ITB 2024 Special Reporting
The Causes of a Fear of Flying.
By Captain Keith ~ Fear of flying
Friday, 8th July 2011
There are many causes of a fear of flying and generally they fall into these groups: A bad flight experience, A loss of control, Claustrophobia and A significant life event.

Number one. A bad flight experience

Many people report that after a particularly bad in flight experience, usually turbulence or a Go Around they have been put off flying for ever. After this they start to be attracted to media reports that support their view that flying is dangerous. Once the downward spiral starts it becomes very difficult to stop it, let alone changing it into something realistic.

Unfortunately once this negative impression has been formed it's almost impossible to remove it without proper help. 

One of the characteristics of someone with a fear of flying is that their descriptions of flying are very emotive. Their planes didn't just descend they plummet. Their imagination suggests things that 'ought' or 'could' have happened; for instance, the lights went out when in fact the lights would have had nothing to do with what they experienced. 

Strangely though, at the same time as having 'expert recall' of a fearful event, most fearful flyers will admit to their lack of 'expert knowledge of flying'. It's curious that they know things like how quickly the plane climbed or 'dropped' whether it was going too fast or nearly stalling, when there is no way that they could really know. You can't tell any of these things when you are a passenger. 

All in all, a bad experience may in reality have been a perfectly normal one, made worse by lack of knowledge and maintained by emotive language. I ask people on our course, whether they think I'd describe the flight in the same way and if not, why not? 

These reactions and behaviours are perfectly normal...but if you describe things like this you're not helping yourself.

It is much more useful to say that the aircraft 'seemed' to descend or 'seemed' to be going quickly because this makes you ask the question "Well how can I be sure of that?"  It is the starting point of changing your thoughts and changing your thoughts will change your behaviour.

 Number two. A loss of control

For many successful people another major cause of a fear of flying is the apparent loss of control. The fact is you can never be in control of everything.It's much more useful to control the things that you can control. Control your unhelpful thoughts, control your diet before you fly, control arriving at the airport in good time and so on. You aren't  a pilot and  it'll take you years of training to be as good as the people actually flying the plane...so leave it to them.

However hard it is for you to accept  you won't be as good as the pilots you've got flying your plane. I suggest you stick with the job you've got and leave flying to the people trained to do it. There aren't enough hours in the day to do your job, and the pilot's.

What you can do though is to be in control of the things that are possible. Choose the airline you want to fly with, choose the time of the flight, choose your seat and choose what time you arrive at the airport. Choose them but have a strategy to deal with anything that changes.  

Control the controllable and see the rest as part of the procedure.

Number Three. Claustrophobia

Claustrophobia is one of the major reasons for a fear of flying, and like many other physical symptoms can be controlled with diaphragmatic breathing. There is more help available on the site for this.

Number Four.  A significant life event

Another major cause of a fear of flying is a significant life event, falling in love, having a family, an accident or illness and of course bereavement. All these things make us aware of our vulnerability and heighten our sense of risk, danger, helplessness and loss.  There is more information on the site about this. 

It's not possible to cover every reason and cause of a fear of flying, quite often there are clusters of events or symptoms that combine and show as a fear of flying and since the media feeds the fear element in us at every opportunity, it can be no wonder that a fear of flying is so high up on the list of fears in our society.

But remember it is possible to overcome a fear of flying regardless of cause and severity. Be confident that you can succeed.

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