It’s an opportunity most people take for granted: the ability to book a plane ticket, board a flight and enjoy a vacation without being plagued by a fear of flying.
Samson Frankel says he once drove three-thousand miles from New York to Florida to avoid flying.
“I remember looking up at a plane, watching it fly above and thinking to myself, 'There’s no way I can go up there into the clouds,'” Frankel said. “It’s just very all encompassing. You just do not want to take a step on an airplane under any circumstance.”
Frankel isn’t alone in experiencing these feelings. Carey Reilly says she sent her kids on a flight to California with her sister while she stayed home. She missed out on the memories at Disneyland and many other family vacations. “I knew it was safe, but I just couldn’t get myself to embrace that knowledge so I let it paralyze myself for 20 years,” Reilly said. Reilly says on another occasion, she was supposed to fly with her sisters to California to be on the TV show Family Feud. By the time she arrived at the airport, fear had overtaken her. “I had a full blown panic attack,” Reilly said. “I absolutely freaked out. My sister came over and I’m screaming at her, ‘don’t touch me.’ I wouldn’t get on the plane so I ruined the trip for everybody.”
It’s a fear that isolates and limits not only the personal, but the business lives of those it affects. As an event planner, Beth Shubert says she sometimes turned down work projects out-of-state. “You dread the trip going,” Shubert said. “You get to your destination, and then you dread the return flight. You end up ruining your trip. Instead of opportunities or vacations being wonderful times, they end up being something you dread... It’s terrible.” Frankel, Shubert and Reilly all now fly - thanks to “Captain Tom”, as they call him.
Captain Tom Bunn is a retired pilot and licensed therapist. In 1982, he established SOAR - a program aimed at helping everyone fly successfully. Since then, he has assisted thousands of people as they conquer their fear. “He has literally changed my life,” Shubert said.
Frankel says his first flight in more than a decade was after taking Bunn’s course. He flew all the way to Israel for business meetings.
“It was amazing,” Frankel said. “It was a 12-hour flight and I was 6,000 miles away from New York, and that’s probably the furthest I’d gone in my entire life.”
So how did Frankel, Shubert and Reilly learn to fly again? Bunn tells us there’s a series of steps he works on with his clients. He encourages them to first try to meet the pilot when boarding. “Giving up control is a major issue, and if you can meet the person that has the control, it’s kind of like then you have a kinship with the person who does have the control,” Bunn said. “You find out they’re real – not just a voice.” Next, Bunn encourages clients to practice an exercise to lower stress hormones once they build up. “It’s an exercise I call ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1,’” Bunn said. “You will first find something to focus on more or less straight ahead and use that as your focus point.”
The captain says count five things you can see, hear and touch. Then, count to four things you can see, hear and touch - and so on down until you get to one.
“It takes about two minutes and by the time you do that – the stress hormones are pretty much gone, maybe totally gone,” Bunn said. “And the particular thing about stress hormones is that when they’re kicking around, it forces you to focus on something that’s problematic. So if you keep focusing on it, you increase stress hormones. But if you can get rid of the stress hormones by using the ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1’ – then your mind is free to focus where you want to.”
Bunn says there are two main parts to the problem: worries about physical and emotional safety. “Both of the things need to be worked with, but if it’s simply a question of ‘is the plane safe?’ Then, you can get a lot of information on the Internet about that,” Bunn said.
He says as individuals with physical concerns learn more about how flying works, the more reassured and calm they will be.
For those dealing with emotional concerns, Bunn says he works with clients on determining what moment sets them off and figures out how to shut down the fear system.Bunn encourages his clients to think about ‘what is’ instead of ‘what if.’
“There’s really no limit to things that you could come up with if you’re imaginative that could go wrong and none of them are,” Bunn said. “So if you can shift away from 'What if the wings fall off, what if there’s a terrorist on the plane, what if this, what if that?'...and away from the imagination, that helps a lot.”
While some people can learn how to successfully fly on their own without professional assistance, Bunn says others require more help. “If a person has a mild problem and doesn’t have panic, that helps a lot,” Bunn said. “But if the person has trouble with panic on the ground, it’s definitely going to be a problem on the plane and there’s no way I know to control it unless we set up a way to automatically control it.”
(CNN) -- She's a veteran reality television star, not to mention an author, entrepreneur, wife and mother. Kendra Wilkinson's life in the limelight demands that she travel by plane about five times a month. She can handle fame, but flying terrifies her. "I cannot stand it," she says. When she flies, Wilkinson, whose reality show, "Kendra on Top," debuted this month on WE tv, turns to her fellow passengers to help her cope. "Every time I fly, I grab on to the person next to me," she says. "People pray with me." The airline staff members she encounters are especially empathetic. "The flight attendants give me ice packs."
Millions share Wilkinson's anxiety, and the fear can be debilitating. Many turn to professional therapy. Others try to resolve their fears themselves; some have more success than others. Experts caution that it's hard to pin down a precise number of people who suffer from a fear of flying, without a recent comprehensive survey. Also, many are reluctant to share details of their phobia -- or how disruptive it can be. Wilkinson, who rose to fame as one of Hugh Hefner's girlfriends on the reality show "The Girls Next Door," turns to the cocktail cart to calm her nerves. "I do try to have a glass of wine. Wine helps me cool down a little bit," she says. "Or two glasses of wine." Pinot grigio aside, she also tries to picture calming images.
