Flying to the other side of the world is a dream for some, but for you it’s a nightmare? Are you afraid of flying? Even if you are aware that flying is the safest way to travel, flying for vacations or business trips is a real ordeal for you.

This questionnaire, validated by Van Gerwen, allows both to evaluate the presence of anxiety during air travel and to identify airplane phobics. It is composed of 32 items which allow to determine different levels of anxiety: anticipatory anxiety, general anxiety related to airplanes, anxiety in flight situation.

It allows us to establish a hierarchy of fears useful for exposure therapies (CBT, VRET). If you have a phobia of flying and you choose to begin therapy, this questionnaire can serve as a baseline for your therapist. At the end of this test, you will be able to print your results.

1. What is aviophobia?

Aviophobia is the fear of flying, or of travelling by this means of transport. It is a simple phobia (i.e. it is not related to a situation, but is specific to the aircraft itself).

Today, it affects more than 50% of the French population, with varying degrees of anxiety. It can go from a small anxious thought, to an anxiety attack or even panic.

We naturally adopt avoidance strategies to these situations. Indeed, we prefer to go to destinations that are closer or accessible by other means of transportation.

2. Why am I afraid of flying?

Fear of flying can be linked to other phobias such as fear of heights, claustrophobia or agoraphobia.

On the other hand, the fear of flying itself is often related to the fact of not having control over the situation. Indeed, we leave our life in the hands of an unknown person. That’s why we feel like we are putting it at risk.

It is also possible that when you are anxious about the situation, you are afraid that you will not be able to control yourself. And that you won’t be able to escape from the place where you might create chaos.

3. What is the origin of my fear of flying?

There is no single possible origin for this fear of flying. It can be traumatic. That is, you may have had a bad experience related to a trip. This experience could be an evacuation, an accident, or that you were sick, that a person was unpleasant or seemed strange to you etc.

It is also possible that it came from being part of an anxious family. Perhaps you were told to pay attention to many things? That any activity you did was considered dangerous? That your family reminded you how fragile life was? Or that you could endanger it at the slightest fault?

Coming from a family in which you may have suffered violence can also have an impact on your aviophobia. Indeed, you may have noticed, in an unconscious way, to what extent, the human being is not always up to your expectations. He can put you in danger. That depending on others can sometimes be negative. You experience this feeling again when, on the plane, you put your life in the hands of a person. You can imagine that their intentions are bad.

Finally, you may have created this anxiety by watching films or documentaries about plane accidents, attacks, crashes, etc. By dint of watching them, you may have generated this anxiety in front of situations that you think could happen to you.

4. What are the symptoms of this phobia?

Symptomatology can be more or less strong depending on your degree of anxiety about flying. You can have panic attacks in the situation, but also by anticipation. This panic attack is specific to each person. Not everyone feels the same way during an anxiety situation. Even if you know that your anxiety is irrational and that it is the safest way to travel, you cannot control your feelings and thoughts. We therefore enter a situation that is even more difficult, since we are in a vicious circle.

It is frequent that this discomfort is drawn by certain physical sensations like a tachycardia (acceleration of the heart), the feeling of blushing, a certain rigidity of the body, muscular tensions, difficulties to breathe (hyperventilation or hypoventilation), tingling in certain limbs, sensations of nausea, sweats, puffs of heat, dizziness, a feeling of oppression, clammy hands etc.

Some physical sensations suggest other more latent thoughts. Like the impression of not really being in our body (depersonalization). Or that everything that happens around us is not really real (derealization). Or being constant in imagining certain catastrophic scenarios (for example that the pilot is suicidal and is going to let himself go, that someone in the plane is a terrorist, or that the control of the aircraft has been badly done). So you have a fear of dying that is very important. It can be even more important since the birth of a child, where the feeling of responsibility is more important.

5. How can aviophobia be disabling?

While we are particularly challenged by the very idea of flying, we prefer to create avoidance in these situations. Whenever possible, we prefer other means of transportation. This can limit us in our daily life. We see ourselves limited in our choice of vacations, and limit our entourage with us. You dream of discovering the world, but can’t go where you want.

If you have friends who are planning a trip, you are forced to refuse. Thus, you feel that a distance in some of your social relationships can be felt.

