What is fear of flying?

Understanding Fear of Flying?

First of all, it is not the inability to travel in a plane! Most ‘fearful flyers’ or people who have aerophobia do actually fly – although they find it a very uncomfortable experience.

How each person experiences fear of flying will differ considerably and can range from a mild concern, that passes once you have made the decision to fly, to a powerful and over-powering fear that makes air travel an impossibility.

To determine how your own ‘flying nerves’ compares with others imagine a line or continuum with mild nervousness at one end, a severe and disabling phobia of air travel at the opposite end and, somewhere in the middle, the person who travels by air only when they really, absolutely, have to.

Mild fear of flying

At the mild end of the spectrum is the person who becomes a little nervous for a little while at certain stages of the flight.

They may become uneasy on entering the plane, when the doors close, when the plane takes off or lands or manoeuvres, or if they experience turbulence, etc. This is not a true fear of flying – and even the most confident flyers will, on occasions, be on this end of the spectrum.

‘White Knuckle Flying”

Midway along the spectrum is the very nervous or ‘white knuckle’ flyer. This person will travel by plane as a last resort, because they have no other choice.

They will try to avoid going on holidays or applying for jobs that might require air travel. Or they will spend long hours travelling by car and ferry, much to the discomfort of family members or colleagues who have to accompany them.

If they really have to fly they will usually use strong medication or alcohol to help them deal with their fear of flying. Any trip involving air travel is an ordeal for them. When they arrive they may take quite a while to get over their outward journey – only to then begin nervously anticipating the return journey.

Phobia of Flying

At the other end of the spectrum is the person whose fear of flying is so strong that they cannot fly at all – even the thought of being in a plane causes anxiety.

For the person with such a flying phobia the experience of being on a plane can be quite distressing and may result in panic attacks, nausea, shaking, hyperventilating, etc.

A phobia of flying can be so incapacitating as to make air travel quite impossible and can even prevent them travelling to an airport to meet someone else.

Fear of flying is widespread

Up to 1 in 5 fear flying – depending on the intensity of their phobia they may either avoid air travel altogether or may only be able to fly with the aid of alcohol or medication.

For some this is inconvenient or embarrassing. For others it is a major block – as when their aerophobia prevents them and their families going on holidays together.

In some cases fear of flying can have a major impact on a person’s career – they will avoid or turn down promotion or will not even apply for positions that might require them to travel by plane.

You can learn how to manage your fears

A flying phobia can be dissolved. You do not have to ‘learn to live with it’. Nor do you have to continue holding yourself back from the convenience of air travel or from holidays or career advancement that involve travel by air.

The quickest way of getting past your fear of flying is to seek the assistance of someone who specialises in this area.

Airline courses: Some airlines run courses and your travel agent of local airport may be able to point you in their direction. These courses are often a blend of group support, factual information from experienced pilots, relaxation training, and (often) the option to take a short flight at the end of the course. They work fine for some and they do have a drawback in that they rarely address the real cause of the fear – how a person uses their imagination.

Hypnosis: some people find hypnosis works for them. In theory everyone can be guided into a hypnotic trance. In practice it depends on your personality and your sense of self control. If you have concerns about other people influencing your unconscious mind then hypnosis may not be for you.

Counselling & Talk Therapy: This covers a huge area ranging from classical psycho-analysis to approaches that incorporate NLP. The effectiveness of individual therapists vary considerably so it is best to seek a personal recommendation. Having selected a therapist allow up to three one-hour sessions to experience a significant reduction in your fear. If this has not occurred after three hours this particular approach is unlikely to work for you.

Self help: You can use this site’s self help methods to manage your thoughts and feelings. These self help methods do take longer than the methods used in the individual consultations but they will help you feel more in charge – stick with them and you will reduce your anxiety to a more manageable level.


Remember that fear of flying, like all phobias, is a just learned response. You were not born as a nervous flyer – you learned to feel this way. Don’t accept it as being ‘how I am’. And decide that you do not have to ‘learn to live with it’, either.

You can un-learn your phobic response just as you learned it. You can learn to manage and even dissolve your fear of being on a plane.

Scroll to Top