"I try my hardest to close my eyes and picture my son," she says. "I think of my happiest moments." Wilkinson, who hasn't received formal treatment, aspires to fly with her 2½-year-old son without scaring him with her unconcealed fear.
Reason doesn't always conquer fear
John DiScala was terrified to fly. From his late teens until his early 20s, he rarely left his home in Connecticut. Now, he visits more than 20 countries a year -- by plane -- and runs the travel blog JohnnyJet.com.
But his runway toward recovery was a long one. His terror set in when he was 17. Waiting with his parents to board a flight from New York, bound for Australia, he had an anxiety attack at the airport. "I felt this tingling all over my body," he says. "I felt like I was not in control." The year before, his doctor had diagnosed him with asthma. He had also suggested that the cabin pressure on the flight could give him respiratory problems. "It kept running through my head what the doctor said," DiScala remembers: " 'You will have trouble breathing.' "
He missed that trip to Perth, where he would have visited his sisters -- and didn't travel again for more than three years. "I was basically afraid to leave the house," he says. "I was full of fear."
This unchecked terror arises despite statistics that show how safe flying is. Less than 1% of total transportation fatalities in the U.S. were the result of air accidents in the most recent figures from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. But numbers don't necessarily calm nerves. And a fear of air travel isn't always rational. "It doesn't have to do with how safe flying is," says Tom Bunn, the president and founder of the SOAR program. He counsels fearful fliers with a mix of one-on-one therapy and education about how airplanes work. He says his clients, who hail from a wide range of backgrounds and professions, try to talk themselves out of their fear but fail.
"Oftentimes, they struggle tremendously on their own to fix it, and find they can't," he says. Many turn to therapy when their fear starts to disrupt their lives as well as their livelihoods.
Phobia interferes with work
Patty McLoughlin, 53, is a sales representative in the gift industry. She needs to travel to meetings at least twice a year. Based in Columbus, Ohio, she would regularly drive 12 hours just to avoid a flight. She hadn't flown in 16 years. "For pleasure, I could work around it," she says. "Not with business." But when a West Coast meeting came up at a new job, she realized she had to conquer her fear. "It was difficult to drive to California," she says. It was impractical as well. She realized that her fear was getting in the way, and flying to meetings would help her make the most of her new job. "If I wanted to grow within the company, I knew I'd have to overcome it," she says. And she did, with the help of a SOAR course.
There are people who buy plane tickets but are too scared to use them. "We hear from people who want to go someplace special, and they can't go," says Alies Muskin, executive director of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. "They just don't do it."
Karina Slota of Maryland, 39, was supposed to be maid of honor at her sister's wedding in Bermuda 10 years ago. Her entire family traveled to the event, including her 80-year-old grandmother, who had flown over from Germany. Slota boarded the flight from Maryland to Bermuda but didn't make it to takeoff. "If I stay on this plane, I am going to die," she thought. While the plane was still at the gate, flight attendants had to open the plane door to let Slota off. She calls the experience humiliating. "I was crying," she says. "I felt like I was being judged."
She missed the wedding, and for 10 years, she didn't fly. Finally, Slota took a course with SOAR. Although she still gets anxious ahead of a trip, she says she manages to stay calm on the flight itself. She uses the mental exercises she learned from the program's videos, such as focusing on her surroundings, to stay calm and now flies about once a year...
A Flight School for Letting Go of Fear
by Eve Nagler, The New York Times
With her hands on the controls of a United Airlines 727 jet, Marie Garabedian of East Hartford said, "I feel a little overwhelmed."
Mrs. Garabedian was sitting in the cockpit of a jet parked at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks and United Capt. Tom Bunn was explaining the procedures for takeoff and landing.
She was not in training to become a pilot. Instead, she was learning how to be a passenger without going into a panic. Her recent visit to the cockpit was the culmination of Captain Bunn's course called Seminars on Aeroanxiety Relief.
Sitting in the pilot's chair helps fearful fliers "feel a kinship with the person in the front of the plane," Captain Bunn said. "When they're sitting in the back, they can imagine what the pilot is doing up here," he said. "It gives them a feeling of control."
About 25 minutes later, Mrs. Garabedian left the airplane beaming with pride, confident that she was well on her way to conquering her fear of flying. "I feel like I belong here," she said.
An estimated 25 million American adults are afraid to fly, according to a survey done by the Boeing Company. Statistics from the University of Michigan show that flying is 33 times safer than driving don't seem to ease the minds of anxious fliers.
Captain Bunn is a licensed therapist in addition to being an airline pilot. He has been offering an aeroanxiety program for 13 years. Captain Bunn said fearful fliers are invariably intelligent and highly imaginative people who feel trapped and helpless in an airplane because they cannot "fight or flee," the natural human response to fear.
So, Captain Bunn said, when fearful fliers hear a sound or feel a bump during the course of a normal flight, their imaginations take over, and they fantasize a horrible scenario completely unrelated to reality. "It's like they're going into their own movie," he says. "They conjure up every television and newspaper picture they've seen of airplane crashes and actually see in their heads the airplane they are riding in going down in flames."
That's what happened to Mrs. Garabedian. In April 1990, she was vacationing in Reno with her husband, Keith, when she refused to take their return flight home. She went into a panic after seeing a newspaper headline that said air turbulence was expected over the Rocky Mountains.
