Overcoming a Fear of Flying
“How was your trip?” I asked a girlfriend of mine after she returned from Hawaii with her husband and young daughter. I realized, after I hung up the phone, that I never actually received an answer. Our conversation ended up focusing on a subject that hits very close to home for around 40% of the population; her fear of flying. So distraught was she, that a future family trip to Europe was now being put into question.
I empathized with her experience because, despite a life long love of flying, I experienced a short term run in with aerophobia (also referred to as aviophobia) in the years following 09/11. Traveling frequently for work, I pretty much drank my way through flights in 2002, all the while hoping not to have my fear discovered by my co-workers. Later, however, I realized that I needed more help. It was really the morning flights that forced my hand. What was I going to do? Bring a 100ml jam jar full of Baileys to pour into my coffee on the plane? I bought a book on anxiety, followed by the corresponding CD program (which I loaded onto my iPhone), and finally I purchased 3 sessions with a flight anxiety coach (whom I didn’t really like and convinced that I was cured so I could quit without hurting his feelings). Honestly, I probably spent about $800, which I know is a lot of money……but eventually I was cured. I also managed to avoid some other potentially expensive and damaging pitfalls such as:
a) Getting kicked off a plane for screaming “WE’RE GOING DOWN ! ”
b) Becoming a raging alcoholic.
c) Quitting my job.
For my fellow sufferers of flight anxiety, I have done my best to present the leading treatment options below. Please understand that I do try to inject a healthy dose of humor here. I’d rather you have a little laugh, than a cry. I also want to point out that these suggestions are meant to help tackle the anxiety caused by flying, but do not go so far as to address depression (although some of the resources listed here do).
How To Get Over a Fear of Flying – Temporary Solutions
1. Boozing it Up
If you are having a drink or two before or during the flight, and can still adequately function, great. If we’re talking about Spring Break Cancun style drinking….perhaps you should move on to some of the other options listed below. Don’t forget to hydrate.
2. Xanax – Fear of Flying Medication
Xanax belongs to a group of drugs called benzodiazepines (also in the group is Ativan and Valium). It works by slowing down the movement of chemicals in the brain that may become unbalanced. This results in a reduction in nervous tension (anxiety).
From the many fear of flying forums I have been on, lots of people swear by Xanax to get them through a flight (even those traveling with children). There is the occasional story of it not working or working too well. One person on a forum mentioned that they weren’t convinced it was working, doubled up on their dose, and later couldn’t remember a thing about the flight. The long and short of it is…proceed with caution.
Basically, if you think this for you, you need to educate yourself about the drug by discussing it with your family doctor. I am not a doctor. Let me repeat…I am not a doctor – but here are some of main do not’s for this drug.
Do not use if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Do not mix with alcohol (no idea what happens, but it will probably end up with the flight landing early and you getting off).
Do not fall in love with it and start taking it all the time. If you use it regularly, your body builds up a tolerance to it, requiring ever greater doses for the same results.
Do not buy it from some weird discount site on the web.
If it were me, and I were considering this route, I think I would try it out before using it on a flight. There are also many fear of flying forum threads dedicated to this specific topic on such websites as anxietyzone.com and tripadvisor.com.
Fear of Flying Help – More Permanent Solutions
For long term results dealing with flight anxiety, cognitive and behavioral therapy is recommended. This can be approached in several ways and many people use a combination of treatments.
1. Fear of Flying Books
There are a number of well reviewed books for people who fear flying. All of these have received review of 4/5 stars+ by reviewers on Amazon.
