Fear. Everybody has it. Everybody wants to overcome it. Fear of spiders. Fear of snakes. Fear of the dark. Fear of heights. Fear of needles. Fear of flying.
Yes, I said it, flying.
It’s hard for some people to wrap their minds around this, but on average one in five people have aviophobia, the fear of flying. That number sounds almost unbelievable. If you really think about it… one in five people, that’s 20% of the entire population. That’s one person in your family. That’s one of the people sitting at your table at a wedding. That’s a huge number.
What is it Like?
For people who can’t believe this, let me paint a picture of what it can be like:
Sweaty palms… Heart pounding… Tears forming… Thoughts racing: Is the engine sputtering? Is that a smoke smell? Is the landing gear sticking? Is it supposed to tilt like that? What’s the ringing sound, an alarm? Does this mean we are all going to die? Should I have driven?
It sounds crazy, I know. This slippery slope might seem extreme, but it’s not. It’s real.
Just Because You Don’t Have It, Doesn’t Mean It’s Not There
I grew up with aviation all around me. I was a passenger in a 7AC Aeronca Champ before I hit the double digits. I’ve never had a fear of flying or airplanes. I’ve always found it to be one of the coolest things to experience. Being able to see things from a new perspective and notice things you never have before has this element of excitement and intrigue that is hard to describe. That’s why I used to find the fear of flying crazy! That is until I met my mother-in-law.
She always talked about her fear of flying, but I never really thought much of it. I thought maybe it was a little fear in the back of her mind, or maybe it was an overreaction to some turbulence. I found out this past weekend that it was indeed a full-on hands shaking, almost crying kind of fear.
She’s the one that inspired this article.
The Idea that Started This
How can someone be afraid to fly, especially when the statistics state that people are 19 times safer in a plane than a car? 19 times is a significant amount, but for some people, the fear is so great that the magnitude of the potential disaster obscures its tiny likelihood. My mother-in-law, DeeAnne, is one of those people.
She wasn’t always afraid of flying; it actually didn’t come on until she had her first child (my husband). It was when she started to imagine her child losing his mother that the fear of flying began. Around this same time, she also became claustrophobic. Her fear and anxiety can set in days before she even gets on a plane. She can’t sleep; she’s very anxious and stressed. Unfortunately, this can last the entire trip because she knows she has to do it all over again to get home!
Even when she talked about it, I still couldn’t wrap my head around it because I know how awesome flying can be! I felt like she was really missing out on something extraordinary.
So, I decided to try a little something. My husband and I had been trying to convince her to go flying in a smaller aircraft because it is totally different than flying commercially. She refused for the longest time, even after my husband started working on his pilot’s license.
Well, seeing as I’m very persuasive and I’m her favorite daughter-in-law, I convinced her to go flying in one of my dad’s planes with him as the pilot. She made her reluctance very well-known for the weeks leading up to it, coming up with a thousand excuses all along the way. “It’s a little windy… There are too many clouds; it’s going to storm… I might throw up… I have too many things going…” We heard a lot of these!
However, she was a trooper for my experiment and decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about! (She may have had a few drinks in her while she was being convinced, but that’s not the point.)
Driving to Greeneville, it was very quiet. No, not because I drugged her and tied her down to get her to go flying. I’m not that awful. I could see she was nervous. She didn’t talk much, and her hands were shaking while she messed with her phone. I decided not to push much because she did tell me that when people try to distract her; it makes it worse (maybe jot that down if you have someone with the same fear). She continued to fidget more and more as we got closer to the airport. As we pulled into the parking lot, the deep breaths started.
We got out of the car and were immediately greeted by my dad and husband. They did not waste any time; they just started talking about the plan. She seemed to relax during this part (which might be a tip for those that have a loved one with this fear) because we were all joking around: “Don’t throw up in the plane; tuck your shirt in and throw up into your shirt”; “This was the plane I changed the oil in, so she was definitely good”; “Don’t worry, you’re sitting on flotation devices if we have to go down in a big body of water”; and so on.
It was decided that she would go up in a 1951 Supercub. It was a beautiful day with a slight breeze, but that would level out as they reached altitude… As the prep continued, we could see the wheels turning on how she was going to try get to out of this, especially when I told her I worked on that plane just two weeks before!
Up, Up, and Away!
Before anything else could happen, they loaded into the plane. It was take-off time.
As my husband and I waited on the ground, we were watching the clock… 15 minutes in: they weren’t back yet; that had to be a good sign! 30 minutes in: still weren’t back, so either it was going great, or she freaked out, and they had to do an emergency landing somewhere! 45 minutes in: still no sign of them…
Once they’ve landed, we see it… A SMILE! She loved it! “It was awesome!” That is how she described it. Whew, I was so glad that turned out good! She said it is, in fact, totally different from flying on an airliner.
How, You Ask?
- More comforting because things are being explained as to why or how they are happening.
- You can look out and see more; it’s more open.
- The bumps seem “natural” unlike the shaking from turbulence.
- There’s so much to look at and see from a new height.
- It’s just plain cool.
Is This the Cure?
Will flying in a small aircraft cure the fear of flying? Absolutely not. However, some people might find that flying isn’t ALL terrible. I have also been told that people can slowly overcome a fear by repeatedly exposing themselves to it. Every time they are exposed, it might get better. It just depends on the situation and the willingness of someone trying to overcome a fear.