fear of flying


Aerophobia, aviophobia, aeroneurosis

English: "Fear of flying"


Typical situation of fear of flying

fear of flying describes the fear before flying, which from the outside seems exaggerated. The fear of flying (fear of flying) represents a kind of specific phobia represent.
The hallmark of a specific fear is that fears are triggered by certain situations or objects. If the fear of flying affects the life of the person concerned too much and the quality of life is severely impaired, then the person concerned needs treatment (see below: Therapy).
You can find more about specific fear under our topic: specific phobia!

Almost 40% of the German population suffers from a fear of flying. This includes people who are severely affected by anxiety (in need of treatment) and people who “just” feel uncomfortable during the flight. Even if the plane is the safest means of transport, it is difficult for those affected to get on without fear and to enjoy the flight in a relaxed manner.


In addition to the symptoms of specific anxiety (Link), the following signs occur in about 1/3 of all people who are affected by the fear of flying:

  • Circulatory problems
  • Racing heart
  • Shortness of breath, shortness of breath
  • Gastrointestinal complaints
  • Panic attacks
  • excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis)

The fear of flying can make itself felt on different levels:

  • thoughts

    Even before a person who suffers from fear of flying is on the plane, fearful thoughts arise. The content of these thoughts usually includes the idea that something bad will happen to the aircraft (e.g. due to technical defects). Thoughts relating to one's own behavior can also arise, for example the fear of showing embarrassing behavior in the aircraft that could be seen by the other passengers. In the latter case it makes sense to check whether a social anxiety should not be considered.

  • behavior

    When a person who suffers from fear of flying is confronted with the fear-inducing situation, the thought of escaping from the situation usually arises immediately. Once the person is out of the situation, the uncomfortable feeling of fear subsides. Through the positive feeling that arises when fleeing the situation, the person learns a way out of the fear of flying. Avoiding the situation no longer leads to the strong feeling of fear. Since there is no longer an encounter with an airplane (or even the airport) due to the avoidance behavior, the fear persists. The person concerned has no way of having a positive experience with flying. The person may also transfer the avoidance behavior to other fearful situations (tall buildings, elevators, public transport). The person often suffers from a severely restricted life.

  • Physical symptoms

    In the respective situation, physical symptoms signal the affected persons their fear noticeably in the respective situation. Possible symptoms are tremors, circulatory problems, gastrointestinal complaints, palpitations, feelings of tension, shortness of breath. These signs occur due to the strong feeling of fear in the respective situation. After the person has moved out of the fearful situation, the symptoms go away on their own and go away.

All three areas (Thoughts, behavior, physical symptoms) can make themselves felt in the context of fear of flying. However, it is not a mandatory criterion that all three levels are affected. For a successful treatment, however, it is necessary to deal with all levels, as each level can individually contribute to maintaining the fear of flying.

Types of fear of flying

  • Mild to moderate fear of flying
    People feel uncomfortable on the plane and during the flight. However, the symptoms mentioned above appear very rarely and / or in a very mild form.
  • Pronounced fear of flying
    Before and during the flight, the affected people show several of the symptoms mentioned above in addition to the feeling of discomfort. They are also plagued by their fear some time before the flight. Those affected may also wish to “not take” the flight. Most of the time, those affected travel with someone close to them.

Causes of a fear of flying

Individual causes

The development of a fear of flying is multifactorial, i.e. it can be explained by a variety of factors.
Most affected people only develop one in their lifetime Fear of flying. This occurs not infrequently as a result of a formative event that is related to flying / aircraft. Even people who do not initially suffer from a fear of flying, but rather sit tense in the aircraft due to certain circumstances, develop panic-like symptoms in certain situations (e.g. during the flight).
For example, a loss of light, technical problems during the flight, so-called “air holes”, or a sudden, unexpected stopover can lead to the development of a fear of flying.
Changed living conditions (birth a child, divorce, loss of a loved one, etc.) can have an impact on the development of fear of flying.

There are also the following possible explanations for the development of a fear of flying:

  1. Change in anxiety symptoms

    Some of the people affected by fear of flying had a history of claustrophobia (fear of closed spaces) or a fear of heights (fear of heights "acrophobia"). These fears changed their focus and developed into a fear of flying in those affected.

  2. "Passenger Syndrome"

    This designation represents the difficulty of people to confide in other people who are in a responsible position. As part of the fear of flying, it is the fear of fully trusting the pilot's abilities. Often the people affected feel completely "at the mercy" of the situation.

  3. Lack of information / clarification

    It is particularly important for the traveler to know exactly what is happening during the flight, especially on an airplane. This information can be very important for people who are generally very anxious. Everyone initially approaches the unknown with skepticism and cautiousness. This also happens in the airplane. When a person gets on the plane and does not know what exactly is happening during the flight, they are initially cautious, maybe even fearful. The ignorance of how to hold the plane at such a great height can develop into an understandable fear.


Depending on the severity of the fear of flying, it makes sense to choose a suitable treatment method.
If the fear of flying is mild / moderate First of all, learning relaxation techniques (as with other forms of specific phobia) makes sense.
These can then be used by the people concerned in the fearful situations. The techniques learned, for example the "Progressive Muscle Relaxation“, Should help in the situations to reduce the symptoms of the fear of flying and at the same time ensure relaxation. Fear (i.e. tension) and relaxation behave in opposite directions. Accordingly, the learned relaxation (progressive muscle relaxation) should replace the fear in the dreaded situation.
Alternatives: Autogenic training, stress management training

With pronounced fear of flying is usually part of a Behavior therapy applied exposure training. The confrontation with the dreaded situation can happen both mentally and directly in reality. (see also Therapy of specific phobia).
As part of the exposure training, it is possible for the person concerned to deal directly with their greatest fear. In this situation she learns that her fear is unfounded and that none of the dreaded events occurs. Exposure therapy has proven to be the most effective treatment method, even though it is initially very uncomfortable for the person affected.
Behavior therapy is often paid for by health insurers, depending on the severity.
Affected people receive professional help at special seminars that specialize in the fear of flying. Through direct confrontation (mental and real), the person learns how to handle an airplane again. During the seminar, pilots often explain many details about the aircraft.


As a precaution, no specific measures can be used to prevent the fear of flying. At the slightest sign of fear while flying, it is important that these situations not be avoided.
People who have not yet received psychotherapeutic treatment but still feel fear of flying (although they have to fly) can resort to various activities to make the flight bearable for them.

Example fear of flying

Mr K. has to travel to Munich on business. Although he has suffered from fear of flying for several years, he cannot cancel the trip and has to take the flight already booked by his boss alone.
Since he has not yet taken any therapeutic measures against his fear of flying, the following help should make the flight easier for him: Mr K. should take a nice job with him for the flight. For example, he could read a book, listen to a nice CD, etc. It is important that Mr K. does not constantly focus his attention on the flight activity or his physical symptoms. He could talk to other travelers on the plane. In advance, Mr K. can obtain information from the flight crew about the start of the flight, the course in the air and the landing. He can speak openly about his fear of flying, as the staff on board is confronted with anxious air travelers on a daily basis. In this way he can get useful information about technical details that could take away his fear.


Even if the fear of flying is strong, but treated early, the chances of success are quite good. As soon as the fear has carried over to other situations and avoiding further situations, the fear can become chronic. It therefore makes sense to seek therapy early on.

Specific fear

The Fluganst belongs to the specific fears, medically also called specific phobia. This is easy to treat. Further information on this topic can also be found under the topic:

  • specific fear
  • Specific anxiety therapy