Many people experience difficulty in travelling by air. In mild cases, some will ensure that they have an alcoholic drink before stepping on to the aeroplane or they might take a tranquillising tablet to allay this anxiety. In more severe cases, they feel it is impossible to even consider travelling by air and will seek alternative ways to reach their destination. For example, they may choose to drive, taking either a ferry or Eurostar across the channel. In very severe cases, even travelling towards the airport is out of the question. These are common characteristics in flying phobia, also known as ‘aerophobia’.
The aim of treatment is to ensure that the whole of the journey starting from home, travelling to the air port and all the preliminary stages before boarding the air craft become anxiety free. Some patients start showing anxiety two or three days before the departure date, in which case this period must be included in the treatment programme. Once the pre-flight anxieties have been dealt with, including possible delays which might occur, the patient is carefully guided through all the details of boarding and takeoff. Once they are comfortable with this stage of the flight the in-flight sequence and landing are addressed. It may be necessary to include such factors as turbulence, leaving their seat to go to the toilet and eating an in-flight meal or any other specific anxiety they might have. It is essential to remember that the homeward journey is equally important as the outward journey and all details of this need to be incorporated into the treatment.
Anxiety reduction in patients suffering from flying phobia can be achieved by hypnosis.
A desensitisation programme reduces the anxiety surrounding the whole of the flying problem. A hierarchy (see Hypnosis) is individually tailored to counteract the specific anxieties of the individual patient. In some cases it may be necessary to give psychotherapy in addition to the desensitisation programme. Also all patients are encouraged to wear flight socks, to exercise their calf muscles, and to drink plenty of water irrespective of the length of the journey.
It is recommended that treatment commence well in advance of the intended flight in order to achieve an adequate reduction in the level of anxiety. It is also helpful for the patient to visit and airport as part of the treatment programme and familiarise them selves with the atmosphere in the airport building.
David Kraft has found that, with sufficient preparation, this approach to treatment has a very high success rate.