Why are people afraid of flies

What helps against fear of flying?

Fear of flying is widespread and diversified. While some people fly relaxed on vacation, for others the journey in the air is torture. "According to surveys, every third passenger enters an airplane with a bad feeling. 15 percent even complain of a clear fear of flying," says senior physician Dr. Thomas Schulz from the Martin Luther Hospital in Berlin.

"Anyone can be affected, but statistically it is the 20- to 50-year-olds who travel most often by plane," says the internist, who is himself an enthusiastic hobby pilot.

Fear of being at the mercy

In a survey by the German fear of flying center, the respondents predominantly stated their fear of being at the mercy, of a crash and of turbulence. "Fear is an information deficit. It is the uncertainty of what could happen," explains Schulz.

Fear of flying arises even if we can easily calculate that the passenger plane is the safest means of transport. Almost 80 percent said in the survey that their fear is excessive and inappropriate. "So the fear of flying does not ask for logical arguments," adds Schulz.

"The trigger was perhaps an experience perceived as unpleasant during take-off or landing, perhaps a film, the fear of parents that spread to children or the fear of height, tightness, loss of control and the like," explains the internist. For others, it is gaps in knowledge or misinformation regarding technology, aircraft maintenance and pilot training that fuel disaster fantasies.

Fear of flying - a form of phobia

The fear of flying is therefore not a classic phobia, such as the fear of spiders, which only relates to one object, but is made up of various fears. Doctors therefore speak of a specific, situation-related phobia when it comes to fear of flying. (You can read more about the causes and other forms of phobia in our guide to phobia).

"Research into the causes is not always easy, as many internal conflicts and fears are rather unconsciously controlled, especially since people who fly for the first time or have never flown are also affected," explains the emergency doctor.

Symptoms of stress in the air

The symptoms depend on the strength of the fear of flying. According to Schulz, it can begin weeks and days before departure in particularly pronounced forms. It often manifests itself in insomnia, nightmares, and a general feeling of stress. Fear puts the body in a state of excitement. "Almost all people with a fear of flying have physical symptoms such as sweats, nausea, rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, dizziness, headaches, stomach and intestinal cramps," explains Schulz. "That can escalate to a breakdown or panic attacks."

Important: There are sometimes other causes behind the symptoms mentioned. So if you cannot explain the symptoms clearly by fear of flying, you should be examined by a doctor as a precaution. This is especially true with previous illnesses or when the symptoms are very pronounced - or when they occur in completely different situations.

Remedies for fear

Many aviophobes avoid flying. "It becomes a problem especially when private or professional life is extremely restricted," says Schulz.

"Anyone who is afraid of flying should not take a flight unprepared," advises the expert. Comfortable clothing, arriving at the terminal on time, your favorite music in your headphones and the right place on the plane help you to relax. The movements of the aircraft are least noticeable in the seats above the wings. Seats in the aisle at least unconsciously give the feeling of not being so locked in.

The most important remedy for fear, however, is knowledge: Before you fly, find out about the safety of air travel and the routine on board. "Anyone who knows as a passenger that safety comes first when flying, how well trained the staff is and which checks machines are subjected to, has a great advantage," says the amateur pilot and doctor.

Schulz also points out that alcohol and tablets are not recommended solutions. Instead of facing the fear and reducing it in this way, it is only numbed and possibly even bigger.

Anyone who suffers very severely from anxiety symptoms should not be afraid to ask their doctor for advice - especially if they notice that the fear is threatening to spread to other life situations, for example on train or car journeys. The doctor can clarify whether you have an anxiety disorder that requires treatment or a mental illness. If this is not the case, those affected can still take active action against their fear of flying.


"There are different forms of therapy," says the internist. Most of them are about preventing the development of fear, fading it out or actively coping with it. Therapists teach the affected person relaxation methods and coping strategies. "Confrontation therapy in a flight simulator has also proven itself," says Schulz. If you do this often enough, you can learn to cope with your fear little by little so that at some point you can board a plane in a much more relaxed manner.

Furthermore, many airlines offer professional fear of flying seminars, which mostly contain a part on the technical background of flying and a psychological part to explain the fear mechanisms. At the end of the course, an escorted flight with a therapist can also be carried out. After having overcome fear of flying, Schulz recommends flying regularly: "This is how you stay in training."


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4. University of Würzburg, Chair I, Biological Psychology, Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy. Fear of flying:
http://www.psychologie.uni-wuerzburg.de/psy1/cs/flugangst.html (accessed 11/2013)

5. University Hospital of the Ruhr University Bochum. Clinic for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy. Anxiety Disorders:
http://www.lwl-uk-bochum.de/klinik-fuer-psychosomatische-medizin-und-psychotherapie/wir-behandeln/angststoerungen (accessed 11/2013)

Important NOTE: This article contains general information only and should not be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. He can not substitute a visit at the doctor. Unfortunately, our experts cannot answer individual questions.