Fear of Flying

Gerald Tarlow, Ph.D. Health Guide
  • Fasten your seat belt: Summer is here! For many of us, we'll finally have a chance to take that much needed vacation. Sometimes vacation is just a car ride away; other times, vacation requires boarding an airplane.


    The most frequent phobia I have treated over the past 30 years is the fear of flying. It is a phobia that can significantly impact one's life. Studies estimate that between 10 to 20% of the population suffers from fear of flying or aviophobia. Many people fly with extreme anxiety and others have avoided flying for years. 


    I have had patients who were unable to visit relatives or go on certain vacations because of their fear.   When someone is the only family member unable to fly it can create a great deal of conflict within the family. 

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    Most people with fear of flying are suffering from a specific phobia.  However, there are many people who actually have panic disorder and are afraid to fly because they believe they will have a panic attack on the plane and be unable to escape.  Fear of flying can be treated very successfully with cognitive behavioral therapy.


    For years therapists used the technique of systematic desensitization to help many people suffering from this problem.  Systematic desensitization involves teaching people to relax and then gradually exposing them to the things they fear.  Patients who are afraid to fly might be asked to watch planes take off and land, drive to the airport, make plane reservations or watch movies of people on a flight.  Finally, when the person is comfortable with all of the easier steps they are asked to take a short flight.  This technique works very well for most people.


    In the last several years therapists have utilized the new technology of virtual reality therapy in order for the person to practice taking multiple flights in virtual reality prior to taking an actual flight.  This technology has increased the effectiveness of the systematic desensitization procedure.  Several clinics across the country utilize virtual reality therapy.  For more information go to:  www.fearofflyingcure.com  Overcoming a fear of flying can literally open up the world for some people.

Published On: June 23, 2008