THE CLINICAL VIEWPOINT - - - -
This is a follow-up to my previous Take on Coping with Long FlIghts, responding to
those who requested it and who have problems coping with ANY kind of flight.
I hope this helps.
The diagnosis is clinical, critical and hard to make. It is often difficult to determine if the specific phobia of fear of flight (aviophobia) should be the primary diagnosis, or if fear of flying is a symptom of a generalized anxiety disorder or another anxiety disorder such as agoraphobia or claustrophobia.
Acute anxiety caused by flying can be treated with anti-anxiety medication. The condition can be treated with exposure therapy, including use of virtual reality equipment, which works better when combined with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Relaxation techniques and education about aviation safety can also be helpful in combination with other approaches.
Studies of interventions such as CBT have reported rates of reduction in anxiety of around 80%, however there is little evidence that any treatment can completely eliminate fear of flying.
- Mulcahy, RA; Blue, RS; Vardiman, JL; Castleberry, TL; Vanderploeg, JM (2016). "Screening and Mitigation of Layperson Anxiety in Aerospace Environments".
- Oakes, M; Bor, R (November 2010). "The psychology of fear of flying (part I): a critical evaluation of current perspectives on the nature, prevalence and etiology of fear of flying”.
- Oakes, M; Bor, R (November 2010). "The psychology of fear of flying (part II): a critical evaluation of current perspectives on approaches to treatment".
Well, that is what the psychology journals have to say about the Fear of Flying (NOT the book, guys!). But how does that help you when YOU are the one who has that fear? What can you do to cope if you must fly for some reason?
Here is what YOU can do about it!
Learn the stats - air travel is safer per passenger mile!
Know how safe air travel is compared to other modes of travel.
Familiarize yourself with published reports and statistics that show how air travel is less dangerous than traveling in an automobile. Statistically speaking, for every one person who dies in an airplane accident, 3 die by choking, 80 to 90 die in automobile accidents (depending upon the information source), and over 2,000 die in motorcycle accidents.
Understand that because most airplane accidents happen when the plane is taking off or landing: about 95 percent of airplane accidents take place at the start or end of the flight, so the majority of your flight is nearly free of risk. Pilots will explain that "planes are happiest when they are in flight". And what if the engine of your multi-engine planes dies out? The plane is certified to be able to land anywhere within the plane’s range with the power of only one engine. Remember that the engines provide speed- the WINGS provide the lift! And if both engines should die out and you are now a glider? Modern jets have a 12:1 to 16:1 glide ratio, meaning for every mile they are above the ground, they can glide 12 to 16 miles right, left or forward to find a safe landing spot. So at a typical cruise altitude of about 32,000 ft, the “powerless” jet would have a range 72 to 96 miles. Expressed in terms of landing area, the pilot could coast to a landing in an area from twice to nearly four times the size the whole state of Delaware!
Know the normal sensations and sounds you will feel and hear during the flight.
At the gate, the airplane may shake, bang, and whine. The shaking and banging sounds come from cargo being loaded below the cabin. In the tail of most aircraft is a small engine called an APU (auxiliary power unit). As a fuel-saving measure, the APU provides electrical power and air conditioning to the plane while on the ground before the main engines are started. You may hear the APU whine as it revs up. The APU-powered AC airflow is also used when starting the main engines, so there may be a momentary pause in the airflow from the AC vents during the switchover as the main engines start.
During taxiing and takeoff, you will hear the hydraulic movement of the flaps and spoilers (the movable segments on the back edges and middle of the wings). After takeoff, you will hear them again as the flaps are pulled back against the main wing. During takeoff, you will hear the increasing whine from the main engines as they get the plane to liftoff speed of about 170 mph. You will hear increasingly rapid “thumps” of the tires against the pavement sections of the runway as the plane accelerates, with a sudden ending of the thumping at the moment of liftoff, sometimes with a moment of “weightlessness”. Finally, you will likely hear the landing gears being retracted into the plane with a final “thud” as they are locked after takeoff. [ You will hear these noises in reverse order when landing. ] As the plane climbs, you will hear the engines running at a higher power setting as the plane reaches cruising altitude. Remember : these are all to be expected on every flight!
There will be a “chime” sound at 10,000 feet, a signal to the Flight Attendants that they can begin servicing the passengers. Once you have reached cruising altitude (typically 25,000 to 42,000 feet depending on the duration of the flight), there will be a marked reduction in engine sound and wind noise as the engines are powered back for level flight. This noise reduction is VERY noticeable with some people even thinking the engines have stopped: but they haven’t. Again, remember that these whirs, whines, clunks, bumps and thumps are all normal, and are to be expected on every flight.
Know what to expect with turbulence.
Sometimes a phenomenon known as “clear air turbulence” (CAT) arises. It feels like a series of little “bumps in the road”, and it is hard to detect it until you are IN it! Stay seated, and buckle your seat belt. Most injuries from CAT are bumps and bruises on those people who are NOT buckled up. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep your seat belt loosely buckled at all times you are in your seat- just in case.
Know that the planes are maintained regularly.
The typical jet aircraft spends three to eleven hours (depending on the airline, source and definition of “maintenance”) being maintained and serviced for every one hour being flown.
Know that doors won’t “pop open” during the flight.
The seals on modern airplane doors are designed to tighten, not loosen, as the plane ascends. At cruising altitude, about 10 tons of pressure hold the doors closed!
Know that there are classes that can help you
Technical knowledge isn’t needed to understand noises and feelings of flight, and knowing what to expect during your flight can go a long way to calm yourself for your trip. That said, another good step to take in the fight against flight anxiety can be getting a better understanding of the process of flight. Many classes are available that help explain what makes a plane fly, what to expect, what not to expect, and some include counseling on how to cope with your feelings. One such course is the SOAR Fear of Flying Course created by a retired airline pilot, and has a money-back satisfaction option. Disclaimer: There are many courses available in just about all areas of the United States. I have simply mentioned this one as an example and not as a recommendation. I have no financial interest in the SOAR course whatsoever.
Know that there are natural options for keeping your calm
A few drops of lavender essential oil in an ounce of grapeseed or olive oil can help many people relax. Others find that 5 drops of frankincense and 3 drops of (sweet) orange essential oil in an ounce of grapeseed or olive oil helps them to relax. Whichever your choose as your favorite relaxing aroma- whether these or another- make up the mixture ahead of your flight and carry it in your personal bag at your seat. If you feel stressed, put a drop on the "pulse point" on the inside of each wrist, take a few deep breaths, and enjoy the flight.