Mrs. Garabedian had had enough of turbulence flying into Reno (she remembers it as severe; her husband says it was nothing). Her imagination had turned the normal flight into a nightmare and she could not bear the thought of enduring any more time in the air. "I was crying hysterically after I saw the headline," Mrs. Garabedian said. "It was a day before we were supposed to fly home, but there was no way I could see myself getting onto the plane. So we rented a car and drove from Reno back to Hartford. It took us two and a half days and cost about $1000."
Four years later, Mrs. Garabedian, 37, made up her mind to confront her fear of flying in order to take her two children to visit Disney World in Florida this fall. "When we decided to go," she said, "my husband asked me, 'Are we flying or driving?' I said, "We're flying!"
Mrs. Garabedian reserved plane tickets to Florida and then called several airlines to get a recommendation for a fear of flying course.
So Mrs. Garabedian decided to try Captain Bunn's program which is recommended but not sponsored by United Airlines.
It was not an easy decision for Mrs. Garabedian to make. "People considering the course have a dual fear," Captain Bunn said. "Part of the fear is that the course won't work. The other part is that it will!"
Captain Bunn's program, which costs $285, consists of eight hours of audio tapes with accompanying booklets and questionnaires. After listening to the tapes, clients have the option of meeting with him privately at an airport for an additional fee of $95 an hour. The number to call to order the tapes is 800-332-7359.
The tapes are divided into three sections: The first includes relaxation exercises and discusses the psychological basis for aeroanxiety; the second offers an explanation of how airplanes fly and why they are safe, and the third gives practical tips on how to put all the information to use.
Overcoming the fear of flying By Allan Chernoff, CNN Senior Correspondent December 23, 2010
(CNN) -- Laura Edmonds has a look of horror on her face as she turns to look out the airplane window.
"I'm not crazy about that shake," she exclaims before putting her hand on her heart and closing her eyes. "I'm going to think about my good place," which for Edmonds is her memory of bonding with her son right after his birth.
Edmonds, a 44-year old realtor from Connecticut, has an intense fear of flying like many fliers.
It's not the threat of terrorism that worries her, but rather the possibility of mechanical failure. She says she imagines the plane plunging to the ground because the engines may fall off. So every few minutes she glances out the window to make sure they're still attached.
It is a fear that has gripped her for 18 years, since her wedding day, when she says she obsessed about the flight she would take the following day for her honeymoon to Italy.
"I couldn't enjoy my wedding day. I had this wonderful wedding surrounded by love and family but the only thing I could think about was the next day," said Edmonds.
Since then she has tried drugs and cocktails to make it through flights. But, she says, they've been no help in easing her anxiety.
She has dragged her family on the train from Connecticut to Florida, insisted on long drives and tried to avoid flying at all costs. Even when friends fly, Edmonds says she worries, counting the hours till they arrive at their destination.
It's been three years since Edmonds has stepped on a plane.
Yet here she is now, 20,000 feet above the ground onboard a turbo-prop that's en route from New York's LaGuardia Airport to Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Maryland. She is hoping this is the flight that will overcome her fear.
"I feel the seat. I feel the seat against my arm. I feel my hands," recites Edmonds, her eyes still closed.
She is attempting to redirect her mind, one of several so-called "strengthening exercises" she recently learned from a video course designed to overcome fear of flying. The idea is to focus on the moment, rather than the abstract.
Former Pan Am and United pilot Tom Bunn is president of the company that produced the videos and that instructs clients in the basic mechanics of flying and teaches them to control their thoughts.
"Most of my work is how do I keep them from imagining the things that they believe are happening when they are not," said Bunn, whose company is SOAR Inc. "When they can tell the difference between imagination and reality ...they are going to be OK."
Before boarding the U.S. Airways flight, Edmonds presents a letter from Bunn to the flight attendant asking to speak with the captain. The pilot gladly obliges, telling her he's been flying for more than two decades and assuring her, "You're going to be fine. We're going to take good care of you."
During takeoff Edmonds looks to the flight attendant for reassurance.
On her lap is a loose-leaf binder of Bunn's tips, Edmond's version of a study guide for her flight.
When the flight attendant offers drinks, Edmonds places her cup of water on the tray table and studies it, tangible evidence that the plane is barely shaking.
Yet another coping strategy is breaking down the flight into pieces, like eating a hamburger bite-by-bite.
"If you think about it in small pieces and getting through each of the pieces, that's a little easier than thinking of the whole hamburger because it's very overwhelming and it becomes paralyzing," said Edmonds.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are approaching Baltimore," announces the flight attendant.
Edmond is relying heavily on Bunn's coping strategies during the 90-minute flight. But she's coping.
As the wheels touch down, Edmonds' face lights up.
"Yay! I did it," she exclaims to the pilot.
"Congratulations," he responds.
Back on solid ground, Laura Edmonds exults.
"I feel so uplifted. I feel really proud of myself. I'm not trapped. I don't feel so paralyzed."
So much so that Edmonds claims she's ready to fly to the Caribbean for a vacation on the island of St. Barts.
"It'll take some doing," she said, "but I'm ready to go!"
