Fear of Flying-Aviophobia


Flying phobia is classified, within current diagnosis mental disorder systems, as a situational type specific phobia. This phobia is characterized by an intense and persisting fear that is considered as excessive or that is cued by the thoughts or actual experience of flying.


Nowadays, flying phobia has spread throughout the population. People may experience anything from a slight discomfort at the moment of flying, to real terror when thinking about boarding a plane, preventing them from making this kind of trip. In fact, according to recent American news, 10% of people have a strong fear of flying and avoid doing so, while 15% fly in spite of considerable discomfort; patients with flying phobia may represent 2.6-3.5% of the adult population. The possibility of having an accident —and, thus, even dying—, the idea of being confined in a very small space, the instability of the plane itself, the height at which the plane is flying or even losing control (e.g.: experiencing a panic attack during the flight) are among the most common fears. In order to deal with this situation, people who are afraid of flying usually adopt defence and avoidance strategies, such as: It is important to point out, however, that among those variables which affect the intensity of the fear we might find: size and type of plane, turbulence, airplane noises, atmospheric conditions, the time of day, season of the year, flight delays and its reasons, location of the seat, take-off and landing, duration of the flight, company from a trustworthy person, and so on.


Exposure techniques (combined with techniques such as relaxation or cognitive restructuring) are the ones which have shown a higher rate of success in the treatment of flying phobia. In spite of that, it should be pointed out that in the case of this phobia it is difficult to carry out the live systematic exposure due to economic aspects, as well as the difficulty to adjust the situations, some of which depend on factors which do not concern the therapist.


In this context, Virtual reality is an especially appropriate tool. Firstly, in-vivo exposure is too complex and expensive —both in time and in money and effort— and the exposure can rarely be repeated. Besides, it happens to be impossible to carry out a graduated in-vivo exposure since flying is an all-or-nothing dichotomous decision. In these cases, we usually resort to in-imagination exposure but this treatment can be somewhat ineffective, since the patients’ capacity for imagination may differ. Secondly, with Virtual Reality exposure, the therapist can control different flight parameters such as length, climate conditions, turbulences, etc. These characteristics, among others, make Psious platform exposure therapy the best treatment for Fear of Flying.

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