Captain Bunn founded SOAR to develop effective methods for dealing with flight anxiety. Therapists who have found this phobia difficult to treat will find everything they need to give their clients success. Anxious flyers who have “tried everything” to no avail can look forward to joining the nearly 10,000 graduates of the SOAR program who now have the whole world open to them as they fly anxiety free wherever they want. Available in Kindle and Paperback on Amazon.com (from $9.00) and Amazon.ca (from $16)
Cockpit Confidential covers not only the nuts and bolts of flying, but also the grand theater of air travel, from airport architecture to inflight service to the excitement of travel abroad. It’s a thoughtful, funny, at times deeply personal look into the strange and misunderstood world of commercial flying. It’s the ideal book for frequent flyers, nervous passengers, and global travelers. Available in Kindle and Paperback on Amazon.com (from $6) and Amazon.ca (from $8)
This book has helped many travelers overcome their fear of flying. It uses cognitive behavioral therapy, to prepare the reader for every sight, sound, and sensation that will be experienced in the airport and airplane (including flight turbulence). It is available in both paperback and Kindle format on Amazon.com (from $10) and Amazon.ca (from $13)
While most people who are afraid of flying are most fearful of the plane crashing, others actually suffer from claustrophobia, where being “trapped” in a flying “bus” feels like too much to handle. There are certain steps that can be taken to completely overcome aviophobia. While the fear might currently be a challenge to for those suffering from it, it doesn’t need to continue to be. This book discusses the ten steps it takes to get rid of the fear of flying. Available on Kindle and in Paperback on Amazon.com (from $3) and Amazon.ca (from $3)
2. Fear of Flying Apps ( IOS and Android )
Help for Fear of Flying Apps
Fear of Flying Hypnosis and Meditation Apps
3. Fear of Flying Courses (DVDs and Downloads)
Soar Fear of Flying Course – This highly rated program created by Pilot Tom Bunn offers DVD’s, downloads and phone call sessions. They even have an “I’m Flying Tomorrow” emergency option. Their Fear of Flying course options start at $125 USD.
Fear of Flying Online Course – not the best website in the world, but it’s free ! They also offer and option audio upgrade for $19.99.
Ask the Pilot (askthepilot.com) – Author Patrick Smith (Cockpit Confidential) has a great website that will answer many of your questions for free.
4. Fear of Flying Classes, Workshops and Seminars (In Person)
The cats meow of fear of flying courses are full scale programs, involving a combination of pilots, counsellors, virtual reality therapy, airport and airplane tours and sometime even a graduation flight. Naturally they do not come cheaply, running from a few hundred dollars, to over a thousand dollars. Here is a fairly extensive list of programs. Please share with us if you know of another.
Fear of Flying Classes – U.S.A.
Arizona – Phoenix – Fearless Flight Program (website)
Georgia – Atlanta – Virtually Better (website)
Illinois – Chicago – Fear of Flying (website)
Minnesota – St. Paul – MySky Overcoming the Fear of Flying Program (website)
New Jersey – Relaxed Flight Seminars (website)
New York – Manhattan – Virtual Reality Treatment (website)
New York – Manhattan and Laguardia – Freedom to Fly Workshop (website)
New York – Manhattan – Fear of Flying Virtual Reality Treatment (website)
New York – White Plains – Freedom to Fly Now (website)
Texas – Houston – Fear of Flying Workshop (website)
Wisconsin – Milwaukee – Overcome Your Fear of Flying Course (website)
Fear of Flying Classes – Canada
British Columbia – Vancouver – Flying Without Fear (website)
Ontario – Mississauga – UFly Flight Simulator (website)
Quebec – Montreal and Quebec City – VisionAir Fear of Flying Class (website)
Fear of Flying Classes – Europe
Belgium – Brussels – Voler Sans Peurs (website)
France – Paris – Air France Stress Free Flying Workshop (website)
Germany – Various Locations – Lufthansa Fear of Flying Course (website)
Switzerland – Zurich and Geneva – Swiss Air Fear of Flying Class (website)
5. Fear of Flying Videos
Fear of Flying Help Video by Virgin Flying (YouTube)
Pilot Tells Us Why You Should’t Be Afraid of Flying (YouTube)
6. Fear of Flying Therapists and Counsellors
If you feel that one-on-one counseling would suit you best, there are many therapists and psychiatrists specializing in flight anxiety disorders. A good place to start getting information (and some free resources) is one of the following non-profit organizations; the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (USA) or the Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada (ADAC). Many cities also have at least one clinic that specializes in anxiety, depression and stress disorders.
An odd and funny fact (funny, in a dark comedy kind of way), explained to me by my own counsellor, is that rarely will you find a group session for people with a variety of anxiety issues. Rather than get better, people tend to adopt the fears of other session attendees.
7. Celebrities with a Fear of Flying
I also like to call this the “You are not alone- Famous people are scared of flying too” section. I don’t know why, but things like this always make me feel better.
Sean Bean (LOTR)
Billy Bob Thorton
And I’m sure there are many more…..
Do you have some tips to share on how to overcome a fear of flying? If you do, please comment on this post. Thank you !
Further Reading that Should not Scare You:
10 Tips for the Fearful Flier : NBC News
Fear of Flying? You Can Get Over It: The Washington Post
Experts Say You Can Get Over a Fear of Flying – Huffington Post
The Psychology of the Fear of Flying and How to Get Over It – Miami Helicopter