The fear of flying is a learned fear and therefore it can be unlearnt. It takes time and effort but it can be done. The most common cause of a fear of flying is what some passengers would call a ‘bad flight’ experience, and it’s most likely to be turbulence or taking off although there other reasons. The memories of these flight are more likely to be about feelings rather than facts and often when I discuss these experiences with fearful flyers they agree that it’s very unlikely that I would describe them the same way. A fearful flyer’s feelings are their facts. The problem with their facts is that they draw wrong and misleading judgments from them and end up maintaining or even aggravating their fears. It is essential to re-structure thoughts and to put more emphasis on facts rather than feelings. Knowing the facts, is the only way to start to overcome a fear of flying, every other part of your ‘cure’ comes after that.


Go Around (or missing the runway!)

Quite often experiencing a Go Around can be upsetting for a nervous flyer whereas in reality, it’s a very straight forward and simple thing to do. Once again re-structuring the thoughts will bring about a change of thinking and behaviour. A Go-Around to me as a pilot is just like doing a normal take off but without doing the bit on the ground. it’s very straightforward and simple to do but because it is unexpected to the passengers can make them feel alarmed. It is explained fully in the Premium Level Membership

Anxiety and Turbulence

People with a general feeling of anxiety about life, in general, will often project feelings on to flying and frequently start a fear of it. It’s common to hear from anxious fliers that the aircraft they have been traveling in has dropped thousands of feet. Whilst this is clearly untrue, it is nevertheless, reality to the person affected. It’s worth looking up all the references to turbulence, because turbulence is often quoted as a major cause of a fear of flying, and it has an influence out of all proportion to what actually happens on board.

Anxious passengers often believe that the aircraft is in danger during turbulence. There is a widespread feeling that the aircraft is not strong enough to withstand the forces although the truth is quite the opposite. It’s not unreasonable for passengers to believe that it’s difficult to control an aircraft during turbulence because of its apparent irregular flight path. However, a simple observation of a glass of water on the tray in front of any passenger would show how little the aircraft is actually moving around.

Loss of Control 1

For many people the apparent loss of personal control during air travel is a major cause of fear and not surprisingly it affects many intelligent and highly successful people, yet despite that or perhaps because of that, they seem unable to accept that other people (pilots especially) have skills upon which they are dependent but they themselves lack. It is vital to your success that if you feel this way that you develop confidence and trust in the skills of pilots, cabin crew, engineers and Air Traffic Controllers and everyone else involved in commercial flying. In reality, the lack of control statement is more to do with the feelings and thoughts of the person concerned rather than physical control of circumstances. Take control of the things you can control, like your irrational feeling of wanting to be in control, and leave everything else to the people who can do it better than you can …despite what your head tells you. 


Claustrophobia is a very common cause of a flying fear, however with flying is particularly acute because unlike being confined on a bus or train in an aircraft it is not possible to just get off at the ‘next stop’. Normally for a claustrophobic, their anxiety can be relieved slightly by opening windows or doors which is impossible of course in flight. In almost every other area of life, there is an opportunity to change the environment or avoid it altogether. These opportunities are clearly not possible with air travel. It’s worth knowing perhaps that on most aircraft, the pilot can open one of his/her windows (T’s & C’s apply). It’s a good idea to buy one of those small battery powered fans to refresh yourself in flight. Some are USB powered.  

Being inside a plane

Many people who are unfamiliar with air travel are likely to make many assumptions about aviation and aircraft. They have doubts about how a heavy aircraft can get airborne, they are subjected to media accounts, which distort the truth, and once on board, they are concerned by the noises and sensations on the aircraft, all of which go towards a general feeling of insecurity and anxiety. It is not a wildly enjoyable experience for any of us but it’s the way planes are so we have to understand the circumstances rather than trying to change them. And of course there’s a lot of invasion into your private space.  

Loss of Control 2

Panic attacks.

Despite the awful symptoms of these attacks, they will not cause you any actual harm. Cabin crews are trained to deal with them and give you assistance if you feel that you are going to have one. The fact is that very few people actually suffer them in flight…and they are easily controlled. You should learn a breathing routine such as diaphragmatic breathing to control the symptoms when they start. If you were in a distressed condition, you’d be classified as a medical emergency and the pilot would land at the nearest most suitable airport.

Family, Love, Bereavement.

Finally, in this short summary of the reasons for a fear of flying, we must mention parenthood and falling in love. Both of these highly emotional events can influence the ways that we see our lives. When we have the responsibility of children, we naturally feel protective and whilst we may be able to rationalise our own fears on an aircraft, we find it difficult to subject our offspring to any perceived risk. When we are in love, we have so much to lose. Suddenly we become aware of the frailty of our lives. We see more risks, and we exaggerate them. Bereavements can cause a sudden feeling of vulnerability and can be the manifest itself in a fear of flying. Indeed any significant life event can trigger a fear of flying.

Secondary Gains

Some people get what is called a secondary gain from their fear of flying. This means that despite their fear they actually gain more then they lose. For instance, the extra care and attention they receive may outweigh their fear. Some fearful flyers need, unknowingly, to be defined by their fear and are unlikely to seek a cure despite attending fear of flying courses. It validates their feelings. “I’ve even been on a course but I’m still scared.”

Best wishes,

Captain Keith

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