For some, air travel can be a traumatic experience brought on by imagined fears. But what are the causes of flight anxiety and how can you conquer them? We speak to an expert…
It is said that air travel is one of the safest methods of transportation. In fact, experts agree that we’re more likely to experience a crash on our way to the airport than in mid-air.
But with news of plane crashes hitting the headlines, particularly high-profile incidents like the two ill-fated Malaysia Airlines planes still fresh in our minds, there’s been a noticeable jump in cases of aerophobia being reported in recent years.
In the US alone, it is believed that 25 percent of Americans suffer from nervousness during a flight.
As a seasoned pilot for British Airways, captain Steve Allright is well versed when it comes to all kinds of passenger concerns.
This awareness, honed by over 25 years of pilot experience, inspired him to help people overcome their fears with the company’s Flying with Confidence course held in different parts of the globe, including the UAE.
The course’s objectives couldn’t have been more applicable in today’s time where people have more opportunities to fly yet are also more exposed to news of air tragedies because of the internet and social media.
“In a world that is rapidly shrinking due to an increased dependency [on] and interest in air travel, there is a larger demand today for tools that tackle aerophobia,” begins Steve.
“An increasing number of people can now afford to travel, and need to travel regularly, yet are fearful and suffer extreme discomfort when faced with the prospect of flying.”
According to studies, there are two categories of people with aerophobia: those who are scared of the plane crashing and the ones who fear that they will lose control of themselves – manifested by panic attacks, crying or shouting – once aboard an aircraft.
“Fear of flying could be an independent phobia in itself or an indirect combination of one or more other phobias that are related to flying,” says Steve.
“For example, a combination of phobias could include claustrophobia, which is a fear of enclosed spaces, or acrophobia, a fear of heights.
“Other causes could also include agoraphobia or having a panic attack in a place you can’t escape from.”
The source of fear varies from one person to another, meaning anyone may suffer from aerophobia regardless of gender or age.
There are actual cases of people who are naturally calm and composed but suddenly turn into nervous wrecks once on board or airborne.
Even those who are frequent travellers may become uneasy over a period of time. What’s more, a recent survey commissioned in the UAE revealed that 39 percent of respondents claim their fears worsen as they get older.
But as Steve explains, fear of flying has no barriers: “The youngest participant we’ve ever had on the course was seven years old, while we’ve also had grandmothers participate, keen to visit their grandchildren abroad after not flying for decades.
“Regardless of how the fear expresses itself, it can be very paralysing to a person and often a source of deep embarrassment. For those who suffer greatly it can result in missing out on some of life’s greatest experiences as travel is made quite difficult.”
So how can you deal with your aerophobia? The key is to understand the source of the fear and then find ways to disprove the negative feeling by learning more about it. This is, of course, easier said than done.
Seeking the guidance of a psychologist can help in slowly overcoming the debilitating fear. Treatments may include medication to temper both mental and physical symptoms, and short- or long-term therapy to correct behaviour and psychological makeup.
Signing up to special courses like the ones given by British Airways can be a great starting point, especially for those who are on the extreme spectrum of aerophobia.
“Very little has changed over the years with the basics addressing concerns about lack of control, claustrophobia, fear of panic attack – those things will always be there.
“What we do is address the technical side of aviation especially concentrating on air turbulence, flight safety, aviation mechanics and much more.
“Additionally, you will also receive advice around the psychological aspects of aerophobia, the mechanics of fear, and how best to deal with anxiety and feelings of panic.
“I’m proud to say that our course has helped over 50,000 people in over 30 years with a 98 percent success rate.
“Beyond that I’d say, trust the professionals. The pilots and the crew are rigorously trained and know what they are doing in the air.”
Tips from the captain
Captain Steve shares pointers to help you stay calm during a flight…
- Don’t panic. Turbulence is uncomfortable but not
dangerous. It’s a perfectly normal part of flying caused
- Learn to control your breathing. When you feel anxious, take a long deep breath in, followed by a long deep breath out.
- Combine deep breathing with muscle contraction. Clenching your buttocks is most effective, as it overrides other nervous signals going up and down your spinal cord.
- Understand lift. The wings enable an aircraft to ﬂy, not the engines. A commercial aircraft ﬂying at 30,000ft can glide for 100 miles even if all the engines fail, which is extraordinarily rare.
- Plan your flight. Split your flight into 30 minute sections and board with a plan of things to do: write a letter, watch a ﬁlm, read a book, eat a meal.
- Trust the crew. Pilots are rigorously trained and subjected to simulator tests every six months, so you’re in safe hands. All pilots have to abide by the rules of the air. What’s more, commercial planes are well maintained. Pilots and engineers check aircrafts before every ﬂight; routine maintenance is conducted at regular, speciﬁed intervals by licenced engineers. Air trafﬁc controllers are trained and licenced professionals, too.
- Visualise. Imagine yourself stepping off the aircraft into the arms of loved ones, into a lovely warm climate, or into a successful business meeting.
To find out more about the Flying with Confidence course, visit: flyingwithconfidence.com
WORDS Ferdinand Godinez