Cure your fear of flying

Airplane breaking apart mid air



If you're suffering from an irrational fear of flying, it will certainly be a major obstacle to having a great far away vacation. Fear of flying, also known as Aviophobia or Aviatophobia, is surprisingly common, with up to 18% of the adult U.S. population having it. This is according to a Boeing study done in 1980. From the same study, we know that another 12% or so experience anxiety when flying.

Fear of flying gets somewhat more attention than other phobias since air travel is often difficult for people to avoid, especially in work settings contexts, and because the fear is widespread. A fear of flying may prevent a person from going on vacations or visiting family and friends, and it can cripple the career of a businessperson by preventing her from traveling on work-related business.

What is fear of flying?

Without getting very technical, we can classify the fear of flying as an anxiety disorder. It can make itself known during a flight, or even a long time before a person even arrives at the airport. Commonly, the fear and anxiety has more to do with elements of flying that have little or nothing to do with the real risks of flying. Fear of flying can include one or more of the following elements:

  • Fear of heights
  • Fear of being over water
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Fear of the dark (flying at night)
  • Concerns about accidents or from deliberate attacks
  • Being idle for long periods of time
  • Being in an enclosed or crowded space
  • Loss of control, or being dependent on technology or people
  • Loss of personal freedom
  • The security screening process
  • Concerns about turbulence and other weather conditions
  • Not understanding the activities associated with a normal flight
  • Underlying issues from past psychological or physical trauma

Curing a fear of flying

Curing aviophobia, or fear of flying, is like curing any phobia. It's really a matter of re-training your cognitive patterns to cease associating the flying experience with uncontrollable danger and fixated thoughts. You have a conditioned response to the whole business of taking a flight - thankfully there are ways to remove that conditioning.

One very successful method to do that is what's called Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), essentially a scientific application of hypnosis, or hypnotherapy. This works by subconsciously programming your brain so that flying is seen as a safe, enjoyable activity. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure how that works, but I've seen it work on a colleague, and work quite well. This is the favored method of therapists such as JP Richards of GoGetter Jetsetter.

This program can be very quick working as well, with some patients experiencing strong improvements within only 18 minutes of hypnotherapy.

Further methods are Cognitive behaviour therapy and Systematic desensitization, both of which work on the princible that an earlier initial sensitizing event (ISE) has caused the feelings of fear. Eventually, those feelings have become entrenched in the aviophobics psyche. Some doctors can also prescribe anti-anxiety medication for fearful flyers, but those can have some serious downsides so only go down this route if it's absolutely critical that you fly.

Your experiences

Do you have a fear of flying? Know anyone that does? Share your experiences in the comments below!

You should follow me on twitter here.

Last updated by on in Travel.

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My fear with flying has to do with the mechanical upkeep as in the crash in Texas that resulted from a miscommunication of maintenance when a shift change occurred and someone forgot to tighten the stabalizer which caused it to fall off and kill everyone on board when the pilots lost control of the plane. I also worry about the wings falling or breaking off or having loose screws.

Eafraid on 03 July, 2012

Thanks Capt Bunn

Capt Bunn, thanks for that very good addition to my article.

I just wanted to clarify about systematic desensitization as used to my knowledge: As some fear of flying involves airports themselves and even the process of planning for a flight, there are opportunities here to start removing anxiety-inducing thought patterns.

In other words, getting the patient to get used to thinking about flying without getting scared and nervous.

Your point about "you are either flying or not" is absolutely correct, but the biggest anxiety driver not the only place to treat anxiety disorders.

Many thanks for your input, I know my readers will find much value from that.

Jack on 25 September, 2008

Treatment of fear of flying

First, by way of introduction, I'm both an airline captain and a licensed therapist. Working with people who have trouble with flying has been my specialty for twenty-eight years.

There is a great deal of misunderstanding about the cause of fear of flying. It is not caused by a bad flight; most people on a bad flight don't develop fear of flying. Difficulty with flying is caused by insufficient ability to regulate feelings when facing uncertainty.

Research since the advent of the functional MRI just eight years ago has helps us understand how the brain works. We now recognize that the ability to regulate feelings is learned and that the part of the brain that does this regulation requires stimulation of the right kind during the first two years of life. The right kind of stimulation requires a caregiver who is empathically attuned to the infant and responds to the infants signals, rather than simply providing for the infant according to an agenda set by the caregiver.

If the child is afraid, the caregiver needs to tune into the child's fear in a way the child really knows the caregiver feels the same way. Thus the child knows he or she is not alone.

Then, the magic happens; the caregiver then lets the child know that -- though the child's fear is 100% shared -- the adult has an additional point of view, which is that it is not the end of the world; it will work out alright.

Many of us, obviously, didn't get such optimal early development. Thus, when facing uncertainty, we control our anxiety by being in control of the situation, or by having a way to out of it.

That works fairly well on the ground -- except for annoying those who regard us as control freaks. But when flying, there is uncertainty, of course. And, not being in control and not having a way out, there is no way to regulate the feelings.

Therapists try to help with CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), but anxiety can develop so rapidly that CBT techniques cannot keep up with the anxiety build-up.

Hypnosis is pretty "hit or miss". If it helps on one flight, it can fail to help on another flight.

NLP, which I am highly trained in, is -- based on my experience -- helpful only for mild fear of flying, cases where there is neither an issue of panic or of high anxiety.

Systematic desensitization? I don't know why the write lists this; it cannot be done when flying because SD requires GRADUAL increase in stimulus, and with flying, you are either flying or not. SD is not practical for the treatment of fear of flying.

Medications are not to be recommended -- according to the World Health Organization -- because when sedated, the passenger doesn't move around enough to protect against DVT, Deep Vein Thrombosis. If a DVT clot forms, it is a serious and potentially life-threatening problem.

Also, use of medications -- according to research -- is only helpful in very mild cases of fear of flying. In more severe cases, medications make the flight worse!

I have tried to give a good understanding of the cause and cure of fear of flying in a video at

Also, at

Capt Tom Bunn LCSW on 24 September, 2008

Hey Jack,

Thank you for the great mention on your post.

I’d be happy to answer any questions of your readers about how they can cure their fear of flying in just 18 minutes.

For the Love of Living Life to the Fullest,

JP Richards

Certified Hypnotherapist, NLP Practitioner, &

Creator of GoGetter JetSetter

JP Richards on 24 September, 2008



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