Without getting too technical, fear of flying, is an anxiety disorder. Such fears can come about during a flight, or even well before a person gets to the airport. Often, the source of the fear has little or nothing to do with the risks associated with the flight. Depending on the person, the fear of flying includes one or more of the following fears or concerns:

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

Signs you may be afraid of flying include becoming anxious in elevators, having panic attacks before getting on a plane, or going out of your way to avoid air travel.
How Many People Are Afraid of Flying?

The airline industry is clearly aware of the fear of flying and how it affects the traveling public. Research is somewhat sparse, with one of the most important studies on fear of flying dating back to 1980, when two Boeing researchers found that 18.1% of adults in the U.S. were afraid to fly, and that another 12.6% of adults experienced anxiety when they fly. In short, about one in three adult Americans were afraid to fly.

The study was also interesting in that it provided details about why the surveyed adults avoided flying, with only about 6%flying doing so because they considered flying unsafe. A more recent poll conducted by Newsweek magazine in 1999 found that 50% of the adults surveyed who flew on commercial airlines were frightened at least sometimes.

How Does Fear of Flying Affect People?

Every person responds to fear of flying differently. A common reaction is to avoid flying as much as possible. There are a number of celebrities, including John Madden of video game and NFL football fame, who go out of their way to arrange their personal and professional lives to avoid flying.

Once a person with flying anxieties is in the air, physical reactions may be absent or quite noticeable, including the kind of physical reactions associated with a white knuckle flyer, such as sweating, rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, and nausea. Dealing with the stress by seeking answers to common questions about airline safety, can have a positive effect on a passenger, but doing things like using drugs or alcohol to deal with stress can lead to a passenger being abusive to other passengers, the cabin crew, or to airline representatives.

Statistics and the Fear of Flying

Often, the aviation safety experts point to the statistics associated with flying risk to show how flying is safe and that passengers should not be afraid. For most who have anxieties associated with flying, these statistics are meaningless because in most cases, the fear is not associated with flight risks. In other words, risk and safety are two different things, and you can’t just use risk statistics to convince most people that flying is safe. Even if the chance of something bad happening is a million to one, most people are worried about whether their flight is going the be the one that doesn’t end well.


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