What is a typical fearful flyer?

What are the usual traits in fearful flyers?

It’s unlikely that there is a ‘typical’ fearful flyer. Anyone can experience fear of flying – even people who have flown for years. This list of characteristics is based on my observations in my own work in helping people overcome their fear of flying.

It’s common for a  person with a flying phobia or aerophobia to:

  • Be fearful of flying but will continue to fly, often in great discomfort and relying on alcohol or medication to get through , what is for them, a very uncomfortable experience.
  • A business person who is prepared to drive long distances rather than fly. Who ill change jobs if the job specification changes to include frequent air travel. Who may actively avoid promotion or going after a better job if frequent flying is likely to be involved. seeking a better job if it involves flying.
  • (Because their work will often involve continuous high levels of stress, business people are particularly likely to develop a fear of flying, sometimes even though they may have flown in comfort for years.)
  • Actively avoid foreign holidays because of the choice between a quick but terrifying flight or a very long ferry/car journey to the destination.
  • Be quite articulate about why they dislike flying and able to provide lots of rationales for why they do not need or want to fly:
    • it’s not natural
    • it’s not necessary
    • it affects my ears
    • I prefer to holiday in Britain
    • foreign holidays in sunny spots increase the likelihood of your getting skin cancer
    • I prefer to drive to far-way business meetings – it enables me to think/plan/etc.
  • Be quite sceptical, unimpressed, or distrustful of information or statistics about
    • The relative safety of air travel
    • The qualifications or health or judgement or sobriety of air pilots or navigation staff or engineers or air traffic control staff
    • The maintenance and air-worthiness of the plane
    • The design of the plane and its ability to withstand the stresses of bad weather or turbulence.
  • Experience anxiety at even thinking about flying, let alone travelling to an airport or getting on a plane.
  • Find their anxiety increases with each step in the process – the checking-in at the airport, the departure lounge, the entry into the plane, the closing of the doors, the taxiing, the take-off, etc.
  • Be as concerned about how they might behave if the anxiety ‘takes over’ as of the actual safety of the plane. They fear
    • losing control of themselves
    • looking silly in front of others
    • shouting or screaming or crying
    • becoming nauseous, etc.
  • Find that, if they do force themselves to fly, the time between outward journey and return journey is quite miserable. They take some time to get back to normal after the outward flight – and then almost immediately will begin imagining the ordeal of the journey home.
  • Find, if they do force themselves to agree to fly, that the days or weeks or months of waiting for the travel day to arrive is an additional ordeal. In some cases this ‘anticipatory anxiety’ may impair their day-to-day functioning to the extent that they need medication.
  • Find that, because their fear of flying is outside their control and is not shared by their family and friends, their self confidence and self esteem is affected.
  • Try, often with success, to hide their fear from others – because of what they inaccurately perceive to be something to be ashamed of. But the strain of handling the fear and hiding the fear makes flying a double ordeal.
  • Be a bit of a ‘control-freak’ who dislikes even being a passenger in a car because they have a need to be in control in order to feel safe or at ease.
  • The plane is the ultimate test for them – they must sit where they are told, not smoke, not move about at certain times, ask for things to be brought to them, not be too restless since this will inconvenience those in adjacent seats. And they have to accept that once the door closes they have no way of getting off the plane until it lands at their destination.
  • Deep down, while they realise it is unrealistic, they want a guarantee that the plane will not crash, will not experience turbulence – and that they will feel absolutely no anxiety symptoms.
  • Be highly intelligent and imaginative – but their inability to manage their imagination is their enemy – the incessant stream of mental disaster-images or the inner panicky voice is running their feelings not their rational clear-thinking mind. And these disaster-thoughts produce physical symptoms which further fuel the disaster-thoughts in an ever-spiralling process.
  • Be rather obsessive or ritualistic about how they fly, when they really have to do so. They must have an aisle seat in a certain row, they must have a particular drink, they must board at the last minute, they must be off first, they must/must not be alone, etc.
  • Will often have a history of flying in comfort – until a particular experience changed their attitude – such as a ‘bad’ flight, excessive turbulence, a plane that had to turn back with engine trouble, a panic attack on board a plane (which may have been the result of circumstances un-related to flying), etc.
Scroll to Top