What’s Behind the Fear of Flying

By | June 2, 2009

fearflyingFear of flying is no joke. The sweaty palms and racing heart can be so intense that some travelers simply refuse to board airplanes.

And news of accidents, such as the presumable crash of Air France Flight 447 over the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday, have restimulated this fear in a lot of otherwise rational people who know that driving a car is statistically far riskier.

People who fear flying hear about air travel mishaps and disasters, and their worries start to take over.

“They don’t pay attention to other statistics,” said Barbara Rothbaum, professor in psychiatry and director of the Trauma and Anxiety Recovery Program at Emory University School of Medicine. Millions of people fly safely every day, and yet those who fear flying look at something like that accident as confirmation of their phobia, Rothbaum said. “They’re exaggerating the probability of danger.” In fact, all phobias, including weather phobia and fear of heights, involve such strong, irrational fears.

“Flying is actually one of the safer things we do probability-wise,” Rothbaum said. And research is showing that flying has only gotten safer in recent years.

In fact, the lifetime odds of dying in an air travel accident are 1-in-20,000 compared with 1-in-100 for an auto accident and 1-in-5 from heart disease based on 2001 statistics.

About 25 million people in the United States suffer from some form of flying fear, ranging from a little anxiety to mega fears (called aviophobia) that keep a person off airplanes at any cost, according to Rothbaum.

About half of the 25 million are afraid of plane crashes, she said, with the other half being claustrophobic and risking a panic attack when scrunched into a plane cabin.

Even experiencing safe flights might not calm flight fears. “People can get very superstitious about their fears,” Rothbaum told LiveScience.

She recalls patients who report not getting onto a flight because they thought they had a premonition that something bad was going to happen. Even if they were to find out that flight arrived safely at the destination, Rothbaum said such patients use their unsupported premonition to solidify their anxieties.

“I try to explain it wasn’t a premonition; it was anticipatory anxiety,” Rothbaum said.

Those who actually board the plane and land safely at their destination might view the experience as an anomaly in an otherwise risky situation.

“When they get off of an airplane it looks like they want to kiss the ground, like they just narrowly escaped losing their life,” Rothbaum said ….

via Yahoo! News

I was on one flight where we landed at SFO during a storm. We got tossed around so badly that people were just sitting in their seat rocking back in forth in shock after we landed safely. When the entire plane’s crew all came out to see us disembark the passengers applauded the pilot. I haven’t flown since.

I happen to think that some fears keep us alive. Remember the rumor that George Reeves took drugs, believed he could fly, and jumped off of a building?  I heard that as a kid, but I never looked into it. Turns out it was just a rumor. The TV actor who played Superman actually died of lead poisoning.

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