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Aviophobia: How real is the fear of flying?

By Amruth Chinnappa

Flying remains the fastest mode of travel today. Every year billions of people take to the skies for vacations, family gatherings, business meetings and lunches. Everyone’s first plane journey is memorable with the ecstasy in seeing a new face of the planet, hundreds of feet in the air with nothing but the clouds for company. The lurch in the pit of the stomach during take-off and landing is something everyone remembers. This experience, however, is the worst nightmare of an aviophobe.

Aviophobia: The fear of flying

Mental Health practitioners state that 6.5% of the American population suffers from Aviophobia, the Fear of flying. This is 20 million people just in the USA. A worldwide estimate would come down to many multiples of the number. This has been attributed to stem from an anticipation of a mid-air mechanical failure, bad weather conditions and also the fear of heights.

The crippling fear associated with flying leaves the afflicted with limited choices in transport to undertake journeys across days instead of hours. Aviophobia, however, is rooted in irrationality as air travel has been observed to be many times safer than other means of transport. Over a million people are flying on commercial airlines at any given moment and more than three billion rides are undertaken in a year.

What do the numbers indicate?

In 2017, 13 people died in aircraft-related incidents worldwide. According to reports by The Governors Highway Safety Association of USA, 6000 pedestrians died last year. This means that a person is more likely to die on a grocery run to the supermarket than on a metal vessel 39,000 feet up in the air. Following similar statistics, 1000 people die while riding bicycles, 3000 people die from surgical complications and 5000 people die from drowning on an average every single year. To die in an accident in a commercial aeroplane, a person would have to fly once a day every day for 22,000 years.

A whopping 1.3 million people die every year from car accidents. Yet, the people terrified of flying would probably not care about cruising at 120 mph on a highway. Maybe it’s because the fact that they’re riding the car gives them a sense of security. It could also be an over-developed defence mechanism rooted in their genes, from when primitive men stayed away from high places fearing easy exposure.

Automation in aviation

The fact is that commercial pilots are a set of highly qualified professionals who have put in many thousands of hours into flight training. They also undergo regular training and re-certification frequently to be on top of their game. Even considering a human error, modern airlines have the necessary technology to offset a majority of problems. An autopilot system has been used for decades where the pilot is just required to give some inputs on the altitude and speed of the plane. Further, a Flight Management System (FMS) is used to provide the most efficient way to reach the destination. It consists of a sophisticated system of sensors throughout the body of the plane to access the speed, the rate of climb and other factors.

A cinematic twist

So what is it that gives flying its dreaded image? Although there have been tragic instances of planes going down, the events themselves are few and far apart. The chances of dying while going about daily life are much higher. It may be due to their shocking nature or more possibly, their vivid descriptions on TV. A similar precedent has been shown by the fear of sharks on beaches. The blockbuster movie ‘Jaws’ which showed a group of fun loving people falling victim to a giant shark captured the public eye. It garnered a lot of negative publicity on the shark, an animal which in reality, causes a fatality just every two years.

Therapy is a popular method to help aviophobes alleviate their suffering. Flying is a very convenient service which millions of people depend upon. Everyone deserves to enjoy and benefit from it, to kick back and stretch their legs (this is a bit pricey though) and enjoy.

Featured Image Source: Visual Hunt

This post first appeared on The Indian Economist | For The Curious Mind, please read the originial post: here

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Aviophobia: How real is the fear of flying?


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