The same is true for some of your projects, especially professional ones. You may have already been turned down for a job that you loved. Or that you didn’t apply for jobs you were interested in because of scheduled travel.

Avoiding the plane often reminds you of how much you are missing out on good opportunities.

6. How to reduce flight anxiety?

You have a plane to catch soon and you want to confront this situation? Here are a few “emergency” techniques before you start therapy to free yourself completely from this anxiety.

When you buy your plane ticket, take the time to choose your seat. If you are afraid of being trapped, choose the aisle seat and the front of the plane. If you feel that the window makes you feel safe, choose this seat. You need to feel comfortable in your seat.

When you are in the departure lounge, take time for yourself. Do some relaxation, breathing exercises, while thinking and visualizing your destination. Think about all the fun things this destination will bring you, and/or your plans for this place.

When you enter the airport, you can tell the crew about your anxiety. You can ask them to explain the weather conditions, any noises, and the mechanism of certain tools.

plane - fear of flying

7. How to manage it?

Do you feel that you have already tried many therapeutic or personal techniques to get out of the situation, and that nothing has worked? You need to find the method that suits you personally. On the other hand, it has been shown that in phobias, and in particular for aviophobia, it is important to confront the anxiety-provoking situations and not to engage in avoidance. Avoidance is the technique, conscious or not, of not facing the behaviour. It is therefore important to expose oneself. Exposure therapies have been proven to be very effective for driving phobia.

8. Exposure therapies in classical CBT

Exposure therapies aim at directly confronting anxiety-provoking situations, that is to say, here, the plane and its context (airport, tarmac…). In this way, you will be able to feel your emotions while doing exercises concerning the management of emotions, erroneous thoughts, relaxation, self-assertion, etc. The exposure will bring you to, little by little, de-dramatize the situation.

Nevertheless, the classic exposure, that is to say, directly in real situations, can sometimes be perceived in a “violent” way. In fact, you are directly exposed to situations that put you at risk, without being able to control the environment and leave you a space to get used to it. Therapists are not always by your side when you are exposed. This way, you must succeed alone in implementing the strategies discussed with them in session. This is why virtual reality exposure therapies have proven to be even more successful, as they are much more gentle and safe.

9. Virtual reality exposure therapies

Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) works on the same principle as more traditional exposure therapies. However, this therapy combines technology with therapeutic follow-up. The work on oneself is done in the same way, but in a safer and more accessible environment. The therapist exposes you to anxiety-provoking situations gradually, and accompanies you throughout your progress in the virtual environment. He or she can therefore help you to appropriate the different tools, support you in your difficulties and understand what you may be feeling, directly at the heart of the problem.

Moreover, the therapist has control over the software and the environments. He can therefore, very quickly, expose you to specific situations, specific to your difficulties (entry into the airport, take-off, turbulence, landing,…). Access is easy, all you need is a virtual reality helmet, without having to move to find a specific place to do the therapeutic work. It is therefore faster and more economical. It is also easier to combine the exposure sessions with relaxation sessions in virtual reality.

10. What solution?

It is important not to let anxiety grow inside us. Even if it seems weak and you find alternative solutions, the fear of flying can take over and completely ruin your life. The longer you let this phobia get inside you, the harder it will be to get out.

Virtual Reality Exposure Therapies (VRET) have been proven to be effective for phobias. It is estimated that over 80% of phobias have been treated with this therapy.

Exposure, in cognitive-behavioral therapies, allows for work on different aspects, whether they are of substance (anxious feelings, for example), or of form, such as the avoidance of anxiety-provoking environments.

The therapies by exposure to virtual reality make it possible to appropriate the physiological sensations of panic, and thus to reduce its frequency. Indeed, virtual reality allows for habituation to the situation, just as cognitive-behavioral therapy would do with in-vivo exposure (i.e. in reality).

It allows to create an environment similar to reality, while being easy to access.  The exposure is completely safe since the therapist has direct access to what he is proposing, and can interact at any time so that you can manage your difficulties more easily and not feel abandoned.

You move forward according to his timeline and are followed in your progress while being exposed to situations that you might not have thought were surmountable.

In this way, you will be able to become serene again in front of your travels, rediscover the world, leave in all the destinations for your work obligations and you will leave behind you these obstacles which could have spoiled your daily life.