FEAR OF FLYING

The fear of flying or aerophobia is mostly a 20th century fear.  It differs from other fears.  Showing someone a picture of an airplane does not normally trigger a significant response, as compared to showing a picture of a spider to someone with arachnophobia.

Interestingly, rather than being a single fear, aerophobia is more of a combination of fears.  The following are considered potential companion fears:  fear of tight spaces (claustrophobia), fear of heights (acrophobia), fear of becoming infected (germaphobia), fear of loud noises (phonophobia), and fear of losing control (agoraphobia), just to name a few.  The fear of death (thanatophobia) is a companion fear of most other phobias and is part of aerophobia as well. 

To determine which of the companion fears are involved requires a search for the triggers.  Once the anxiety begins, it is very difficult to think much less perform a technical qualitative analysis.  Therefore, it would be easier to begin by determining what triggered the first nervous feeling. 

1. Ride to Airport. If you become anxious on the ride to the airport, consider what ‘thought” triggered its onset?  The old saying, “It’s all in your head,” is like saying “Money buys food.”  Of course it’s in your head.  Where else would it be?  If your first thought is a crash or some mechanical problem, then the fear of death may be the dominate companion fear.  If it is about the embarrassment of having a panic attack, then the fear is likely one of the social fears. 

2. Arriving at the Airport. If you are able to get to the airport before becoming nervous, then think of what triggered it. Was it the sounds in the airport?  Was it an announcement?  Was it the airport odors?  Was it going through security?  You have to work quickly because once the anxiety sets in your analysis ability becomes very difficult.   

  

3. At the Airline Gate. If this is the first time you feel anxious, then try and think of what triggered it.  Was it the number of strangers around you?  If so, do you get this way in other venues involving crowds, such as movie theaters?  The fear of strangers is called xenophobia.  If you feel anger or distrust in addition to being anxious, you may have a little xenophobia.  This is not uncommon.  It is a defensive mechanism to protect oneself from strangers that come into your domain. 

The current political atmosphere has used xenophobia as a tool to manipulate the public.   Manipulation is merely a method of controlling someone using emotions.  

At the airline gate is where fear of germs may become operative.  If your thoughts are about germs or being unclean then that will normally manifest itself by being unconformable about where to sit or what not to touch. 

Do you have a fear that they may call your name and you will have to walk up to the podium with other people watching or staring at you?   This fear is common and owns the name scopophobia.  If you think you have this fear, causally look around.  If think you see more than 2 strangers staring at you, then you probably have a trace of this fear.  If it is the first thing that popped into your mind then it may be a dominate contributing fear. 

Do you have a fear that someone may touch you?  This is also a common fear.  It is called haphephobia.  If you try and stay at least 3 feet away from everyone, this may be the reason.  This does not apply to the social distancing that is mandated or recommended during periods of pandemics.  There are all kinds of reasons why people have a fear of being touched.  It may arise from being raised in a non-touchy-feely environment.  It may be from a terrible trauma.  If it is the latter, professional help should be considered. 

4. At the Entrance to the Airplane. Were you able to get onto the plane before you experienced a sudden anxious feeling?  If it happened immediately upon entering the airplane’s narrow, tubular body, this is very likely claustrophobia.  This is one of the more common phobias inflicting about 7-10% of the population.  This means that in the United States up to 33 million people suffer from this fear.  It is also relatively easy to determine.  Can you get into an elevator or close the door to a small dark closet without having an anxious feeling?  If you can then claustrophobia is less likely.  If the first thought after entering the airplane is being trapped, that is strong evidence of claustrophobia. 

If someone bumped you and that bump triggered the anxiety, it may be haphephobia (fear of being touched).  If you feel that everyone is staring at you, then it may be from the fear of being watched or scopophobia.  However, these are rare fears. The most likely culprit is the elephant in the room – claustrophobia. 

5. Finding your Seat. If you feel uncomfortable sitting in the window seat, you may have claustrophobia (fear of tight spaces) or acrophobia (fear of heights).  Or, you may simply want to sit in the aisle seat for easy access to the bathroom.  If, once in the air, you feel uncomfortable looking out the window, you could have a mild fear of heights. 

If you feel uncomfortable pulling the tray down or looking through the magazine pouch, you may have a fear associated with germs.  This would be a good time to wipe down the tray with those alcohol wipes that you always carry in your pocket.  If you don’t carry an alcohol wipe with you, it is unlikely you have germaphobia.  If you want to verify the fear of germs, go into the bathroom on the airplane.  If you have to immediately wipe down everything, you may have a heightened germ fear.   People coughing will make most people feel uncomfortable.  But if it causes a mild panic attack, this would be a problem that needs to be addressed.

Some people do not become anxious until an hour or two into the trip.  This indicates that the fear could be associated with the constant airplane engine noise.  Phonophobia is the fear of loud noises.  To test if this is the trigger, use noise cancellation head phones on your next trip.  If it reduces the anxiety intensity or its onset, then noise may be a contributing cause.  

Fear of passing out or being embarrassed may come on slowly and grow .  This is a social anxiety disorder that causes you to feel helpless and embarrassed.  It is called agoraphobia.  The problem with this disorder is that it accumulates and compounds the stress level every time you get it.  This needs to be resolved as soon as possible so that it does not get out of hand.  Self-help is not as effective as professional treatments.

6. Take-off, Landing, and Rough Weather. Almost everyone worries about these three events.  It’s normal.  However, if it becomes over-whelming then it would require some professional intervention.   As with all phobias, the sooner the fear can be treated, the easier and quicker it can be resolved. 

7. Parental Connection.  There is the possibility that the fear is related to a parent that is afraid to fly. That fear is learned by the children, over time, or from an overprotective parent prohibiting the child from flying.  Dr. Benjamin Spock’s advice to parents was to “loosen up, back off, and let the child go.”  He sold 50 million copies of his book in 39 languages. 

8. Personality Type Connection. The personality type most susceptible to a fear of flying would be the A-type.  A-types rely on control to accomplish their objectives.  There is very little control in a claustrophobic environment.

There are many celebrities that have or had aerophobia including: Cher, John Madden, Jennifer Aniston, Miley Cyrus, Ben Affleck, Britney Spears, William Shatner, Megan Fox, Sandra Bullock,  Muhammad Ali, Ronald Reagan, and many others.