A melody of scraping gears and spitting engines are disabling my ability to form a rational argument. A green light is glowing over my page, but I can’t look up because it shines from the seatbelt sign of doom – a sign that the plane will soon plummet to the earth with trims of fire, and nuts and bolts vital to the aircrafts structure will rain down against my window. These are the supposed last words of someone deathly afraid of airplanes.
A fear of flying (Pteromerhanophobia) is extremely common, but even so, as a fellow scaredy-cat, it seems that people still don’t fully grasp the concept. Most of us realise and acknowledge that the fear is highly irrational, so no amount of plane statistics or taunting will suddenly make us love these big metal birdies.
Many fears can be conquered with large amounts of exposure, but the average person doesn’t fly by plane as frequently as they do other modes of transport. This can lead to an acute fear of flying, and the inability to even step into an airport, which defeats the possibility of traveling to see distant family and friends or travelling for work.
What is more damaging than this, on top of the effect on your social and professional life, is developing a fear of the actual fear – basically wrapping the anxious thoughts in a scratchy blanket of super anxiety. This often happens to me, and more times than not the fear of my fear on the plane will engulf me even two days prior to my actual departure. Even a seemingly silly phobia can lead to full on anxiety, which can trigger super not fun things like depression.
So why? Why would anyone be scared by the safest way to travel? It is something a toddler can do, something millions of people do everyday – but here I am, writing to distract myself from the terror in my mind and the sweat on my palms.
It’s not as easy as pinpointing a traumatic experience and tracing your fear back to the event. This is true for some people, but truly most people are fearful because of their already established phobias. If you are afraid of any of the following things then you are highly susceptible to a fear of flying:
Not being in control
But the most common…
The plane crashing and you dying on impact
However, a lot of people, including myself, know that almost all major airlines that have crashed have had zero fatalities.
Like any other fear, this one doesn’t come with a handbook complete with quick fixes. Thankfully, because it is so common there is a bunch of information and helpful tips to help anyone overcome it. But in all my late night googling and browsing it seems that no one has said this: Everyone is different and every flight is different.
There are so many variables when flying that it is close to impossible to control every reaction you have; thoughts and feelings prior, levels of anxiety, length of the flight, portion of the flight, being accompanied – the only thing I could say that might be helpful is that it takes a lot of time and practice to get over, and sometimes you have to take it as a challenge to conquer, rather than a memory to suppress.
And now that my plane has landed and I’ve stopped crying, I have to prepare myself for the overwhelming embarassment. So for all my other scaredy-cats out there, the next time someone teases or looks down on you for this phobia, or any for that matter, just remember that absolutely everyone has an irrational fear – find their weakness and destroy them.
– by Josefina Huq