person to be
terrified despite having every reason to know logically that the plane is not in danger. In such
cases, therapy in addition to education is needed to prevent the release of stress hormones
so that the anxious flier may gain relief.
Behavioral therapies such as systematic desensitization developed by Joseph Wolpe and
cognitive behavior therapy developed by Aaron Beck rest on the theory that an initial sensitizing
event (ISE) has created the phobia. The gradually increased exposure needed for systematic
desensitization is difficult to produce in actual flight. Desensitization using virtual flight has been
disappointing. Clients report that simulated flight using computer- generated images does not
desensitize them to risk because throughout the virtua l flight they were aware they were in an
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office. Research shows Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) to be no more effective than
sitting on a parked airplane.[10]As a practical substitute for systematic desensitization, the
amygdala can be taught to regard a stimulus as benign by linking it to an experience already
regarded by the amygdala as benign. This alternative has been termed systematic inhibition of
the amygdala.
If a phobic flier were able to fly in the cockpit, the pilot's facial response to a n
unexpected noise or motion would adequately prove the absence of danger. But with information
in the cabin limited, it is impossible to prove no danger exists. Stress hormones continue to be
released. As levels rise, anxiety increases and the urge to escape becomes paramount. Since
physical escape is impossible, panic may result unless the person can escape psychologically
through denial, dissociation, or distraction.
In the cognitive approach, the passenger learns to separate arousal from fear, and fear from
danger. Cognitive therapy is most useful when there is no history of panic. But since in- flight
panic develops rapidly, often through processes which the person has no awareness of, conscious
measures may neither connect with - nor match the speed of - the unconscious processes that
cause panic.
In another approach, emotion is regulated by what neuroscientist Stephen Porges calls
neuroception. In social situations, arousal is powerfully regulated by signals people
unconsciously send, receive, and process. For example, when encountering a stranger, stress
hormone release increases the heart rate. But if the stranger's signals indicate trustworthiness,
these signals override the effect of stress hormones, slow the heart, calm the person, and allow
social interaction to take place. Because neuroception can completely override the effect of stress
hormones, fear of flying can be controlled by linking the noises and motions of flight to
neuroceptive signals that calm the person.
Using of medication can be counter- intuitive as is the use of alcohol. Though they may
physiologically work, they reduce the reflective capacity of the people i.e., it puts them into a
stupor kind of state. They still believe that they went through a life threatening event and they
couldnt do it again without the medication or alcohol. This may also lead to addiction.
In a study, a group of phobics was given alprazolam, an anti-anxiety drug, and the other was
given placebo. On flight, alprazolam reduced self-reported anxiety (5.0 vs 7.4) and symptoms
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(5.3 vs 3.6) more than placebo, but induced an increase in heart rate (114 vs 105 bpm) and
respiratory rate (22.7 vs 18.3 breaths/min). Before the next trip of flight in which no medication
was given to either group, the alprazolam group did not expect to be more anxious than the
placebo group (6.7 vs 6.5), but in fact indicated more anxiety during flight (8.5 vs 5.6), and a
substantial increase in panic attacks from flight the previous flight (7% vs 71%). Heart rates in
the alprazolam group increased further (123 bpm). Results indicate that alprazolam increases
physiological activation under acute stress conditions and hinders therapeutic effects of exposure
in flying phobia.[11]
It is evident that all these methods are not effective for everyone as some may just need
education while other need therapy. It is necessary to overcome the fear of flying, for, as the
world shrinks, air travel will become only more ubiquitous.

2. Fear of Flying, Impact on the U.S. Air Travel Industry. Robert D. Dean and Kerry M.
Whitaker. The Boeing report for Boeing Commercial Airplane Company.
3. never-knew-aboutaviophobia-and-how-to-overcome-it
4. Asimov, Isaac (1994). I. Asimov: A Memoir. New York: Doubleday. pp. 125129. ISBN

Flying and Driving after the September 11 Attacks, Michael Sivak, Michael Flannagan,
American Scientist, January-February 2003, volume 91

10. Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy for the Treatment of Fear of Flying: A Controlled
Investigation, Maltby, Nicholas; Kirsch, Irving; Mayers, Michael; and Allen, George.,
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2002, Vol. 70, No. 5, 1112-1118
11. Acute and delayed effects of alprazolam on flight phobics during exposure. Wilhelm
FH1 , Roth WT 1997 Sep;35(9):831-41
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