Aerophobia: When The Fear Of Flying Is Pathological

People who feel real panic when boarding a plane. What happens to them?

If the technological advances of the last 100 years have been noticed in any field, it is that of interconnection and globalization. Today we can be on the other side of the planet in a matter of hours, and we can even live in two countries at the same time, if money allows us. Passenger planes make that possible.

However, not all people benefit in the same way from the benefits of international flight. People with fear of flying, or aerophobia, can go to the extreme of not getting on the plane due to the panic and stress that these types of experiences produce.

What is aerophobia?

Aerophobia is a type of phobia in which what produces an  intense fear is the situation of being inside an airplane that is flying or that could take off. What is frightening is the idea that a plane crash could occur, which by its nature is associated with a very high risk of death.

However, not all cases of fear of flying are considered a sign of aerophobia. As in almost everything, there are different degrees of intensity in fears, and aerophobia will only exist as such if the panic is so intense that it is a limiting element of the person’s quality of life.

That is why, although it is estimated that approximately 25% of people are afraid of flying, among these the proportion of people with aerophobia would barely reach 10%.

Emotions take control of the phobia

Sometimes, this fear goes further and extends even to airplanes that for different reasons are not going to fly, either because there is no scheduled flight or because they are imitations of airplanes and do not work, for example. In these cases there is a generalization.

As with all types of phobias, this fear of flying is not based on a sense of danger that is based on reasonable fears, but is basically irrational. It occurs despite being aware that flight safety measures are optimal.

Although reason understands the safety guarantees of the plane, the emotions follow a totally different path, often exerting a great influence on the first, deforming it and causing almost delusional thoughts to appear.

Symptoms of the terror of airplanes

Among the symptoms of aerophobia are many of those that are typical in the rest of phobias:

  • A lot of sweating
  • Rise in heart rate and respiration.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Sickness.
  • Headache.
  • General discomfort.

Causes of flying phobia

One of the elements that best explains the appearance of aerophobia is having experienced a traumatic event related to airplanes in the past. That means that a plane crash may have been experienced firsthand, or one has been seen, or someone known suffered its consequences.

In other cases, aerophobia appears when certain personality traits interfere with the way the situation is managed.

For example, people with a high tendency to control  can feel a lot of stress at times when they have no control over what happens, and flights aboard an airplane are one of those contexts.

In the same way, a general propensity to anxiety causes what is happening in the environment to be analyzed so that many clues are found that can be interpreted as indications of an accident that is about to happen. All of this increases stress, which in turn keeps you looking for false signs of danger.


The most common treatments for extreme fear of flying include gradual exposure to the terror-producing situation. The objective of this strategy is to create a progressive desensitization.

In this way, by accompanying a person to a real or virtual plane and allowing them to make small progress, the person learns to stop associating these situations with the extreme fear that they usually produce.

The programs of exposure to the situation that produces fear that are based on virtual reality are very useful, because they are cheap and easy to carry out since they do not depend on owners of a real plane, and they also allow controlling everything that happens in the flight and end the session at any time.


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