For Kathy: Afraid to Fly, but Ready to Jump

>> Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Kathy said: I have a question. My co-worker is afraid of flying, so much so that he has to take medication to get on a plane and is a wreck the whole time he's in the air. But this weekend he jumped out a plane. Granted, he did do it to celebrate his birthday and gave a jump gift to his mother for Mother's Day. She went too. How is it that someone so deathly afraid of flying stepped out into the abyss, given that the only thing between him and death is a strong piece of nylon cord?

Great question, Kathy! My reaction is much like yours, but I’m deathly afraid of (a) heights and (b) free fall. Flying doesn’t scare me, per se, though I dislike the loss of control I have in the situation.

However fear of flying isn’t necessarily a fear of heights or falling. It might be a fear of terrorism or a fear of being closed in (claustrophobia). It might be a fear/dread of motion sickness. It might be a fear of crashing or an inability to deal with someone else in controlling one’s fate.

Skydiving might not frighten a claustrophic at all or it might empower someone afraid of giving up control. Because of it’s nature, the fear of crashing or terrorism might not be a feature.

But, more than that, it might be a result of determining to confront and overcome a fear. Which doesn’t mean he wasn’t scared spitless with the skydiving (I have no idea if he was or not), but might mean that he wasn’t going to let that fear stop him from experiencing something truly exhilarating.

I am speculating, however. I am much more afraid of skydiving than I could ever be of flying. I can’t imagine willingly jumping from a perfectly good plane and I’m not sure I could manage it in a plane that was perhaps on fire or disintegrating. And I sincerely hope I never find out.



  • Bob Johnson

    I think if I had a parachute and an exit I wouldn't mind flying at all, with skydiving you have more control, if you know what you are doing.

  • The Mother

    I think I would offer another possibility.

    For many people, the fear of flying is about being out of control. It's all up to the pilot, the air traffic controllers, the weather...

    In a sky dive, it's all you. No lack of control allowed. You pull the cord, or you die.

  • Stephanie B

    Fear of flying doesn't really say what one is afraid of. I suspect fear of feeling powerless is fairly common.

  • Lola

    I'm with The Mother, however, I still couldn't sky dive. I've flown once, round trip to CA and back under extremely stressful circumstances. My then husband, (now ex) had a psychotic break in CA.

    Circumstances have been such in the years since that vacations haven't been in the budget. My partner really wants to get away to Vegas or somewhere. I'd go, but I'd still reach for the xanax.

  • Kathy

    I have heard my co-worker talk about the control issue from time to time. But, to me, there is as much a control issue with jumping out a plane. Since the instructor strapped to his back was the one pulling the cord, you're still putting your fate in the hands of another. I'm guessing the promise of the most exhilarating experience of his life outweighed the fear. I shall have to grill him about this.

  • JD at I Do Things

    I'm an equal opportunity chicken. I'm afraid of both! I don't feel like I'm in control when I'm on a plane; that is, I can't get off if I want to. I am trapped. What if I need to get off? I CAN'T! Whereas with skydiving . . . I really think the feeling of terror would outweigh the feeling of exhilaration. I would just be praying for it to be over. I just don't think I'd enjoy the sensation.

    Kudos to Jason AND his mom.

  • Patricia Rockwell

    I am militantly anti-flying but haven't been that way my whole life. My fear is the "loss of control" reason, I think. I'd probably be able to handle the parachuting better, but the hard part for me would be getting high enough to parachute just by climbing to the top of a tall building. I'm certainly not going to get into a plane to try it. It's funny because I dream of flying (that is, me with wings flying) a lot. That idea doesn't bother me.

  • Phyl

    I'm very impressed that he managed to do this. That's excellent!

    I...could simply never do it. I love flying -- in an enclosed plane. (And lately I've even decided not to fly if I can avoid it, because you just don't walk away from that sort of accident.)

    But open up the space, and I'm petrified. I could never do the jump, simply never.

    I remember finding out that the fear of falling is sometimes mistaken for a fear of heights. My best friend and I discovered that my phobia is the falling, while hers is the height. So while we were both petrified, I'd have to turn my eyes skyward so I couldn't see how far I'd be falling if I fell, while she'd have to keep her eyes fixed on the distant ground, so she'd always be oriented to it.

    So I could watch the fireworks while we were on a ferris wheel, and she had a harder time seeing them. :-)

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