Recently, I was on a rather tumultuous flight in Vietnam. As we travelled through a rather thick cloud, the entire ‘Dreamliner’ jumped in the air. Men screamed. Mothers cried. Some passengers were even thrown from their seats. Surprisingly however, despite this ruckus I remained stoic. After checking that the old man sat next to me was alright, and reluctantly viewing some pictures of his grandchildren, I returned to the book I was reading.
This strikes a contrast to how I once experienced commercial flights. Previously, I may have considered myself part of the ‘nervous flyer’ demographic. Each wave of turbulence, no matter how minor, would be accompanied in my mind by which Air Crash Investigation episode this scenario lined itself up with. And according to the charity Anxiety UK, I was not alone in this phobia. The so called ‘Aerophobia’ affects at least up to 10 per cent of the UK population and is considerably higher in minor cases. Many aerophobics may experience their phobia before or during flying, and the most widely accepted antidote seems to be the plane touching precious runway again!
From a statistical standpoint to call aerophobia ironic, or even ridiculous would be an understatement. Professors at MIT calculated that commercial flights are one of the statistically safest forms of transport. If one was to fly on a daily basis, it would take 55,000 years to be involved in a fatal commercial plane crash. In 2017 flying was so safe that it only caused 12 global fatalities in total, despite the millions of flights that occurred within that year. This is statistically far less probable than being involved in a car crash in the US, however amaxophobia (the pathological fear of being in a vehicle, as a driver or passenger), is far less common than the nervous flying phenomenon.
What one could surmise from this is that aerophobia is definitely not rational and joins the list of other phobias that have little place within the rational world (I’m looking at you, Arachnophobia). But at what point does aerophobia drift into the category of being morally problematic, or even a position of downright entitlement? When we consider the hazardous risks that many asylum seekers (including those fleeing warzones) take in an attempt to better there or their loved one’s opportunities, experiences such as those mentioned cannot help but convey a certain level of ignorance. In 2021, the UN found that over 3,000 people died or went missing either attempting to cross the Mediterranean or Atlantic oceans. To make things worse these are the documented tragic incidents, and therefore the ultimate figure may live to be an unknown entity. This statistic also doesn’t demonstrate the number of deaths caused by illegal land crossings, nor the many thousands of those who have been exploited by incidents of human trafficking, or the worryingly large modern slavery industry.
As members of a developed nation that provides each of us with certain rights, any form of transport that we now take is embedded with laws and regulations that ensure whatever journey we take is as safe as possible. Such a privilege is alien to the reality that many asylum seekers face; forced into unsafe journeys fraught with themes of risk, exploitation, and mortality. In October 2019, 39 Vietnamese people unjustly lost their lives whilst attempting to reach the UK in the back of lorry. Having recently visited Vietnam and undertaking a flight from that part of the world back to the UK, I can’t help but think of the 39 Vietnamese citizens who attempted to make the same journey; without a reclining chair, tv screen and the luxurious privilege that reaching their destination alive would almost be a statistical certainty.
In any event, fear will always be of an irrational nature, and it is important we reduce the stigma and normalise conversations around anxiety and mental health. However, the next time that you experience bouts of aerophobia, try to think of those forced into undertaking far more hazardous journeys than your own. And please try and assist the gigantic omnishambles that is the migrant crisis if you can, with either time, money, or a voting ballot. We can all at least do something to somewhat alleviate the risks that many migrants take for the innocent cause of safety from war, hunger, and exploitation.