The heavily publicized facts about the two crashes of Boeing’s 737 Max jetliners, far from the United States, undoubtedly caused enormous distress among humans who suffer from a fear of flying.
The 737 Max was grounded after the crashes of Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610 in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March. A combined 346 people died in the crashes. There were no survivors on either flight.
Zero multi-fatality crashes have occurred in the United States since Feb. 12, 2009, when Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed, killing 50 people. One woman died when a Southwest Airlines jet window shattered in 2018.
Billions of people have flown safely ever since, in American skies. By way of contrast, highway travel accounts for 94.4% of national transportation fatalities.
Following that crash more than a decade ago, many safety improvements were made industry-wide, enabling remarkable safety for passengers and crews.
The odds are astronomical in favor of being able to actually fly safely in the United States.
Nevertheless, fear of flying, or aviophobia, is an anxiety disorder that affects about 40% of the general population. About 2.5% have what is classified as a clinical phobia, one in which a person avoids flying or does so with significant distress. Here are some words of advice to alleviate the vexing problem.
Sarah Vander Schaaff wrote about the Anxiety and Depression Association of America that suggests eight steps to help identify triggers and defuse them.
Martin Seif, a clinical psychologist who wrote the steps, identifies the variety of conditions that may comprise the phobia — panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and panic disorder, among them.
Here are his eight steps to overcome fear of flying.
1. Latch on to triggers that set you off
2. Step onto the airplane with knowledge
3. Anticipate your anxiety
4. Separate fear from danger
5. Recognize that common sense makes no sense
6. Smooth over things that go bump in the flight
7. Educate fellow fliers how to help you
8. Value each flight
For some, breathing exercises, anti-anxiety medication and cognitive behavioral therapy work. But the strategies do not work for everyone. Tom Bunn, a former Air Force and commercial airline pilot and licensed clinical social worker who runs a program for fearful fliers, has developed a set of mental exercises for fearful fliers. Once, called the “strengthening exercise,” links specific phases of air travel with a joyful personal memory, a visualization technique meant to trigger a sense of calm.
Another program includes a one-hour overview of each aspect of flight, which includes video clips from therapists and pilots and printable checklists for managing anxiety.
Bunn said people can “re-tune” their ability to calm themselves before panic escalates, relying on unconscious or procedural memory, the kind used to ride a bike.
If one can’t overcome the problem without help, check the Internet to see if there is an expert near enough to set up an appointment. To avoid spending money with a charlatan, see if you can verify the background of the therapist as being someone who can truly help you.