Statistically, flying is the safest mode of transport there is. For example, in the US alone in 2000 there were 41,800 traffic accident fatalities, compared to just 878 deaths involving commercial aeroplanes.
But despite the safety record many people are terrified of flying and since the September 11th 2001 attacks in New York the number of people with fear of flying has increased. A survey conducted in March, 2002 among nearly 2,000 international travellers by the University of Washington showed the percentage of passengers who said they were somewhat, moderately or severely stressed by commercial airplane travel jumped from 60 percent among respondents who flew from late May through to July 2001, to 81 percent among those who flew in January or February of 2002.
Women are also more likely to suffer from a fear of flying than men, too. According to the Washington University study, thirty-one percent of the women who said that they were a little or not at all afraid of flying before Sept. 11th 2001, claimed to be at least ‘somewhat afraid’ thereafter, in contrast with just 16 percent of men.
A later 2006 USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll in 2006 claimed that 27% of US. adults would be at least somewhat fearful of getting on a plane tomorrow, including 9% who claimed to be ‘very afraid.’
WHAT IS FEAR OF FLYING?
According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, a phobia is characterized by the excessive fear of an object or a situation. Exposure to the object or situation causes an anxious response, such as a panic attack. Adults with phobias recognize that their fear is excessive and unreasonable, but they are unable to control how they react to these situations. Fear of flying is called aviaphobia.
Just some of the famous people with a fear of flying include American actress Whoopi Goldberg and Dutch ex-footballer Dennis Bergkamp.
But there are ways to overcome a fear of flying.
UNDERSTAND HOW A PLANE WORKS
Central to many people’s fear of flying is a fear that the plane they are travelling on will suddenly drop out of the sky, so learning more about how aeroplanes work and the technology used to keep them in the air could help ease the stress involved when flying. Essentially, to keep in the air a plane relies on two forces – the thrust of the engine and the uplift of the wings. Just like a bird’s wings, when a plane’s wings move through the air, air flowing over the curved top surface of the wing moves faster than the air flowing on the bottom surface, decreasing the pressure on top, thereby creating uplift and keeping a plane in the air. The engine of a plane works to create high pressure and forward momentum to propel the plane forward: modern jet engines mean that planes can fly higher, faster and more efficiently than at any time before.
THE WEATHER: TURBULENCE AND LIGHTNING
Turbulence – that bouncy, dipping sensation experienced often when we fly – can be the biggest cause of panic among nervous fliers when they are in the air, but turbulence is nothing really to worry about. Turbulence is caused when a plane flies into different types of air pressure or air currents, notably thunderstorms, by air flow over mountains or weather frontal boundariess. These waves are spontaneously generated and associated with jet streams at high altitudes, near the cruising levels for airplanes. When a plane flies through turbulence, the sensation is like being in a small boat on a stormy sea. Although the shakiness can cause panic, induce travel sickness and cause minor injuries, it’s important to know that the plane itself is in no real danger.
Another popular cause of fear of flying is lightning. It is estimated that every commercial jet in service is struck by lightning at least once a year, yet lightning is seldom responsible for plane crashes. Even if a plane is struck by lightning it is unlikely to cause any damage to the plane or its technical instruments because modern planes are made of aluminium, an excellent conductor of electricity.
It’s also worth noting that weather equipment on a plane will notify a pilot of an approaching storm so they have time to navigate a new route. So, while it might feel as if you are heading through the eye of a storm sometimes when flying, you are always a safe distance away.
While the notorious in-flight meal may not fill your tastebuds with joy, research suggests that if you do want to conquer your fear of flying, you’d best eat up. A report conducted by the Alpha Airports Group (AAG) found that around three-quarters of the 1,122 members of the general public surveyed admitted to being scared of flying - with eight per cent stating that they refused to get on a plane at all.
The study also claims that in-flight meals can help passengers overcome their fears, by breaking up the monotony of flying and providing passengers with an activity.
Enjoying an in-flight meal can help distract you from fears of flying. But what you eat on the flight can be equally as important too as the nutritional content of food can naturally help you to relax. Dishes containing carbohydrates and fats in the form of pasta, biscuits or cheese create lipids in the bloodstream, which help you to relax.
If you do intend loading up on food it is best to avoid food and drink that contains caffeine as well as fizzy-sugary sweets packed with e-numbers that are likely to make you feel hyper and tense. Eating lots of food can also make you sleepy too, so stuffing your face before and during the flight may help you relax, sleep and keep calm when flying.