ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Fear of Flying

Aviophobia, or the fear of flying, grips even the most rational mortals, primarily perhaps due to the grim and rational reminders of mortality the flying experience temporarily triggers.

Woody Allen’s 2012 film To Rome with Love has a scene starring Allen and Judy Davis in a flight to Rome, where the former starts clenching his fists on the announcement of an imminent turbulence. As his partner requests him to relax, Jerry (the character played by Allen) admits he cannot unclench during flight turbulence as he happens to be an atheist with no belief in an afterlife. The typically Allen-esque humour in this scene—where the character goes on to state how he could never share a toilet with a communist despite being “very left” ideologically—blends in bathos with an anarchy of hyperactive nerves. In doing so, it dramatises one of the commonest crises experienced by many post-20th-century travellers, one that recurs almost every time they step into a plane. Essentially, existential in nature, the experience of being trapped in a plane that might be smashed to smithereens in high air unsettles the God-fearing and the atheist alike with different degrees of discomfort.

The fear of flying—most commonly classified as aviophobia—is often perceived as an entanglement of several different, yet related, kinds of fears, including claustrophobia, acrophobia and agoraphobia. It thus contains elements of the fear of closed space, heights, and of being in an inescapable situation. Flight fear grips even the most rational mortals, primarily perhaps due to the grim and rational reminders of mortality the flying experience temporarily triggers. The reminders could be triggered by air pockets as well as by mild disturbances, and as the plane one inhabits shakes unsurely through unforeseen and invisible air currents thousands of feet above the ground one walks, the primary emotions are fear, helplessness or both.

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