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Fear of Flying

Flying - a concept that evokes feelings of freedom and leisure, and is associated with ideas of holidays on far-away beaches. An entirely different set of emotions in response to stimuli associated with the term "Flying" is experienced by the approximately 6 million people in this country who suffer from fear of flying. For them, words like "Aeroplane", "Airport" or "Takeoff" evoke images of crashing aircraft, intense fear, a racing heart, shortness of breath and panic attacks.


Fear of Flying has as long a history as flying itself. Ever since humans have realised the eternal dream of mankind of rising up into the skies, the nightmare of suddenly crashing to earth has been a constant companion - as already told by the old Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus. The fears haunting the present-day aircraft passenger, however, are somewhat more varied. Apart from a plane crash there are fears of intense bodily symptoms, fear of choking, losing control, or expressing anxiety in front of other passengers. For people with fears such as these, the idea of being confined to the cramped space of an aircraft cabin for the duration of the flight - without being able to ask for a rest-stop - can be quite disconcerting and lead to a worsening of the symptoms: a vicious circle is set in motion.

As a consequence of their fear, many people forgo flying altogether. For others, whose livelihood depends on their ability to travel, this may not be an option. Rather, they might try to dampen their fears with tranquilisers or related types of medication, or they choose to gain relief by downing a few drinks. Other stop-gap measures include natural or herbal medicines, relaxation exercises or reassuring information about the safety of modern aeroplanes. Often, these attempts to counter fear or anxiety reactions only help the individual to endure the duration of a flight. Unfortunately, they do not offer permanent relief: come the next flight, the fear is back again.


For individuals seeking to overcome their fear of flying, behaviour therapy offers a proven treatment technique. A first step consists of a diagnostic evaluation to assess core fears and overall symptomatology as well as past coping attempts. Thereafter, an individual treatment plan is developed to allow the individual to learn new ways of coping with his or her fears and anxiety reactions, respectively. Often, an intensive treatment procedure is agreed upon to achieve quick progress and enable the individual to enjoy a relaxed flight within a short period of time.