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The International Writers Magazine
: Aerophobia

Sarah W

I am scared of flying. These five words don’t mean much to the thousands of regular fliers. Assumptions of ignorance and cowardice abound.

But to everyone who has ever suffered doubts about landing safely or ever seeing beloved dog Fifi again in this life time, the words are all too meaningful. The odd twinge of panic can hardly be compared to a paralysing fear, which prevents many people from going to the places they long to visit.

What it means
The term aerophobia means an abnormal fear of flying. It also refers to an irrational fear of fresh air.
Aerophobia is derived from the Greek "aero"- air or gas and "phobos" to fear.
It is a fear most people can relate to-whether they suffer from it or not. Either through watching plane crashes on the news, losing a friend or an acquaintance in a crash or having seen movies such as Final Destination, the concept of air disasters-other than some of the onscreen entertainment- is very real.

For everybody who has ever suffered from aerophobia, there is someone else to quote statistics about flying. 'Oh you’re more likely to win the lotto, cars are more dangerous than planes…' You smile politely and think this git has no idea of what it feels like to get inside a plane and feel trapped.
To them it is just a fact, but to you it is the equivalent of having to watch a non stop tape of George W. Bush explaining how to eat a pretzel.

The nightmare of boarding a plane begins at the airport. The huge boards showing flight details, the absurdly priced gift shops-the horror of spending R20 on a Coke (70p in the UK) - are part of the process of flying. Making polite conversation prior to flying for an aerophobic is hell. People look determinedly cheerful about the flight. You just want to quietly get drunk not discuss flight particulars.

Walking through customs, you take a last look around, enjoying the concrete feel of ground beneath your feet. The air hostesses, who at times seem robot-like, have been ordered to look cheerful and efficient all the time. It is hard to know how they manage, dealing with difficult customers, problems on the plane and turbulence, but they do even when you are violently ill on the carpet.
Getting into the departure lounge is never pleasant for an aerophobic. There is further distress in the sight of planes lining up casually outside, while passengers are ferried in hideous buses.
If the aerophobic has not passed out yet, the trip into the plane is always pleasant. The planes, which seem huge from the ground, are narrow and distressingly small inside. Leg room is a myth, while comfortable seats are as much in evidence as Manto at a TAC meeting.

The familiar jargon of "emergency exits" and "prepare for take off" in the background only reminds the aerophobic of what is about to happen. Shortly the plane will launch into the sky, be buffered around by turbulence, hopefully avoid stormy weather and enjoy a landing from hell.

These are the fond memories by an acute aerophobic, who is mad enough to fly often enough not to forget the essence of the experience of flight. Many people speak of their enjoyment of flying, their ability to switch off and the nice change of being waited on. Others say flying is not fun but they have gotten used to doing it over the years.

What may trigger the anxiety

The media tends to cover crashes with morbid enjoyment.
The first picture one is subjected to is pieces of metal burning, tearful survivors and grim faced insurance people. If about to fly is not a good idea to follow these occasional disasters.
And don’t watch "The ten worse celebrity plane crashes" on TV before the flight either.

How to lessen the pain of flying
There are various ways to make flying more bearable. One idea which springs to mind is to take the bus. Aerophobia is not too bad if you can take the boat. This option has grown more popular recently, especially with Americans following 9/11. Celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg favour this route.
Taking medication over a period of time, talking about fears and phobias to a psychiatrist and going on courses offered by the airport are just a few other things an aerophobic might try.
Asking for a seat next to the emergency exit will provide you with a greater sense of space and ease the claustrophobia. Not to mention you get in front of the queue in the event of a problem.
You can’t choose who you sit next to if travelling alone but usually it is not a problem as most people just want to get through the flight rather try and form long lasting friendships.
Flying brings out the best and worst in people -just hope you end up with the best. The worst is unprintably unpleasant when aerophobic.
As a practising aerophobic, I find reading on planes difficult. Computer games are easier as unless you are reading Mills and Boone they are more physical than a book. Some people find reading easier as they demand more attention but when concentrating on surviving a flight the book’s plot tends to get lost.

What one should avoid
A thing to avoid before flying -if you are like me -is talking about previous flights. This is a sure fire way to increase anxiety and a desire to get smashed. Give yourself at least two weeks before the flight if you want to discuss turbulence and bumpy spots-and that’s just talking about the airport!
Aerophobics, without exception, claim without three boxes of sleeping pills, a large bottle of Vodka and three seats, a flight is something to avoid. However after one of these flights counselling is often needed -not only for the aerophobic.
Avoid a flight like this especially when in London, stuck in the wasteland that is Heathrow- a wasteland peppered with talking Rotteweilers, also known as ground staff. This London option loses the minimal appeal particularly when your rather fierce aunt is the person called to fetch you. It inevitably is a flight at night and your aunt will live at least an hour away. Take into account having the mickey taken for at least ten years for this episode.
Another option to miss is the heavy drinking plus the pills. This is due to the embarrassing moment of having to climb over the passenger next to you whom you think you may have introduced your last meal to. This person is usually exceedingly nice and helpful which only makes things worse.

The questions below will help you decide if you are a relaxed flier or a modern day BA Baracas.
1 How anxious do you get prior to a flight?
A Not at all-anxiety is for wusses
B Mildly anxious not to miss the flight
C Desperate need a good drink
D go blue with nerves and get totally pissed

2 Does the thought of flying bother you at all?
A Naah-all what bothers me is this survey
B It is a real nuisance
C I would rather take the bus
D Please don’t take me within 50km of the airport

3 When requesting a seat on a plane do you?
A ask for a seat next to the aisle
B ask for a seat next to the window
C ask for a seat near the drinks
D ask for a seat near the emergency exit

4 During a flight what makes you the most uncomfortable?
A The quality of film in the entertainment
B the large farting wildebeest sitting next to you
C the distance to the loo
D the claustrophic feeling you get whenever you set foot in a plane?

5 Do you ever overindulge in the food/drink offered?
A No more than usual
B Eat more
C Have an extra glass of wine
D Food is an option?

6 How do you keep entertained during the flight
A I sleep
B I watch the film-no matter how often I have seen it
C I count the minutes
D I finish my large supply of sedatives

7 How bothered are you by turbulence?
A What is that?
B A bit when it goes on for longer than usual
C very bothered
D Unaware of it as I have passed out

8 Is your immediate post flight reaction
A What a boring ordeal
B Rather enjoyed the flight, think I’ll go to Aus next year
C Feel exhausted
D To run around screaming I am Alive!

Where to find more facts and figures regarding aerophobia
The internet is a good place to start. Various sites offer different options.

Some have big, colourful headings offering to cure every ailment known to man, while others quietly state the facts in a sober, no-nonsense way. Typing in either aerophobia or aerophobics brings up a host of sites-sometimes even bringing up useful and helpful websites.

I tried contacting the airport to enquire about courses which have been offered in the past to anxious fliers. I am still waiting for a response. Word of mouth is also an option. Many people fly regularly and may have ideas on whom to contact. Talking to a psychologist is a long term option not something to try just before climbing on a plane. Aerophobia is difficult ever to cure but it is something that can be helped. Personally I have found flying much easier when some preparation for the flight is taken-not just pouring brandy down the hatch.

© Sarah W
sarah at

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