One of the safest things you could be doing right now is flying. According to solid research, 3 miles on an Interstate highway puts you at the same risk of fatality as does a coast-to-coast flight. Every time you drive 3 miles on an Interstate highway (or about 1.5 miles urban) you have placed yourself at the same risk as taking a flight.


This statistical analysis was developed when traffic deaths rose sharply after 9/11, as people switched from flying to driving. Researchers Michael Sivak and Michael Flannagan used airline performance from a ten year period, 1992 - 2001. During that period, the chance of fatality was 8 in 100,000,000. During that period a flight was equal in risk to driving 10.8 miles.

Currently, the chance of a flight being fatal is 1 in 45,000,000. This increase is flight safety brings the risk of flying down. A flight is now equal to 3 miles of Interstate driving, rather than 10.8. Since most of us drive more than that a day, when we interrupt our daily routine and get on an airliner, we increase our safety. The research is at www.americanscientist.org


If flying is so safe, why do fears develop?
 When we consider doing something, we imagine what might go wrong. If something goes wrong, what do we do? We feel better if we can take action, or if we can escape. And that is why flying is so often a problem. When we hear an unfamiliar noise or feel the plane drop, stress hormones are released. These hormones produce a "call to action." If we could take meaningful action, the stress hormone release would stop. But, as passengers, there is nothing we can do. Thus, stress hormone release continues.

If the plane drops again and again, as it does in turbulence, the hormones build up to cause a stronger and stronger urge to escape. But on a plane, we can't. That is when high anxiety or panic can develop.

It doesn't matter how illogical this fear may be, for when stress hormones build up, logic pretty much goes out the window. What can be done to prevent feelings caused by stress hormones? The answer is to train the amygdala - the part of the brain that triggers stress hormones - not to do so when flying. Details on how to do this are in my book, SOAR: The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying

But here are the basics. There are certain moments in human relationships that produce a hormone, oxytocin, that inhibits the amygdala. These moments have to do with reproduction. Nursing a child produces oxytocin so the mother can focus on the child's needs rather than feel anxious about other things that need to be done. Oxytocin is also produced in females in sexual foreplay if the chemistry between her and her partner is just right. This, apparently, is nature's way of setting aside fears of sexual intimacy. In males, oxytocin comes at orgasm. So, find a moment in which oxytocin was being produced. Next, that moment needs to be linked (remember Pavlov and his dogs?) to the various moments of flight that might trigger the release of stress hormones.

The way I suggest people link the two is to imagine the oxytocin-producing moment and pretend a photograph is being held by the baby's face (in a nursing situation) or by the lover's face (in a romantic situation). Each moment of flight needs to be linked so that, as the flight progresses, things that happen on the flight trigger (by association) enough oxytocin to keep the amygdala from releasing stress hormones. There are photographs you can use for this at www.fearofflying.com/photos



photo: DPA

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