4 Ways Movies Can Influence Fear of Flying

By David Lanzas

Who doesn´t love movies, right? Cinema is a hugely influential feature of pop culture and can often have the power to shape aspects of society and popular opinion – which means it can sometimes be a double-edged sword. For example, I´ve found that films can even play a role in promoting fear of flying. A century´s worth of filmmaking has depicted both civilian and military flight in a wide variety of ways – from exciting to comedic to tragic – and sometimes in positive but all too often negative ways. And here I´d like to offer my take on how these depictions can promote aerophobia in anxious flyers. So grab some popcorn, and lights…camera…action!

The Challenge of Fact v. Fiction

Movies often focus on emotion and drama, and this can distort the perception of reality. Sequences depicting highly unusual things like extreme turbulence, forced landings, and spectacular plane crashes aren´t unusual in films. But all this drama very rarely represents the mundane reality of the vast, overwhelming majority of commercial flights. So this type of overly dramatic depiction can have the effect of amplifying  aerophobia, as nervous flyers may be encouraged to fear that their flying experience will be just as terrifying.

Stereotyping Movie Characters with Fear of Flying

Aerophobes can be misleadingly depicted in various ways – some caricatured as cowards, others presented as vulnerable people who finally overcome their fear. Such stereotypes can influence how we perceive people who are afraid of flying in real life, as well how they judge themselves if they don’t feel safe on board.

Creating ´Anticipatory Anxiety´

Constant exposure to images of turbulent flights and other inflight traumas can make anxious flyers even more anxious before boarding, bolstering the erroneous notion that flying is dangerous.

Difficulty Separating Fact from Fiction

For some moviegoers it can be difficult to separate what they see onscreen from reality. This means that exaggerated representations of air travel can become ingrained in people’s minds, making it more difficult for them to rationally address their fear of flying.

So as you can see, most film depictions exaggerate the dangers and difficulties of getting on a plane. I hope that this small analysis of how allows you to put fear into perspective and enjoy your next flight more. And also, keep all this in mind the next time you´re watching a flick about flying.

Till next time, happy – and fearless – flying!

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

Image: peakSTOCK