The following is a condensed article published on CNNfn
Fight High-Flying Fears
By Staff Writer Rob Lenihan June 28, 2000: 9:02 a.m. ET, NEW YORK (CNNfn)
Whenever "Andrew" had to get on an airplane, his life would go into a tailspin. The New Jersey resident, who requested anonymity, would become sick when he thought about getting on a jet. "I would literally get myself ill," he said. "I would think about an upcoming flight and I would get a severe stomach ache, headaches, sweaty palms. It was really terrible. It really compromised my ability to live." Andrew's case was especially painful because he had relatives in Europe. Just a plane ride away, yes, but for the fearful flier, there's nothing "just" about it.
Andrew is hardly alone. Some 25 million Americans are afraid to fly, and experts believe the real figure is much higher, since many people won't admit their fears. Fearful flyers talk of shame, embarrassment and disappointment. They talk of business opportunities they have missed and vacations they have never taken. And they talk of a bottomless dread that has held them back and isolated them from the rest of the world.
So do you live your life around train schedules and bus depots? Skip family reunions and beg your boss to send somebody else to the important out-of-town meetings? Or do you get help, the way Andrew did?
Statistically, you are at greater risk driving to the airport than you are when you get on a plane. . . . The average person would have to fly every day for 29,000 years before getting involved in a fatal airline crash. But, of course, if you're afraid to fly, the numbers offer no comfort at all.
Tom Bunn, a retired airline captain who heads SOAR (Seminars on Aeroanxiety Relief) workshops, said fearful fliers are an intelligent bunch. "They can think of 1,000 things that can go wrong," said Bunn, who runs the company with Lisa Hauptner. "And they're very visually imaginative. They can put a picture in their mind of an airplane disaster in a heartbeat."
Media coverage of air disasters doesn't help. Counselors say while airline wrecks are rare, they dominate newspapers and evening news broadcasts. "People see the gory images on TV, the families grieving," Bunn said. "It's a very emotionally wrenching experience if you have empathy."
Experts say fear of flying is often associated with a major change in your life: a new home, a death in the family, or the birth of a child."
Andrew said his fear of flying got so serious his wife finally went on the Internet and found out about the SOAR program. He ordered the tapes last year and has high praise for the experience. "It was absolutely fantastic," he said. "The beauty of this thing is that you're taking a course with someone who is a pilot. That in and of itself goes a much longer way than speaking to a psychologist."
When Andrew got on a plane, he admits he was not as comfortable as he would have been in a car, but he wasn't having palpitations either. "It was a wonderful experience," he said. "That abject fear was gone."
Andrew is planning a trip to Spain in August and he has found the flying course has had an additional benefit. "It spills over to other aspects of your life," he said. "You just generally feel better about yourself."
How Flight-Phobic Executives Face Their Plane Fear Head-On
When the Wall Street Journal assigned staff writer Cassell Bryan-Low an article on business travel and fear of flying, she contacted SOAR.
Lisa Hauptner contacted the business people who had recently completed the SOAR Program.
Cindy Dooley and Fred Melamed bravely volunteered to be interviewed.
Ms. Dooley is the senior account executive of Chicago advertising agency Draft Worldwide.
Mr. Melamed anchored the CBS Sports coverage of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
The part of the article which relates to Ms. Dooley and Mr. Melamed is included below.
By Cassell Bryan-Lo
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL INTERACTIVE EDITION, February 1, 1999
While advertising executive Cindy Dooley sat on the plane, waiting for takeoff on twice-monthly flights to visit clients, she would break into a nervous sweat, her heart pounding and her stomach plagued by jitters.
She recalls how she would interpret each thumping noise as an engine malfunction, signaling the imminent crash of the plane. So, for three years, the senior account executive of Chicago advertising agency Draft Worldwide popped tranquilizers or swilled drinks to get through flights.
"I hated flying, and the more I did it, the worse it became," she says. Eventually, the anxiety was so intense it became a factor in her leaving her job.
Ms. Dooley can take some comfort in the fact that she is not alone. A study done by Boeing Co. estimates that 25 million people in the U.S. -- are fearful or anxious fliers. . . .
Statistically, people are much more likely to die from falling in their own homes than during air travel. Indeed preliminary data from the National Transportation Safety Board lists zero fatalities in 1998 involving a scheduled U.S. commercial flight. But the numbers do little to assuage passengers' fears. . . .
Ms. Dooley says she would spend an entire trip worrying about the return flight. "I had to exert a lot more energy to do normal tasks because I was preoccupied with the flight," she says.
Shaking The Fear . . . .
Counseling is used to determine the root of the anxiety, and relaxation exercises are taught to help deal with the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Tom Bunn, a retired flight captain, explains this is important, as many people will take a cue from their own reactions, assuming that because their heartbeat is racing, there must be danger.
Confronting the Abyss
For some people, the greatest motivation to overcome the fear of flying is a great career opportunity. Fred Melamed's phobia prevented him from setting foot in an aircraft for 25 years. As a voice-over artist for CBS Sports, his work required little travel out of his hometown of New York. When required to travel, Ms. Malamed would spend 2 1/2 days on a train rather than take a five-hour flight.
But earlier this year, he was offered the chance to work at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. For him, it was an opportunity too good to miss. "I had to do it, " he says. "It was like a million dollars in a bag -- I just had to pick it up."
