Fear of flying: How to beat it

How to beat fear of flying

Experts have suggested that as many as one in 10 people in the UK experiences a fear of flying, or 'aerophobia'.

If you suffer from it, you don't need us to tell you how unpleasant the symptoms are: anything from mild anxiety to full-blown terror, sweating, shaking and severe palpitations, often weeks before you're due to fly. Most commonly, passengers either fear aeroplanes or find that air travel sparks symptoms of psychological problems such as claustrophobia, agrophobia, post-traumatic stress disorder or panic attacks.

Although most of us might see fear of flying as a rational fear (human beings weren't designed to hurtle through the air at 35,000ft in a metal tube over which they have no control), clinical hypnotherapist David Samson believes that a fear of flying can have its roots in early childhood memories: "A traumatic incident, and not necessarily anything to do with flying, that took place normally before the age of six years, becomes lodged in the subconscious mind."

Sometimes this fear will remain un-triggered in the subconscious for years, but a trauma in later life, such as a bad experience on a flight, or feelings of anxiety related to plane journeys, can cause this fear to awaken.

Hypnotherapist Sharon Stiles, who specialises in helping those who experience fear at the thought of flying, says one of her clients developed a fear of flying as a boy when his father told him to put his teddy bear in the hold luggage rather than take it with him on the plane.

"Another client developed a fear as a child when her doll was searched at an airport and no one explained to her what was happening. Other people have been affected by the fear of people they were travelling with and so 'caught' their fear," she explains.

The most common catalysts for feelings of fear are a dislike of feeling out of control, a fear of being in confined spaces, worries that stem from news reports, previous bad experiences such as extreme turbulence, a lack of familiarity with the new surroundings and a fear of heights, says Stiles.

Captain Chris Foster, who runs a Fearless Flyer course for Easyjet to help people overcome their anxieties, says: "It's really quite common to come across passengers who are anxious about flying and the fear can range from just mild discomfort to genuine terror. Some people just need a little reassurance that a sound is normal and they are content with that.

"At the other extreme end of the spectrum, I have come across a chap who associated flying with his recollection of being flown into a 'hot' war zone in the back of a military aircraft as a war photographer in the Middle East. His phobia was more akin to post traumatic stress. It was an emotional moment when he completed the course and got off the aircraft with a smile on his face."

Need help in overcoming your fear of flying? Check out our slideshow for some top expert tips. If you have any tips off your own, add them in the comments below and we'll include them!

Ways To Combat Fear Of Flying
See Gallery
Fear of flying: How to beat it

Sharon Stiles suggests a really helpful self-help technique is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). 

“It involves tapping or rubbing on acupressure points whilst you think about your fear of flying. It sounds very counterintuitive as we are so often told to think positively. However, it can help to change a negative feeling into a positive one.  

“A friend of mine actually taught it to someone she was sitting next to on a flight and she went from feeling scared to feeling calm and actually looking out of the window which was something she usually avoided.”

“You can find EFT resources that you can use yourself or visit a practitioner.

“One really simple technique is to rub very gently in a circle on the inside of your wrist, where you would have a wristwatch. Just focus all your attention on rubbing on that point. After a while you should find that you take a deep breath and you should feel calmer. This is an acupressure point that helps to reduce overwhelming feelings and is also good for travel sickness.”

“Focus on the positives that you have to look forward to whilst on holiday… and on the return flight think how nice it will be to get back home!” suggests David Samson.

“Visualisation techniques are an extremely effective technique to ease tension and getting that picture in your mind of you laying on that beach listening to the sound of the waves really helps!”

David Samson recommends avoiding coffee and other caffeine drinks.

"Caffeine in your body makes you feel even more anxious so avoid it! Drink plenty of water instead," he says.

“If you feel more comfortable in a particular part of the plane then try and book a seat,” says Sharon Stiles. 

“Let the air crew know if you feel nervous because it helps to know that someone understands that you are nervous and can check up on you."

David Samson adds: “Request a seat that is towards the middle of the aeroplane... the sensations of turbulence are usually much greater towards the rear of the plane.

"Best place to sit for a smoother ride is close to the centre of the plane by the wings. If you are a claustrophobia sufferer, then book an aisle seat and you won’t feel hemmed in.”

“Drink water which hydrates you and avoid alcohol which dehydrates you," advises Sharon Stiles

"You always feel better and can think more clearly when you are hydrated and flying can dehydrate you.”

David Samson says: “Tell the cabin crew when you board the plane that you are a nervous flyer… and also the passengers around you when you sit down. 

"It is nothing to be embarrassed about, and by letting those around you know of your fears, you lessen the fear of embarrassment should you become anxious during the flight.”

“Allow yourself plenty of time to get to the airport,” says David Samson. 

“Get to the airport a minimum of a couple of hours before your flight time. If you get stuck in traffic on the way or there is any kind of delay, you don’t need to get stressed.”

“Finding out about the technical aspects of flying can help,” suggests Sharon Stiles.

