Fear of Flying has been a problem for many people since passenger flights began. It is a fear or phobia, the same as many people may fear spiders, public speaking, or heights. Fear of flying has probably increased dramatically in the past decade – especially since 9/11. It's understandable. How many people happily boarded planes after that terrible event? After all, when you think about it, flying is not a very natural thing for humans to do – we were not born with wings!
In today's tight security climate we hardly ever get to see the pilots or cockpit crews who have our lives in their hands. It might be helpful to remember that they are human beings too – with lives and families of their own – and they fully intend to return home to them! Gone are the days when you might be lucky enough to obtain the captain's permission to visit the cockpit on a long-haul flight. The pilots are locked in behind a bullet proof door and the entire process of flight is a mystery for many passengers! It's a real shame.
Fear of flying is an annoying and often debilitating problem for those afflicted but, not only that, it can also cause disruption to holiday plans, affect career paths, and cause financial losses. Those who are required to fly frequently on business could find themselves held back in their career or even out of a job because of their fear of flying.
Most people, if they were honest, would admit to feeling some jitters or nerves before take off or landing, or when experiencing turbulence. Some have a stronger reaction, perhaps exacerbated by an existing anxiety condition.
It's no secret that many people make out their will before flying! We all know about the statistics that you are much more likely to be involved in a car accident than a plane crash, but for many this is little consolation.
It is normal for a lot of people to feel the urge to cancel their flights or holidays if there has been a recent problem with hijacking, terrorism, or a plane crash. Fear of flying is a valid condition which is recognized medically. The anxiety can be so bad that it can cause physical reactions such as panic attacks, sweating, trembling, palpitations, dizziness, intestinal problems, clammy hands and nausea. Blocked ears during descent can be a problem – especially for children – but there are simple techniques to alleviate this pain which can be learned; chewing gum can help.
Most people will know of someone who is afraid of flying. They may be unable to go on holiday abroad because of it, although for many people their desire for a holiday in the sun may eventually outweigh their fear! It is often a form of claustrophobia, combined with a lack of understanding of how an aircraft operates and stays in the air. Young mothers are one group who tend to be more susceptible because of their protective instincts towards their children.
If someone you know is afflicted, you could make a difference in their life by encouraging them to seek help. There are several independent companies, as well as major airlines, which offer courses to help people overcome their fear of flying. Virgin Atlantic offers a Flying without Fear programme. British Airways / Aviatours offers a one-day course. The course instructors include trained pilots and psychologists.
During the courses the various stages of flight and the noises associated with them are simulated. For example, the sound of aircraft engines powering up or down can cause fear that something is wrong or the plane is going to crash. The loud whirring and clunking noises of the wheels (landing gear) being lowered and locked into place can be very frightening for those who do not understand what is happening. The courses may include relaxation techniques and end with an actual short flight where everything is explained as it occurs. Once a passenger has a basic understanding of the way an aircraft works the fears are usually greatly diminished. Other self-help methods are available such as books, DVDs, CDs and computer courses. Online support forums may be helpful for those who wish to share their thoughts and fears with other sufferers or hear from those who have found successful ways to cope.
Natural approaches, such as relaxation techniques and hypnosis can be very helpful. It's worth checking if your GP would be willing to prescribe something to help you stay calm during a flight. It's never a good idea to resort to drinking alcohol or taking sleeping tablets. Alcohol combined with the dehydrating effects of flying can make you feel even worse, and who wants to start their holiday in a groggy haze after taking sleeping pills!
Unfortunately, the bottom line is that travel insurance does not provide compensation for cancelled flights due to a fear of flying. The cancellation would be deemed 'self-inflicted' and you would find yourself personally liable for any financial losses. Therefore, if you want to be able to join your family and friends for holidays in the sun, it is never too late to obtain help for your fear of flying. One of the methods outlined in this article may hold the key to overcoming the fears and unlock many years of flying and happy holidays abroad!