Prompted to seek counseling, he successfully managed to take the 13-hour flight to Tokyo with only a brief spell of anxiety. Since then, Mr. Melamed has flown to London and Paris and has plans to go back. In terms of his career, he says "I can now consider things that I wouldn't otherwise have."
Flight Made Right
Condensed version of an article that appeared in the Hartford Courant.
by Paul Marks, The Hartford Courant, October 29, 2000
Tom Bunn has done the math: Statistically speaking, flying on a jetliner is safer than sleeping in your own bed.
It's at least 100 times safer than driving.
Every year, he helps hundreds of people by simply convincing them that it's so. His clients are fearful fliers from all walks of life - among an estimated 25 million nationwide - who are held prisoner by their anxious imaginations.
Where most of us fly to Disney World or Las Vegas or London, they stay home. Where most see air travel as a door to exotic adventure and career opportunity, they see looming calamity. They do more than see it. They feel it in their guts. They sweat and squirm and suffer at the very thought of stepping into a crowded jet cabin.
"These are often very intelligent people," said Bunn, a retired United Airlines pilot who is also a licensed counselor. "Their imaginations start, and their body reacts to it. What they don't realize is that the body's reaction comes directly from the picture in their minds." Bunn, who has run Seminars on Aeroanxiety Relief - SOAR - from his home in Trumbull since 1982, is on a rescue mission of sorts.
He presents technical facts about aviation to combat scary myths - pointing out, for example, that the plane's wing is meant to flex and won't break off in turbulence. He trains anxious fliers to expunge those calamitous images by visualizing comforting ones: holding a beloved child, for instance, or making a hole-in-one in golf. He sees more than 400 clients a year.
A Common Phobia
An often-cited survey by the Boeing Co. shows that one in three Americans admit to some anxiety over air travel. Roughly half of those won't fly. An ABC News poll last fall found 14 percent were afraid of flying. The response was stronger among women, with 21 percent identifying themselves as aerophobes, compared with 6 percent of men. A common - and ultimately futile - response is to turn to a pre-flight cocktail as an antidote to anxiety. Others reshape their careers to avoid long-distance travel. Many lie to avoid visiting friends and relatives, or joining their spouses on business trips abroad.
Carol Lang, a 53-year-old teacher and reading specialist from Queens, N.Y., passed up job offers in the publishing industry because they involved air travel. Later she got cold feet about a flight to visit relatives in Georgia. She put her 9-year-old son on the plane and stayed home, making excuses about being too busy. For a long time, her fear was kept secret. "I never talked to anybody about it, except in the past 10 years or so," she said. "I've turned down London. I've turned down Belgium. I've turned down Amsterdam. I also drove to Iowa instead of taking a plane."
Jeanne DePalma, a New Canaan mother of two, stayed home while her husband traveled the world as a high-ranking business executive. She recalls the irony of teaching her kids to take on the world while she hid behind her motherly duties to avoid long-distance travel. "I used the kids as an excuse, and I was glad to do so," she said. "As I have aged, my fear of flying has gotten worse." But now her daughter is in law school and her son is a sophomore at Connecticut College.
Tired of getting postcards from their tours of the Swiss Alps and other places she's never been, DePalma decided to face her fear. Last spring, she enrolled in SOAR, just as Lang did a few years back. Bunn's course costs $390. Along with two hours of individual counseling, it uses a dozen three-hour audiotapes. Accompanying work sheets are sent in to Bunn for review and comment.
Among other things, the course explains the mechanics of fear and the way aerophobes create terrifying "movies" in their minds, images that convince the body that doom is just around the corner. With that comes the nausea, the shaking, the ominous sinking feeling. It is the elemental fight-or-flight response, Bunn said. But locked in an airliner, strapped into the seat, there is no outlet available. "If they can't control their situation, they can't control their feelings," he said. In therapy, the goal is to convince nervous fliers that they can draw on their talent for imagining to summon up comforting thoughts.
Finally ... Free To Fly Lang completed the SOAR course in May. Last July, she went to visit friends in Atlanta - on the first airline flight she had taken in 30 years. Getting to that point was not easy, she said. "By the time I finished listening to the second tape, I was afraid I might fly. Just the thought of it made my hands shake," she said. "I have a big issue with control. Two days before I went I was like a maniac." Then she got on board, met the pilot, and sat down feeling reassured. She deliberately relaxed and - much to her surprise - actually enjoyed the ride. Two weeks later, she was flying to Maine to visit her son.
DePalma's moment of truth came on Oct. 10. After a final therapy session with Bunn, she and her husband were booked on a morning flight from New York to Florida, where they had bought a retirement home.
Aero anxiety, SOAR soothes their fear of flying
by Mark Muro, The Boston Globe
Of course they are the reasonable folk, these executives, wives and grandmothers who can't quite deny gravity and trust the arcane laws of aerodynamics.
They fear air travel and, in this they make sense, not the rest of us. Unable to make the leap of faith that is jet propulsion, they stick to the ground, 2 1/2 hours to Chicano only a dream.
