Many people experience nervousness or anxiety when they fly. The crowded space, turbulence, and sensations of taking off and landing can certainly be unpleasant. But some people experience an extreme sense of fear or panic when they fly, and they avoid flying altogether. If they must get on a plane, then they are likely to experience panic attacks or other intense symptoms of anxiety. This fear is known as aerophobia, and it affects roughly 20 million Americans.1

Causes of Aerophobia

There is no specific cause of aerophobia, as the fear usually originates from a combination of factors. The fear of heights can be genetically inherited, or the fear of flying may be modeled to kids by their parents. Increased exposure to media that show plane crashes or other incidents may also play a role.2 Most commonly, people fear flying because they feel that they have no control over the situation and their safety. The longer a person avoids flying, the more this fear may increase. Sometimes this fear is also associated with other phobias, such as fear of vomiting (emetophobia), fear of heights (acrophobia) or the fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia). Sometimes working on these specific phobias can help resolve the aerophobia.

Physical Symptoms of Aerophobia

  • increased heart rate
  • cold hands
  • trembling
  • nausea
  • shortness of breath
  • choking sensation

These signs can occur when a person is thinking about flying, about to board a plane, or while flying.3

Treatment Options

Aerophobia is typically treated with therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Anti-anxiety medications can help manage symptoms before and during a flight. Exposure therapy is commonly used to treat aerophobia, by allowing an individual to become gradually more adjusted to the ideas and sensations of flying. Cognitive behavioral therapy can also help an individual test the reality of irrational thought patterns they have about flying.4 Aerophobia is treatable, so don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional who can help. Many professionals specialize in specific phobias or other anxiety-related issues, and because aerophobia is so common, many therapists have likely worked with people on this issue before.

Action Steps

Be honest – The first step in treating aerophobia is to acknowledge that the fear is present. Because flying is something that many people do, people can often feel too embarrassed to speak up about their aerophobia. Remember that phobias affect many people, so you are not alone. You might be surprised how many of your friends and colleagues may struggle with the same fears, and you might find people who have overcome this phobia and can be an encouragement to you.

Get educated – Knowledge is power when it comes to conquering your fear of flying because you can’t challenge irrational thoughts without facts.5 For example, if you have a fear of turbulence, learning about the science and safety of turbulence can help you feel calmer. Consider watching videos online about how safe flying can be or reading an article or book that explains the science of flying. Learning about safety regulations and pilot training can also present you with facts that challenge irrational fears.

Set travel goals – It’s easy to procrastinate on working on fears like aerophobia. But if your life is inconvenienced or diminished by not being able to fly, then it’s important to set goals for yourself. Think of a place or person you want to visit and set a date on the calendar for when you’d like to visit them. Then if you choose to work with a professional to help you overcome or manage the fear, you will have a target date. Also, consider reading travel books or articles about places you’d like to visit so you can associate positive emotions with flying. Make a list of places you’d like to visit or people you’d like to see when you are able to fly. 

Ask for help – There is no reason why you should have to work on aerophobia by yourself. Many professionals have successfully helped people learn to manage their anxiety and achieve their travels, and there are programs available that specifically target the fear of flying. When you feel less isolated in your quest to fly, you are more likely to follow through with your goals and find the courage to make progress and hold yourself accountable.

Aerophobia is nothing to be embarrassed about, but it is something to be honest about. Consider today who you can recruit to help you manage anxiety about flying and live the life you want.

If you think you or someone you care about may be suffering from aerophobia, anxiety, or any other mental health condition, PsyCom strongly recommends that you seek help from a mental health professional in order to receive a proper diagnosis and support. We have compiled a list of resources (some even offer free or low-cost support) where you may be able to find additional help at https://www.psycom.net/get-help-mental-health

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Last Updated: Dec 4, 2017