physiology & behavior

Tackling ‘Aviophobia’

Overcome Fear of Flying with Counseling

By Dr. Prerna Kohli

 IX-1344, en route from Dubai to Kozhikode, Kerala crashed on Friday evening killing Wing Commander Deepak Vasant Sathe and Captain Akhilesh Kumar. Commander Sathe, a highly decorated ex-IAF pilot in a valiant attempt to reduce passenger death dumped fuel and switched off the engines and prevented a fireball on landing.  The death toll in the first major aviation accident in India since 2010 rose to 18 while a total of 149 persons have been undergoing treatment with several of them critical. The crucial black box of the ill-fated IX-1344 has been recovered and will shed more details on the cause of the crash.

Tragedy does not knock on the door before occurring; it takes us all by surprise. In an interview with Psychologist Dr. Prerna Kohli from New Delhi, she said “My heart goes out to all the families and friends who have lost their loved ones, and others impacted by this plane crash. In my thoughts are also the two very brave pilots- Captain Deepak Sathe and co-pilot Akhilesh Kumar, who provided the best landing they could to their passengers. May their souls rest in peace?” Dr. Prerna Kohli said, “Grief counseling to those who have lost a loved one is necessary while those who have been injured besides medical assistance require mental health counseling”.

Amongst all the modes of transport, from land to air, Airplane travel is the safest way of travel for people. According to the US National Safety Council’s analysis, the odds of a passenger dying on an airplane is 1 in 2,05,552 in comparison to the probability of 1 in 1,086 for drowning and 1 in 102 for a car accident. The main reason for this is because airplanes are crafted with the most advanced technology that is available. As technology becomes more advanced by each passing day, airlines adapt to more safety measures.

As per Dr. Prerna Kohli, “the fear of flying is accentuated from the media’s portrayal of any plane accident that occurs. The media shows the accident as something that occurs frequently, rather than stating facts about the safety of airplane travel”. She continues to say “that this excessive coverage by television channels has a great impact on people’s thoughts and perception of flying, which in turn can cause them to develop Aviophobia.”

The fear of flying, is known as ‘Aviophobia’.Aviophobia means being afraid of being on an airplane or in a helicopter.” According to Dr. Prerna Kohli “Aviophobia could be due to having claustrophobia (fear of crowded/confined spaces) or having a fear of heights (also known as Acrophobia). Other factors can play a role in developing or having Aviophobia, one of them being anxiety that the airplane might crash or malfunction”.  

Currently, due to the pandemic, very few people are flying but according to Dr. Prerna Kohli, there are ways in which one can tackle Aviophobia or the onset of Aviophobia.

Dr. Kohli says she has helped many patients to overcome their fear of flying, it can be done by Identify what triggers one’s fear and manage them when your anxiety is low. It helps to fly with proper knowledge about airplane accident rates as compared to other modes of transport. Engaging yourself with activities that will distract you from the thoughts that accompany your fear. Managing your anxiety with meditation or other breathing exercises before onboarding the flight.

In extreme cases, psychologists are known to accompany their patients on flights to counsel them before and during the flight. Dr. Kohli added that “fortunately the fear of flying can overcome with counseling”. It is important to know that 257 people died in airplane crashes worldwide in 2019, and nearly twice as many people die daily in India in road accidents,

About the Author

Dr. Prerna Kohli (M.Phil., Ph.D.) is a Clinical Psychologist, 4 times gold medallist and the first clinical psychologist to be awarded by the Hon. President of India. She has been an adviser to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and is a member of the Niti Aayog Nutrition Committee. Dr. Kohli works towards making the workplace safer for women and the country for children.

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