If his silky half-drawl reminds one first of how perfectly he fits the part of a pilot, it suggests other impressions as well, those of the TV evangelist and the encounter group leader. Indeed, Tom Bunn acts many parts as he operates SOAR, which is based in Westport, Conn. Though he's logged 10,000 hours pilot Air Force F-105 jet fighters and commercial airlines and races Formula C cars, he talks eagerly of psychology. Sometimes dewy-eyed with psychobabble, other times full of test pilot facts or the bubbly enthusiasm of a cheerleader on game day, Bunn comes on as an evangelist of the stratosphere. "
You know this thing called the flight or fight response?," he began as he explained how SOAR works. "That's sustained man for a long time, I mean, if you saw a tiger, you ran the hell away or else you got real mad and put up a fight. But here's the 20th century. Flying provokes that fight or flight response because it's scary, but when they close that door it interferes with the most fundamental instincts. You can't run, and who are you going to fight? Flying goes against all the most basic instincts."
"See, I don't think people who can't fly are nutty or screwy or anything like that. I think it's very natural. In fact, my students are about the brightest, most sensitive people around. They're in touch with their fears, but they're so imaginative they create vivid movies they begin to think are real. I just try to get people to realize their movies of planes crashing aren't real."
If flying gives you the jitters, you're probably used to hearing that your fears are irrational. After all, aircraft design, weather-forecasting technology, and pilot training have advanced to the point that the change of any single plane's crashing is statistically insignificant.
While flying remains extremely safe, the September 11 attacks and their aftermath have added a layer of legitimacy to what has long been seen as simply a phobia. "Now we can look at that fear as pretty reasonable. Out security is not a sure thing," says Tom Bunn, a former airline pilot who counsels nervous travelers through his Connecticut-based company, SOAR, Inc.
When fear of flying is strictly irrational, Bunn, a licensed therapist, uses psychological techniques such as training clients to associate states in the flight with happy memories in their lives. But if your fear is based on the real (if remote) possibility of an attack, Bunn uses a more direct and rational approach.
Bunn says such improvements as secure cockpit doors, better inspection of carry-on bags, and matching of bags to boarded passengers have improved security. He advises viewing business travel as an acceptable risk of doing business. "Try to look at it like any business decision," he says. Your chance of a safe trip "is so close to 100 percent that if it's an important trip, don't let it stop you." While there's no such thing as absolute peace of mind in a dangerous works, this approach may help you put the risk in perspective.
Bunn adds that you are still statistically much safer in the air than taking to the interstate in a car. Implementation of new security measures such as screening every checked bag, inspecting foot carts, and further sealing access to airports, will reduce the risk even more, he notes. Perhaps, then, fear of flying will go back to being just another phobia."
SOAR, Inc., (www.fearofflying.com) hosts a free online chat Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. EST for nervous fliers.
No one knows how many people are afraid to fly. One study, published in 1982 and perhaps the most comprehensive look at aero-anxiety, puts the number at one out of three. Of this cohort, a small percentage does not fly at all. Most fearful flyers end up flying, but it can be an arduous affair. For me, the tortured experience starts with nightmares several days before a flight, borderline hyperventilation during takeoff, near paralysis during descent and landing. Everyone's fear profile is different. Some people hate turbulence. It only fazes me when it's extreme.
In 1999, I sought treatment. I worked with Captain Tom Bunn, a retired 747 pilot turned therapist who runs SOAR, a clinic for fearful flyers. He uses visualization exercises that promote self-soothing. You chose an image, for instance, your wedding day, the birth of a child, that makes you feel comforted and loved. Several days before you're scheduled to fly, you start running through your expected flight from start to finish, conjuring your personal image whenever you tense up. It might sound hokey, but these visualization exercises helped me immensely, even when I cheated and didn't do them until the night before my flight.
One reason many people don’t enjoy flying is they feel out of control, particularly when they can’t see the ground or the pilot, notes Captain Tom Bunn, SOAR’s founder and director (and the therapist I worked with in 1999). They’re not just afraid of flying itself, they’re nervous about being in an enclosed environment, about possibly feeling claustrophobic or having an anxiety attack. SOAR aims, in Bunn’s words, to “strengthen” fearful flyers, with services and products ranging from phone therapy sessions to DVD or CD sets. Clients work exclusively with Captain Bunn or Lisa Hauptner, a trained therapist who serves at SOAR’s director.
The substance of SOAR’s programs is educational and therapeutic. They go through a flight from start to finish, and include such details as the pilot’s checklist. As for the self-soothing strategies, they include visualization exercises like those I did when I worked with Captain Bunn in 1999. This winter, SOAR introduced a “fast track” program, aimed at people feeling nervous about an impending flight. Instead of waiting for a DVD set to be delivered, or for a phone appointment with either Bunn or Hauptner, clients can get an instant program by logging onto their computers.
SOAR also offers a number of free services, like a weekly chat and conference call on Wednesday evenings, starting at 9 E.S.T., as well as a free email newsletters.
SOAR has worked with over 5,000 nervous flyers. You can find testimonials on the SOAR web site.
by Eloise Salholz, Tessa Namuth, Marsha Zabarsky, Darby Junkin, and Tenley-Ann Jackson, Newsweek
As a little boy, Paul delighted in fashioning model airplanes out of the buoyant, honey-colored wood of the balsa tree. He carried his passion into adulthood, building ever more sophisticated planes that he flew by remote control in a meadow near his San Francisco home. His gracefully executed circles and loops won prizes in several local aviation-club competitions. Happily, since the hospital-equipment technician had to crisscross the country to make repairs, he also enjoyed being a passenger. But shortly after logging his 150,000th air mile, the airplane aficionado went into a tailspin: as his 747 en route from Los Angeles went through a thunderhead, Paul went into a cold-sweat panic. When the plane touched down in San Francisco, he brushed the scare off with a "Glad that's over with" and determined not to let it ground him. But the anxiety recurred and, after a terror-filled flight from Atlanta 18 months ago, Paul vowed to bail out for good. "I felt flying wasn't good for me or my body," says Paul, who to protect his job credibility, does not want his surname used. "I was quitting."
