Fear of Flying

September 18, 2017

Aviophobia affects approximately 6% of the UK population

Dr Nick Mooney, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, shares his tips on how you should confront and combat Aviophobia, the fear of flying

The UK spends billions of pounds every year on travel and holidays, in the quest for sunshine, sand and exotic destinations. However, it is estimated that up to 1 in 3 of us don’t share the excitement of holidaying abroad. This is due to anxiety related to fear of flying. Some people experience symptoms so uncomfortable that it prevents them from even setting foot in an airport.

How to confront your fear of flying


Moderate to Severe Levels of Anxiety

Psychological therapy has been proven to help people effectively manage their anxiety when flying. However, one size does not fit all. The specific techniques used for one person may not be the most useful for another. It’s recommended that people experiencing moderate to severe levels of anxiety when flying seek support from a qualified therapist with experience of working with anxiety conditions.

Mild Levels of Anxiety

Skills and information provided by common forms of talking therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) are able to help those with milder levels of anxiety to better manage their discomfort and make flying a more enjoyable experience.

Employ calming techniques

Breathing exercises, mindfulness skills, visualisation exposure exercises and challenging unhelpful thoughts can be useful in counteracting anxiety associated with flying. It’s best to practice these in advance so these skills can be put into practice effectively on the fight. Remember to also be kind and compassionate to yourself. Even though you might recognise the thoughts as irrational, the anxiety you are experiencing is certainly real and valid. It is OK to be anxious. The feelings will pass quicker if you don’t try to avoid or struggle with them.

Investigate intensive therapy programmes

Programmes including those offered by ‘fear of flying’ courses provide some additional advantages. This is particularly relevant for those with moderate to severe levels of anxiety. Most are based on CBT principles. Many ‘fear of flying’ courses offer the opportunity for immersive exposure to the anxiety by providing an aeroplane flight as part of the programme. These courses are also often run in a group format, which can be validating to people with a fear of flying. This is because they are able to share and normalise their anxiety with other sufferers. Many ‘fear of flying’ courses also use former pilots or aircrew in addition to therapists who specialise in aviophobia. This can instil an extra sense of confidence in the information being provided.

Knowledge is power

It’s very important to understand what your triggers are. Worrying that the plane will crash or be hijacked may play on some people’s minds. On the other hand, others may be more concerned about the potential consequences of having a panic attack in an enclosed space at 30,000 feet. By pinpointing your fear, you will be able to better understand the steps needed to help combat your phobia.

Inform the flight crew

Some people find it helpful to inform the flight crew and even neighbouring passengers of your fear of flying. This can help by ‘naming the elephant in the room’ when and if you start to exhibit signs of anxiety. You won’t be so worried about what others might be thinking. In fact, you are likely to receive genuine expressions of sympathy and validation. The flight crew will be well aware of some useful tips and tricks to manage flight anxiety. Therefore they may be able to offer additional support or assistance if needed,

Be familiar with the facts

Do your research on statistics relating to your phobia. For example, if your phobia surrounds the plane crashing, research how many planes have crashed recently and what the likelihood of this happening is. Whilst it won’t eliminate your fear, it will put it into context and help you to rationalise these unhelpful beliefs.