How does aviophobia or fear of flying develop?
Multiple factors need to be taken into account to understand aviophobia. We speak of a “biopsychosocial” model because it is necessary to study the biological, psychological and social aspects to understand how you develop the phobia. There are almost as many fears of flying as there are individuals, because for each of them what makes them anxious are specific elements such as feeling enclosed, hearing unusual noises or travelling near strangers.
Women are more likely than men to be afraid of flying
Several studies have shown that more women than men have a fear of flying. They are also more anxious than men and more likely to develop a fear of flying as they get older. Unlike other specific phobias (e.g. related to animals, confined spaces, blood and injuries, etc.) which occur in childhood, aviophobia generally appears later, in the middle of adolescence (around the age of 15).
Of all the factors to be taken into account, media images of air crashes are frequently among the elements that maintain the anxiety of individuals. Accidents are so dramatic and the chances of survival are so rare that these shocking images run through our minds every time we are asked to use this means of transport for the first time. We do not all react in the same way to this kind of information and it is a real trauma for some viewers. Also, the fact that someone close to you has recounted a bad experience during one of their flights can be a factor in developing or maintaining fear. If you are anxious by nature, you focus on these details to such an extent that you refuse to undertake such trips. Aviophobia then begins to develop without even having made a single flight.
Why are we afraid of flying?
Lack of knowledge about the circumstances of a theft
Anxiety can also be generated by a lack of knowledge about the circumstances of a flight. Even the slightest noises and jolts are experienced as abnormal phenomena that do not allow you to cope with the situation. Many false beliefs about aeroplanes are in fact often disseminated in everyday life or the media world. Many films and series are about plane crashes and this actively contributes to the reinforcement of your perceptual biases that make you imagine certain death as the only possible outcome of a plane trip. For example, turbulence will be directly associated with a mechanical malfunction or the pilot losing control of the aircraft to the elements, when in fact it is a perfectly normal phenomenon in flight.
The trauma that causes aviophobia
Anxiety can also be caused by an unpleasant past event. The chaotic conditions of a previous trip (severe turbulence, engine failure, oxygen mask release, complicated landing/take-off, etc.) can be the cause. In addition, bad physical sensations experienced during a flight (dizziness, earaches, headaches, etc.) can also explain the anxiety phenomenon. This combination of physical manifestations and psychological interpretations partly explains the anxious experience felt during each of these flights.
Fear of flying: a consequence of another phobia
Travelling by plane means sitting in a closed cabin several kilometres above the ground for what can be a very long time for the passenger. It is therefore a situation that is completely incompatible with many of the most common phobias.
Acrophobia, or fear of heights, can often cause great apprehension at the thought of being at such high altitudes, even in a safe setting where there is no way to fall out of the aircraft. The same applies to claustrophobic people who will find it extremely difficult to stay in an aircraft as they will be confined in a closed space with no possibility of getting out for air.
Finally, the phobia that is certainly the least compatible with air travel is agoraphobia. Sitting among strangers, in a confined space at high altitude that makes it impossible to escape, is a combination of almost all the triggers for panic attacks for agoraphobics.
A fear that can also arise from the way we are educated
Like any other phobia, fear of flying can also be a result of parental education. If your parents are afraid of flying, they will pass on to you, often unintentionally, negative thoughts, attitudes and behaviours associated with flying. If you grow up imitating your parents’ behavioural model, then how can you be reassured and confident when it is your turn to undertake such a trip?
To learn to clearly identify what is worrying you and to overcome your fear of flying, you should meet with a health professional. He or she will help you to regain your self-confidence and help you to enjoy flying again. Take the plunge!