Journey: Paul, 37, is one of the estimated 25 million Americans, according to a 1977 Boeing survey, with a fear of flying. His fellow suffers have included some first-class travelers: Ronald Reagan's political ambitions had to overcome his aerophobia before he could run for governor of sprawling California, and soul singer Aretha Franklin recently canceled several concert dates to avoid leaving terra firma. The aerophobe wears many faces: some run down the aisle screaming, "Stop the plane," as it taxis toward the runway; others endure the trip only through an alcohol- or sedative-induced haze. Many fearful fliers are in fact terrified of being shut up in a confined space thousands of feet above the ground; ex-Oakland Raiders head coach and claustrophobe John Madden, for example, takes Amtrack coast to coast to do his TV broadcasts rather than watch the stewardess close those doors. Aeroanxiety can also encompass fear of the unknown and of losing control. "When people go on an airplane journey, it's very similar to the journey of life," says Pan American pilot Tom Bunn, who has run SOAR (Seminars on Aeroanxiety Relief) workshops . . . .
Aerophobes are now finding it somewhat easier to confront their fears, thanks to the approximately two dozen courses that, like SOAR, have sprung up in recent years . . . . The privately run programs offer instruction in everything from relaxation techniques and emergency procedures to airplane maintenance and aerodynamics, "By the end, participants know why flights are bumpy and why the wings won't fall off," says psychologist Neil Johnson . . . .
Last week, Pan Am pilot Bunn steered 12 white-knuckled SOAR enrollees through a terrifying rite of passage: a one-hour graduation flight from Boston to New York that capped off the five session course. . . . . Business Bob DeBrave, on his first flight ever, was accompanied by his fiancee who promised to give up smoking if he took to the air. . . . .
Paul turned to Dr. Habib Nathan's Phobia Clinic in San Antonio. Over the next six weeks, he talked out his fears in individual and group-therapy sessions, rode up and down escalators and took an exploratory trip out to the airport in preparation for a short hot to Houston. Now, with several local flights under his belt, he's gearing up for a long ride east. "My hands may get a little sweaty," he say. "But that's fine with me. The panic is gone."
A nervous traveler learns to calm her airplane anxiety and rediscovers her inner bird.
By Barbara Benham
Nothing in my childhood suggested I'd hate to fly. My first word was "bird." As a young girl, I was often lost in flights of fantasy, imagining myself a sparrow, a seagull, an owl. Then I got on an airplane. So long, friendly skies. Where, pray tell, was that chirpy music they played in the 1960s movies when airplanes took off and landed? All I heard were roaring engines and mysterious thuds.
I closed my eyes. I knew, just knew, we were going to crash. We never did, but no matter. Twenty-five years and countless round trips later, I was still a wreck during takeoffs and landings, still paying obsessive attention to front-page stories about the latest aviation disaster. I decided to get help. Just then John F. Kennedy, Jr.'s plane went missing. Over the water. In the haze. In the dark. I knew I had made the right decision.
Roaming the Internet, I found Captain Tom Bunn, a retired United Airlines pilot turned social worker who founded SOAR Seminars on Aeroanxiety Relief. Over the phone, Bunn explained the desensitization exercises he uses to help anxious fliers master their fear. His sessions also familiarize folks with aviation training and procedure. This helps, he pointed out, because fearful fliers are highly intelligent, with extremely vivid imaginations. What gets them into trouble often gets them out. Flattered and hopeful, I signed up for a private, two-hour session (at $95 an hour) at his home office in Trumbull, Connecticut.
I planned it to coincide with a business trip to the New York area. I'd be flying up from Washington, D.C. on the shuttle. Because the one-hour flight consists almost entirely of takeoff and landing - my two biggest flight phobias - Bunn encouraged me to begin my training beforehand by listening to a set of five audiotapes totaling three hours, the first section of his Home Study Course, for all additional $95.
Unfortunately, I never found time. So when I boarded the plane for the 59-minute flight, my heart was pounding as I braced myself for the agony of takeoff. Mid-flight, I relaxed for all of two minutes. Then, before I knew it, we were descending. Mv breathing quickened, my stomach tightened. As we approached LaGuardia Airport, I looked down and saw a cemetery. Yikes! I visualized the plane cartwheeling down the runway.
During the week I spent in New York before my SOAR session, I belatedly queued up the tapes. Bunn starts by explaining that fear of flying is pretty commmon, even through air travel has never been safer. About one-third of people report experiencing some anxiety when they fly. The trick is not suppressing it; Stifling your fear only makes it scarier. . . . .
