My Fear of Flying Is Not What It Seems – So Please Stop Trying to Help Me Cure It


After a previous blog post, Why Jeff Bridges is Responsible for My Fear of Flying, in which I may have given the slight impression that the actor of that name is the reason why I am somewhat jittery whenever I am forced to get on an airplane, I received quite a substantial number of communications from people offering me lessons in overcoming this “irrational” fear.

Now, irrational fear is just that, irrational. To my mind, there is nothing irrational about the fear that several tons of heavy metal being held in the sky by pure momentum may, with very little prompting, suddenly cease to remain in the sky. And the added component of that fear, that the subsequent transferal of this heavy metal object from sky to ground is likely to be a harrowing experience for anyone inside, or indeed in its way, as it hurtles inexorably downwards, also seems to me to be quite reasonable.

In truth, to call what I have a fear of flying is misleading. The flying bit is great. When I get on an airplane, flying is exactly what I am hoping it will do. What I am afraid of is that gravity will have a good look at the airplane as if endeavors to push its way into the atmosphere and point out, with a gentle tap on the fuselage, that large heavy objects are supposed to go down, not up. It is not the flying I am afraid of, but the crashing.

“Ahah,” the anti-phobics say, when I politely repel their offers to overcome my fear of flying with a variety of solutions that have variously included hypnotherapy, counseling, Benadryl, gin, and chocolate, “but far fewer people die on airplanes each year than are killed in car crashes, fall of cliffs, or eaten by giant worms.”

As a strategy to help people to overcome fear, quoting statistics about other potential threats always seems to me to be counterproductive, but it is what people invariably do. All that such statements achieve is to add to my fear of flying a fear of driving in cars, taking cliff side walks, or visiting giant worm emporiums.

So thanks for the offers, but I do not wish to spend 450 dollars or euros on a course of five lessons to overcome what I perceive to be quite a rational response to the laws of physics. I will continue to drag myself onto airplanes, making sure that I have written a will beforehand, sending any last messages I have for people I know before frantically switching everything to airplane mode as soon as the Switch off Laptops light comes on, compulsively checking for the position of the emergency exits and gauging the number of steps it will take to get to them in the blind and smoky panic of one of the innumerable plane crash scenarios that play out in my head.

No, this fear is not irrational at all.