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Aerophobia, or fear of flying, is an anxiety unlike other phobias because it can recur even after supposedly successful treatment. However, there is a great distinction to be made between other anxiety disorders and the nervousness that most passengers experience when they fly. The attitude of aerophobics is caused mainly by their lack of knowledge about the relative safety of flying.

The phobia is complex, which goes some way towards explaining its unusual feature of recurring. There are six elements of aerophobia that have been distinguished. These are -

  • Claustrophobia, in which a person feels trapped and fears suffocation.
  • A panic related anxiety in which the subject fears that he or she may experience a heart attack, go crazy or lose control yet have no means of escaping from the aircraft.
  • Space phobia, whereby a person is terrified by the idea of being 'surrounded by nothingness'.
  • The fear of the aircraft crashing because of adverse weather, mechanical failure or a terrorist bomb.
  • The fear of heights.
  • Post-traumatic reaction in which the fear of flying follows an emergency landing or ear problems

Most studies demonstrate that anxiety disorders such as this are more predominant in the middle-aged than in the young or elderly and are more common in women than in men.

There are various methods of treating aerophobics -

  • Most airlines run courses for fearful flyers.
  • The medical profession provides psychotherapy through chartered clinical psychologists (UK) and cognitive behavioural therapists (US).
  • Stress therapy such as transcendental meditation is a useful alternative to clinical intervention.
  • Confronting the fear directly. This method, based on behavioural concepts such as desensitisation, is practised by many airlines. The fear is gradually overcome through repeated confrontation of the object or situation.
  • Those who like to feel more in control of the situation may benefit from trying out a simulator in which they can experience ' piloting ' an aircraft for themselves.
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