“If you understand what the noises are and how the plane reacts to different parts of the flight then that can help you to feel more comfortable about the flight because you know what is happening.”

David Samson suggests you should treat turbulence as a bumpy car journey.

"The bumps you feel in a car driving along a country lane are considerably greater than most of the turbulence felt on a plane. 

"If the flight does become bumpy, it is really important not to tense up but just let your body move naturally with the aircraft movements."

"Keep yourself distracted during the flight... Listen to music on your mp3 player, read a magazine or a book, do a crossword, watch the film…even if it is not your usual taste!” says David Samson. 

“There are various courses that are held for fearful fliers e.g. British Airways and Virgin both have popular Fear of Flying courses,” says David Samson. 

“The explanation of how planes work, what causes turbulence, and what are the sounds that are heard during the flight can put someone’s mind at rest.”


Related articles

Flight turbulence: What is it, and is it getting worse?

20 weird phobias that stop people going on holiday

14 shocking facts about flying

10 celebrities with a fear of flying
See Gallery
Fear of flying: How to beat it

Although she says her fear of flying has improved over time, a traumatic experience left Jennifer afraid of taking to the skies for years. Speaking to China Daily recently, she said: "I had one really bad flight where we were caught in an electrical storm. We shouldn't have been in the air... What scares me is taking off, because I don't understand how the plane gets up there. I've heard all about the aerodynamics, the speed, the engine. Of course, when your number's up, it's up. Maybe I'm just a control freak..."

This Atomic Kitten developed a severe fear of flying around 10 years ago, when the band was at the height of its fame. In an interview about her phobia with the Mirror, she said: "I haven’t been on an aeroplane for four years, or on holiday for the past three years, and it’s all down to my chronic fear of flying. I have tried everything to combat it, from hypnotherapy to medication, and I’ve also been on four ‘fear of flying’ courses."

He may play the hard man in his movies, but flying gets this tough guy's knees knocking. Colin told contactmusic.com: "I hate it, man. It just seems highly unnatural to me. I've taken a few (pills) in my time. I'm trying not to (now) 'cause I've had a few messy affairs on planes. I've been lucky they haven't leaked a few (stories) of when I went bonkers. They nearly had the handcuffs out at one stage on British Airways."

Spiderman actress Kirsten has found a novel way of keeping her fear of flying at bay. She told Med India: "I always get scared on planes. Whenever I fly I pack those Bose headphones that dull the noise of the plane. I always wear them on take-off and landing".

Ben Affleck explained to Jay Leno how his fear first came about on The Tonight Show. When he was nine years old, he went on a flight to Washington by himself. It was struck by lightning and the engine caught fire. The night before, he had randomly seen a TV programme about child molesters. "It scared the lights out of me," he said. As the plane was coming in for an emergency landing, the man sitting next to him turned and said: "You know, if we land, they'll put us in a hotel. Don't worry - you can stay with me." The experience has stayed with him.

"I'm a really horrible flyer. I'm not superstitious about anything; I'm pretty much a realist, but flying, I kiss the plane. I'm petrified. It could be classified a phobia," Hollywood star Jennifer told contactmusic.com. For the first 10 minutes of any flight I'm sort of waiting for that sound that, for me - in my fantasy - it's like there's a nut that's come loose and it's going to go into the engine."

Brit actor Sean is another on-screen tough guy whose nemesis is flying. "My parents were afraid of flying and it rubbed off on me," he told contactmusic.com. "I used to drive to all my film locations in Europe but I couldn't when it came to filming The Lord Of The Rings in New Zealand. I wouldn't get into a helicopter with the rest of the cast. They had to wait for me to walk up the mountain and join them before they could start filming."

In an interview on Piers Morgan Tonight, Whoopi talked in depth about her long-standing hatred of jet-setting. She explained that her fear was instilled nearly 30 years ago when she witnessed a mid-air collision in San Diego. "I'm a visualist. So if I see it, it lives in my brain. So I always see it." She tackled her fears with a Virgin Atlantic course that helps individuals work through issues surrounding fear of flying. According to CNN, she added: "Some people are meant to fly. And I don't know if I was meant to fly, but I do it now."

Singing superstar Aretha Franklin's fear developed literally overnight. In February 1984, she cancelled two shows in Kansas City and then rescheduled her entire tour because she suddenly couldn't board a plane. In an interview with Glamour magazine, Franklin once revealed: "I turned down two singing opportunities in my career because of a fear of flying: one for the Queen of England and one at the pyramids."

Megan's solution to her flying phobia? Britney Spears. She told Perez Hilton: "I developed that (a fear of flying) when I turned 20... I had to come up with a way to deal with it because I didn’t want to have panic attacks every time I get on a plane. I know for a fact it’s not in my destiny to die listening to a Britney Spears album, so I always put that on in my (headphones) when I’m flying because I know it won't crash if I’ve got Britney on." Whatever works for you…


How to Cope with a Fear of Flying
Read Full Story