Fear of Flying and Attachment


As we know, the fear of flying is quite a common problem for man. But of course, not everyone experiences the same level of fear and anxiety when getting on a plane. Why is this?

As a psychologist, I’ve worked with many fearful flyers, and one of the variables that I’ve noticed that can significantly influence the way a person experiences aerophobia is what we call “attachment style”.

Essentially, this is the way we once interacted with our caregivers during childhood, and now influences our relationship style with significant others during our adult life.

There are four main types of attachment styles: secure, anxious-preoccupied, avoidant, and disorganised. Each has its own characteristics and can influence the different strategies fearful flyers put into practice. To make it easier, I’ll focus only on the first three, which is where I’ve observed the most differences regarding aerophobia.

For people with a secure attachment style, fear of flying may not be a big problem. They tend to trust themselves and their ability to handle new situations, therefore they are more likely to face a flight trusting that if they ever experience anxiety, they will be able to regulate themselves or ask for help to handle it the best way possible. But those with an anxious-preoccupied attachment style may feel more anxious about flying, because this one is characterised by constant worry and the need for constant security and support in the face of difficulty internalising such security. It will probably help them a lot if they are traveling with someone else and they will call on the flight crew to check that everything is okay.

On the other hand, folks with an avoidant attachment style tend to avoid situations that cause them anxiety or stress and to pretend nothing is wrong – which means they may avoid flying altogether or prefer not to have much information about how the flight is going so as not to become more nervous. It usually helps them to be distracted and abstract so as not to connect with the fact that they are flying at that very moment.

Regardless of the predominant coping strategies in each type of attachment, the reality is that the underlying fear or phobia is the same and all of them benefit from going to therapy to address it.

Happy flying!



David Lanzas is a psychologist specialising in anxiety and trauma, and founder of the Lanzas Institute.

Photo | Orbon Alija