Fear of Flying

9/11.  Malaysian Airlines flight 370, US Airways Flight 1549.  Millions of people suffer from a fear of traveling by airplane.  Is this fear rational?  Should we all be a bit more hesitant before setting foot on those giant metal flying machines?  Also, where did this fear come from? Why are some people afraid and others are not?

Image result for plane that landed in the hudson

First things first, let’s take a look at where this fear may have started.  People attribute the most danger to airplanes when other forms of travel are just as dangerous, if not more so (more on this later).  One thing that may have led to this a combination of confirmation bias, and the media.  Whenever a plane goes down and people are killed, the media sensationalizes the event.  You hear about it all the time non-stop.  Due to this you think it happens all the time.  Every time a plane crashes and you hear about it on the news, it sticks out in your mind.  You never consider all the planes that don’t erupt in a fiery pile of death and destruction.  Since you only hear when planes crash, you already have a bias that that’s what planes do.  And every subsequent crash you hear of only reinforces that bias.

So do planes actually crash all that often?  Earlier, I said that other forms of travel are just as dangerous as flying.  Let’s look at probably your most preferred mode of transportation, driving.  You feel relatively safe while driving, right?  Well according to USA Today, statistically speaking, driving is FAR more dangerous than flying.  In 2008, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted some research as to the safety of driving.  They found that over millions of accidents, there had been 1.27 deaths per 100 million miles traveled.  That doesn’t sound too bad.  How does flying stack up?  The National Transportation Safety Board compiled a similar data search.  In the same year, planes had 20 accidents, no deaths, five people injured.  This equates to about 0 accidents per million flying miles.

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So, statistically speaking, you should not be any more scared to fly on an airplane than you should be to ride in a car.  I know that simple statement won’t get anyone who is already afraid of flying to change their mind in a heartbeat.  So what can you do to ease your fears?  Well the US National Library of Medicine looked into that for you.  According to pubmed.gov, a study used virtual reality simulations to see if that would help people approach their fears.  This study included 30 participants which were split into 3 groups.  One group received virtual reality graded exposure therapy (VRGET) with physiological feedback. Another group had the same VRGET but without the physiological feedback.  And the third group just had imaginal exposure therapy (IET) which means they just imagine themselves being on a plane, rather than seeing it in virtual reality.  The study consisted of an initial benchmark flight on a plane, 8 sessions of either VRGET or IET depending on their group, and a followup plane ride three months later.   The study found that 10% of the participants who received IET could do the followup plane ride without the assistance of medication.  The same was said for 80% of people who received VRGET with no physiological feedback, and 100% of those with VRGET and physiological feedback.  Although it was a small sample size, it does show compelling evidence for a conclusion.

While VRGET might not be feasible for everyone with a fear of flying, what VRGET did was get the participants used to the experiecne of flying.  So if you want to get over your fear of flying, just keep the statistcs in mind and try to get a few flights under your belt. You should eventually get over your fear as you get used to flying on an airplane.



2 thoughts on “Fear of Flying

  1. Dana Corinne Pirrotta

    I know so many people who are terrified of flying, but as a military child, I am pretty much on a plane every 7 or so months. My dad is actually a pilot, so your post caught my eye right away!
    I love that you bring up how the media makes plane crashes extremely dramatic, which makes it seem like they are more prevalent in daily life then they really are. Your points are supported by hard evidence from news sources, but I would have really liked to see any connections that you could have found through google scholar! The individual who grades my blogs recommended that I try to use more “scholarly articles” and I would recommend that you do the same! Even though I personally like using news articles more, the journals published on these subjects are very compelling and definitely strengthen our arguments. I went on google scholar and found a journal that relates to your post, titled,

    Statistical Summary of Commercial Jet Airplane Accidents Worldwide Operations 1959 – 2008

    Think about incorporating some of these statistics into your post, especially because in class we are talking about statistic concepts like the P-value, alpha levels, and null and alternative hypothesis.

  2. Mackenzie French

    I have a huge fear of flying, yet I decided that Penn State was worth two plane rides to get here (I live in California). I had to read your blog post since this affects me every time I get on a plane. Your statistics of saying that driving is far more dangerous than flying is what I tell myself every time I sit down on a plane, yet it still somehow doesn’t quite work. Thank you for providing some ways to ease fear, they were interesting to read. I also found this article you might want to check out! https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/specific-phobias/treatment/8-Steps-to-Overcoming-Your-Fear-of-Flying

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