Fear of Flying

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

This fear is usually a combination of many fears such as tight spaces (claustrophobia), heights (acrophobia), becoming infected (germaphobia), loud noises (phonophobia), and losing control (agoraphobia), to name a few.

To determine the companion fears requires a search for the first trigger.  Once the anxiety begins, it becomes challenging to think, much less perform technical analysis.

a. Ride to Airport is the First Step in Fear of Flying.

If you become anxious on the ride to the airport, consider what ‘thought” triggered the onset.

The old saying, “It’s all in your head,” is like saying, “Money buys food.”  Of course, the fear of flying is in your head.  Where else would it be? 

If your first thought is a crash or some mechanical problem with the airplane, then the fear of death is likely the dominant fear.  If it is about the embarrassment of having a panic attack, then the fear is likely one of the social fears.  This is a diagnostic trip, so do not try and ignore the airplane fear issue.  If no anxiety occurs during the ride, that is good.  But stay alert and observant for the first onset of anxiety.

b. Arriving at the Airport.

  Arriving at the Airport. If you become nervous upon arrival, they find out what triggered it.

  • Was it the sounds in the airport?
  •   Was it an announcement?
  •   Was it the airport odors? 
  • Was it going through security?
  •   Was it the volume of people?

  You must work quickly because your analysis ability becomes difficult once the anxiety begins.   If you can narrow it down to a particular issue, you have taken the biggest step in reducing it. 

c. At the Airline Gate.

If this is the first time you feel anxious, look around and try to understand what triggered it. 

Was it the number of strangers around you?  If so, do you feel anxious in other crowded venues, such as movie theaters, concerts, sporting events, etc.? 

The fear of strangers is called xenophobia.  If you feel anger or distrust and are anxious, you may have a little xenophobia.  This is not uncommon.  It is a natural defensive mechanism to protect oneself from strangers that come into your domain.  

Were people standing too close when the anxiety started?  It might be a fear of germs.  If your thoughts are about germs or being unclean, then that will typically manifest itself by being unconformable about standing too close or sitting in tight or compact chairs.

Does your anxiety begin when you have to walk up to the gate podium?  You may have a fear of being watched.   This fear is common and owns the name scopophobia. 

If you think you have this fear, causally look around.  Count the number of strangers that you believe is staring at you.  Staring is more of a direct look rather than a glance or looking out the window behind you. 

If you counted more than two, then it raises a red flag.  Did you feel that way in crowded venues not associated with air travel?   If it is only at airports, do you have this feeling on domestic flights as well as international travel? 

Do you get nervous if someone touches you?  This is called haphephobia.  This may be the reason for trying to stay at least 3 feet away from everyone.  This does not apply to the social distancing 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 trauma.  If it is the latter, professional help should be considered. 

d. Getting to the Airplane Door.

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.  In the United States, up to 33 million people suffer from this fear. 

Can you get into an elevator or close the door to a small dark closet without feeling anxious?  If you can, then claustrophobia is less likely. 

When you hear the airplane doors close, did that cause anxiety?  That indicates that claustrophobia cannot be ruled out. 

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, 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

e. 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 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, click on the Read More Link below for a possible answer.

The tray and magazine pouch is considered by many where the germs hide.   You may have a fear associated with germs.  This would be a good time to wipe down the tray with those alcohol wipes 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 your fear of germs, go to the airplane’s bathroom.  If you have to wipe down everything immediately, you may have a heightened germ fear.  

People coughing will make most people feel uncomfortable.  But it may cause a mild panic attack in people with this fear.  On the other hand, if you do not have significant anxiety sitting next to a coughing passenger, you most likely do not have this fear.  No one wants to get sick, and sitting next to a sick person will strain anyone.

As the airplane taxis toward the runway, you begin to feel uneasy.  If so, you may have a fear of losing control.  Type A personalities do not like to relinquish control.  

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.  Use noise cancellation headphones on your next trip to test if this is the trigger.  If it reduces the anxiety intensity or its onset, then the noise may be a contributing cause.  

Fear of passing out or being embarrassed may come on slowly and grow.  This social anxiety disorder 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 each time.  This needs to be resolved as soon as possible so that it does not get out of hand. 

f. Take-off, Landing and Rough Weather.

Almost everyone worries about these three events.  It’s normal.  However, if it becomes overwhelming, then it would require some professional intervention.   As with all fears, the sooner it is treated, the easier they can be resolved. 

g. Parental Connection and Fear of Flying.

There is the possibility that the fear is related to a parent that was afraid to fly. The children learn that fear over time or from an overprotective parent prohibiting the child from flying.  Dr. Benjamin Spock advised parents to “loosen up, back off, and let the child go.”

h. Personality Type Connection and Fear of Flying.

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.  Personality Types B and D would be next in line.

Many celebrities have 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.