Fear of Flying

fear of flying

What is it?

The fear of flying or aerophobia is an excessive worry about air travel. It is believed to affect one in ten of the population, however some studies suggest that the proportion is much higher. Fear of flying can be linked to the fear of aeroplanes or it could be an aspect of other psychological problems such as panic attacks, claustrophobia or post-traumatic stress disorder. People suffering from fear of flying often suffer increased anxiety and panic attacks at the thought of flying and many avoid air travel as a result of this.

People suffering with fear of flying commonly fall into one of two groups. Firstly, some people fear an “internal loss of control”. For such individuals, their fear of flying stems from a fear that they will lose control of their emotions during flight and therefore embarrass themselves in front of fellow passengers. These people may express concern about suffering a panic attack, loss of control of bodily functions or become hysterical. For others, the fear is associated with external factors such as turbulence, bad weather or a fault with the aeroplane.

The reassurance that air travel is one of the safest methods of travel usually does little to reassure the sufferer that air travel is safe and many people will avoid flying at all costs. This avoidance can affect their personal and professional lives, with people being unable to travel for business or to see friends/family.

It is common to find that many people who once flew without any problems can become uncomfortable travellers and go on to develop a fear of flying. For many people when they look back to the time when their fear of flying began they can find that they had quite a lot of stress in their lives. If they took a flight and experienced an ‘out of the blue’ panic attack, they can fear that they will have another next time they fly and so the pattern of anticipatory anxiety and avoidance can begin. One other factor is that some individuals will experience increased anxiety following the consumption of alcohol while on holiday – alcohol withdrawal can sometimes cause similar symptoms to anxiety (e.g. shaky, short of breath, feeling dizzy) and this can trigger increased anxiety and panic attacks in some on the return flight home.

DIY Self Diagnosis

If you can answer ‘yes’ to the majority of these questions you may be suffering with a flying phobia.

  • Do you have high levels of anticipatory anxiety prior to a flight?
  • Do you experience bodily symptoms prior and during flying, such as hyperventilating, sweating, churning stomach and dizziness?
  • Do you avoid flying wherever possible, and if able to only fly under duress?
  • Do you picture catastrophic scenes while flying that cause you significant distress?
  • Is your fear impacting on your relationships or work due to an inability to attend holidays or meetings?
  • Do you worry that you might lose control when flying and spontaneously open the aeroplane door or draw attention to yourself?

Anxiety UK strongly advises that people seek further information and guidance from their GP who will be able to make a formal diagnosis.

Fear of Flying Fact Sheet

How we can help

Anxiety UK is a user-led charity with more than forty years experience in supporting those living with anxiety. By becoming a member of Anxiety UK, you will have access to a range of benefits, including:

  • Access to reduced cost therapy within two weeks of submitting your therapy request
  • Access to our infoline, email, text and live chat services (available Monday-Friday, 9:30 am – 5:30 pm) staffed by volunteers with personal experience of anxiety
  • One year’s free subscription to Headspace (worth approx. £60), more details
  • Receipt of four issues of Anxious Times, our quarterly members” magazine
  • Access to the members only section of our website, featuring regular support surgeries facilitated by anxiety experts
  • Access to specialist helplines, including the psychiatric pharmacy helpline and the psychology information helpline

And many, many other benefits that will help you manage your anxiety long term. To become a member of Anxiety UK click here or ring 08444 775 774 today.

Want to know more?

The Anxiety UK site has information on a range of resources to provide more detailed information and help.

flying cd

The purpose of Stress Free Flying is to help you enjoy a more pleasurable flight experience from the moment you decide to travel to when you touch down at your destination.

Split into easy to follow sections this CD will give you the tools to deal with stress as well as calm and relax you. Following valuable advice from Diana each track includes specially selected soothing music for you to enjoy. You can purchase this CD by clicking here.

Personal experiences

Do you suffer from a fear of flying and want to share your experience with other people? Post your personal experience in the comments box below where it will be sent to our moderator for approval. Many people find this part of the site very useful when trying to understand their disorder so your comments really do make a difference. Please note, all comments submitted to the Anxiety UK website may be used by Anxiety UK for (but not limited to) publicity and promotional material.

“Flying is a real pain as in my heart I am a wanderer and traveller. I love the thought of experiencing new cultures and places. However, my fear keeps me stuck here. It all begins with the fact that I can”t get over having to walk through a “terminal” “¦ how much more warning do you need?!! But seriously, the lack of control and being inside a pressurised container, trusting a complete stranger to get me somewhere, I just can”t get past this fear. At least if a bus crashes there”s at least a chance of survival. I know people say helpful things like “there”s more chance of winning the lottery than dying in a plane crash” but I say that”s what everyone who dies in a plane crash tells themselves too.”

Zoe, Anxiety UK member