I absolutely love to travel. In fact, there is probably nothing I like more. I enjoy the whole process of travelling. Planning. Packing. Flying. I have never been a nervous flyer (well at least not until we had kids) and would jump on a plane without a moment’s hesitation. But what happens if you suffer from a fear of flying?
Aerophobia? What does that even mean?
Aerophobia, or a fear of flying is a phobia which affects mostly people aged 17 to 34.
During this period many of us experience significant life changes such as graduations, marriage and childbirth. This can result in the development of a fear of flying where previously you have travelled without anxiety for years.
Developing a fear of flying
My husband Dani has always been a nervous flyer but, having studied at university in Sheffield flying was generally unavoidable.
Years ago however, he was due to travel from Gibraltar to London for a family birthday celebration. This time his nerves meant that he could hardly sleep the night before. He was ratty and short-tempered and, all in all, terrified.
Symptoms of Aerophobia
Arriving at the airport only made him more anxious. No amount of reassurance was having a calming effect.
He felt physically sick, lightheaded and was suffering from heart palpitations and shortness of breath. He was having a panic attack.
These are symptoms which we now know are common with those who have a fear of flying.
People who have a fear of flying may also experience:
- excessive sweating
- trembling or shaking
Refusing to Board the flight
When the last call for the flight was announced he point blank refused to walk through to the departure lounge. There was no way he was boarding that flight!
Is there a medical test to diagnose aerophobia?
Whilst there is no specific test for aerophobia, this can be diagnosed if you:
- Develop the above symptoms merely at the thought of flying
- Experience fear for 6 months or more
- Go out of your way to avoid travelling by plan
- Have difficulty functioning at home as a result of your fear.
The fact that Dani was unable to step into that plane was another obvious sign that he suffers from an absolute fear of flying.
Determined to Travel
With his mum and sister duly boarding the flight I drove Dani back to my office.
My work colleagues could not believe it when they saw him walking in behind me.
Determined to make the party, we proceeded to scour the internet for alternative ways to get to London on time. This meant a 24-hour long journey!
Driving from Gibraltar to Malaga to catch a train to Madrid and a subsequent connection to Paris.
From Paris he would finally be boarding an overnight train to London.
All of this for a 24 hour stay in London!
Did he make the party?
Arriving in London in time for the party, and after only 24 hours, he faced another 24-hour back home!
At this point you would be forgiven for thinking that any travel involving flying would not be on the cards for us. After all, this fear of flying was absolutely debilitating.
However, a few years after the London party debacle, Dani saw an offer for a Caribbean cruise departing from New York. Excitedly, he told me all about the ports of call and how we could also spend a few extra days in New York.
He was surprised when I said that as exciting as it sounded, we would not be going. Seemingly having forgotten about his inability to board a plane in the past!
Once again he was determined that we would travel, promising me that he would overcome (or at least try to control) his fear.
However, as the holiday drew closer, so grew the paralysing symptoms associated with his fear of flying.
We started researching ways in which to manage the symptoms and eventually we travelled to New York where Dani proposed! Since then we have been on countless other holidays which have involved flying. So, how does Dani manage to keep his fear of flying under control?
Controlling Your fear of flying
Controlling a fear of flying may involve a multi-faceted approach. Education, meditation and medication can all help.
The first thing we did when preparing for our trip to New York was to download podcasts designed to help people suffering with aerophobia. Dani found the same to be very useful and often refers back to such podcasts before travelling.
On its website, EasyJet also provides the following five facts about air travel that can help manage the anxiety associated with flying:
- Flying is the safest form of travel
Plane crashes are extremely rare. So much so that when they do happen the media focuses on them excessively.
According to the airline, the chances of a plane crash are 1 in 1.2 million. The chance of actually dying in a plane crash is even less at 1 in 11 million.
- Pilots are retested every 6 months
What other profession does this?
If a pilot fails to pass their competency test then they are not allowed to fly.
- A plane can fly on one engine
In fact, even if both engines were to fail a plane can still glide and this is regularly practised by pilots in the simulator.
- Turbulence is not dangerous
This is something which Dani repeats to himself often. And, now that we have children and I find that I too am a bit anxious about flying, this is something which repeats to me.
The main danger with turbulence is people falling over if not wearing their seat belt.
- Oxygen masks really work
Some people with a fear of flying think that the oxygen masks are there by way of a placebo. But, they really do work.
In the days and weeks before travelling, and of course just before flying, relaxing meditations can have a hugely beneficial effect on your state of mind. Try out apps such as HeadSpace.
For those of you who are religious, prayer can also help clear your mind. Many find comfort in placing their trust in a Higher being and through prayer feel that everything will be well.
Having a ritual which you follow in the run up to your flight can also help. When you follow certain steps you can help by keeping your focus on something else. With Dani, whilst no longer the most religious, he must travel with his crucifix necklace. Feeling that keeping God near helps.
This can be by way of homoeopathic/natural medication or through prescribed medication such as Diazepam.
Dani needs a combination of all of these in order to fly but as I said earlier, we now regularly fly.
He is not over his fear of flying, not by a long shot, but, it is under control.
If you can identify with these symptoms, do not be afraid to seek professional advice. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Remember, the only thing holding you back is you.