(About Fear of Flying)
1. HOW SAFE IS FLYING?
A plane is a fast and comfortable way of traveling; only elevators are safer means of transport. TV and radio news stations are not usually interested in good news, which is why plane crashes are given a disproportional amount of attention by the media. Psychologists call this ‘selective attention’. It leads to more stress but reveals absolutely nothing about the actual state of affairs. Each day, many millions of people board planes all over the planet..Over the last 10 years an annual average of 800 people died worldwide as a result of plane crashes. In the Netherlands alone we register approx. the same number of deaths due to road accidents. Planes are a safe means of transport although it feels different to someone suffering from fear of flying.
2. WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF FEAR OF FLYING?
Fear of flying has a number of possible causes. Some people develop stress when they leave their familiar surroundings. Others are afraid of technology. A plane is a complex and highly sophisticated machine, which can easily make people feel they are putting their fate into the hands of something they do not understand. Nearly always stress plays a role when fear of flying occurs. Of course people can develop fear of flying due to an accident or some other unpleasant flying incident. Finally, a shocking experience in a totally different setting can in hindsight be linked to a flight and thus cause fear of flying, e.g. if something unpleasant happens in the place of destination.
3. HOW MANY PEOPLE SUFFER FROM FEAR OF FLYING?
Of every 100 people that you can meet on any given day, 35 suffer from fear of flying in varying intensity. Around 22 of these will under no circumstances board a plane; the remaining 13 will fly if it is the only other option, but they will be under a lot of stress and they will need to make a big effort. Ten people of the same 100 do not avoid air travel, but they do not enjoy the prospect and never fly for fun.
4. IS FEAR OF FLYING A LUXURY PROBLEM?
Some people do not consider it a problem that they cannot travel by air. But it can have far-reaching consequences. Think e.g. of a businesswoman who waives a chance at promotion because she is afraid to fly. Or a father who never sees his emigrated child, for the same reason. In other words, fear of flying is by no means a luxury problem but a problem that can seriously disrupt our life, occasionally or continually. There is another argument for not looking at fear of flying as if it were a luxury problem. Many people appear to be suffering from additional fears: claustrophobia, fear of heights, obsessive-compulsive disorder and fear of panic attacks. Overcoming one’s fear of flying often goes hand in hand with overcoming one’s fears in other situations and means a more relaxed and pleasant life.
5. CAN FEAR OF FLYING BE TREATED EFFECTIVELY?
Absolutely! Unlike many other psychological problems fear of flying responds very well to treatment. There are people who are able to overcome their fear of flying on their own, but most people can use some coaching. There is no
single method that can cure all those who suffer from fear of flying, but these ingredients appear efficacious in many cases: information about aviation, tackling underlying fears, learning to handle frightening thoughts and the physical symptoms of fear, relaxation exercises and, eventually, the step-by-step confrontation with flying. This sums up the therapeutic methods of the VALK Foundation.
6. IS THERE A MEDICINE AGAINST FEAR?
Medication is an option; there are all sorts of fear inhibitors and tranquilizers available in shops. But using them has considerable downsides. First: they do not always work; there are known cases of passengers suffering from fear of flying that are petrified in their seats in spite of the medication, and who break down on arrival at their hotel and sleep all day. Second: A person under the influence of alcohol or tranquilizers is likely not able to respond adequately in a situation where this is needed. And third, and perhaps most important: using medication means losing one’s grip on oneself and handing over control to the medicines, whereas fear can only be overcome by taking control.
7. I HAVE BEEN AFRAID TO FLY ALL MY LIFE. IS THERE HOPE FOR ME?
8. I GET SCARED IN AN ELEVATOR. SO HOW CAN YOU EXPECT ME TO BOARD A PLANE?
Many people do not feel at ease in an elevator, in the back of a car with 3 doors, or in a crowded cinema. Others even avoid these situations because they are scared to go there. This is called claustrophobia: fear of confined spaces. Claustrophobic people are often afraid to fly because a plane is a confined space that there is no way of getting out of (at least during the flight). This form of fear of flying, too, responds well to treatment. If there is claustrophobia, this will be dealt with first during the individual sessions. In other words: first we make sure you can be fairly relaxed in an elevator and then we work our way towards the plane.
9. WHAT TO DO IF YOUR PARTNER OR COMPANION IS AFRAID TO FLY?
Do not deny or judge the other person’s feelings (‘You worry too much’, ‘You’ll be fine’, ‘It’s not so bad’ ); show them that you understand how they feel. Give them your attention and do not leave them helpless, even if you notice that a scared person tends to withdraw. Make sure your companion does not retire into their inner world. Make him or her talk and encourage them to keep talking. Offer a drink, preferably water, milk or fruit juice, no coffee, tea or alcohol. You can find these and other tips in the chapter ‘For all those who want the best for you’ in the book: About fear of flying and how to overcome it.
10. CAN THE FEAR GO AWAY OF ITS OWN ACCORD?
Sometimes. Problems of this nature can eventually disappear with time. But for this moment to arrive can take a very long time. If you learn how to handle these problems you will master them sooner. And in this way you will also learn how to nip new fears in the bud.