The pilot-trim, sixtysomething therapist met me in the doorway of his split level house with a firm handshake. Gray-haired and hazel-eyed, he was casually dressed in khakis, Dock siders, and a plaid shirt. I settled into a sofa in his office, a library filled with psychology and aviation books; in the corners were plastic toys he uses in his other guise, that of family counselor. As he spoke, Bunn sketched some of the basics of flying on a piece of paper: the straight lines of a runway; the location of transmitters that show the pilot where to land. One key to flying comfortably, he explained, is understanding the pilot's role. Another is learning how to comfort yourself, a skill many people lose in childhood. To rebuild my self-soothing skills, he asked me to find an "anchor" I could use whenever I flew, such as the memory of a positive, heartwarming experience (he suggested my wedding day or the birth of my child). In practice sessions and before a flight, I was to think of it while holding my hand to my heart. I placed my hand on my chest and thought of the wondrous sensation of my three-year-old son running into my arms after a long day.
Next he instructed me to use my anchor in an exercise that he claimed would help me master my fear. The trick is to remember a traumatic flight, but in reverse. Bunn suggested I run the images on a small, black-and-white TV in my head, beginning with landing and ending with takeoff. Every time I felt a surge of anxiety, I was to think of my anchor.
We ran through it once, slowly. I visualized a plane approaching a runway. I choked up. My breathing quickened, my hands went clammy, my ears grew hot, blood pounded in my temples. I though hard of my son, and sure enough the sensations faded and a feeling of calm replaced them. The rest of the televised flight went fine, until takeoff, when the anxiety returned. Again, I used the self- soothing technique, which let me imagine a flawless takeoff into a clear sky.
After we practiced the exercise, Bunn took a brief case history. Had I had any bad flight experiences? . . . . As in any good talk-therapy session, I got everything off my chest. The superstitions about not crashing if a priest or celebrity is on board. . . . The bad dreams. "Don't think of them as an omen," Bunn advised. Landing in bad weather, a fear that has surely become more widespread since the deaths of John Kennedy Jr., his wife, and sister-in-law. "It's not irrational to hate landing in the clouds," Bunn said. He then gave a short lesson on pilot training for flying on instruments when visibility is poor.
The next day, I walked through the canyons of Manhattan playing the black-and-white TV exercise in my head. Small screen, scenes from a flight, anxiety, self-soothing with my anchor, thoughts of my little guy. Sometimes I added my own soundtrack, that chirpy plane music. I didn't care if anyone wondered why on earth I was saying the Pledge of Allegiance, holding my hand to my heart.
The following morning, I caught the shuttle back to D.C. Was it only my vivid imagination, or was I calmer than usual? I loaded up on free magazines and boarded. No pounding heart. No tightening chest. I felt as though I'd just had a massage. Was I cured? Should I trust me feelings? I decided not to analyze it. I sat back in my seat. The captain greeted us. "It's a beautiful day for flying," he said. And it was.
Barbara Benham has written for the Washington Post Magazine and Travel & Leisure.
Condensed version of an article by Mary Ann Treger for Style Magazine
By Mary Ann Treger
When Thanksgiving rolls around, most people think turkey. I think terror. The kind I feel every time I board a plane heading to my family gathering. It may be un-chic to admit, but I have a fear of flying. No, not the Erica Jong version; mind, unfortunately, isn't any fun. While my jitters haven't prevented me from jetting to places as far away as Mauritius and Moscow, I can't board a bird without downing enough vodka to cause a shortage in Russia or popping a Xanax or two (Whee! Talk about flying.)
Pre-flight, I turn into a meteorologist. I'm glue to The Weather Channel at least a week prior to my perceived fatal event. Bad weather could mean the most horrible, most terrifying of life's experiences: air turbulence.
Traveling over the holidays causes extra weather worries -- the possibility of ice and snow. But then, summer means thunderstorms, spring, heavy rains and fall, oh those winds!There is no season of relief.
In the interest of preserving my liver -- not to mention any sanity -- I decided to search for a cure. I found lots of information, plus a few treatment options.
The first thing I learned is that I am not alone. . . . On a typical flight, some one in five passengers is a nail-biter, and the numbers are increasing. According to a recent Gallup Poll, 49 percent of adults have less confidence in flying today than they did a few years ago.
According to Dr. Arnold Barnett, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who compiles statistics for the FAA, "A traveler in the First World who took one flight a day could, on average, go 31,000 years until succumbing to a fatal crash." I like his odds.
My first SOS goes out to SOAR, Seminars On Aeroanxiety Relief, based in Connecticut. Created in 1982 by Tom Bunn, a retired captain for United Airlines who also happens to be a licensed therapist, this at-home course includes 13 two-sided tapes, a workbook and two hours of individual counseling by Bunn, over the phone, for $390. They guarantee it'll work or you get your money back. How can I lose?
The course is divided into three parts; Psychology, which focuses on fear and fear management; Aviation, how planes fly -- the incredible safety standards and statistics; and Practice, putting together everything you have learned. It takes about four to six weeks of daily 15-minute sessions to complete. In between, you fill out questionnaires and return them to SOAR; and they, in turn, send back comments, and Bunn ends the course with a two-hour one-on-one phone conference.
by Steve Strunsky, The Messenger Gazette
Bridgewater - Mill LaMarca's honeymoon in Bermuda was ruined 11 years ago because of her fear of flying.
"I cried and screamed the whole way," she said, slightly embarrassed at the memory of that fateful trip, which left her worried throughout her honeymoon about the return flight home.
But when she and her husband, Robert, planned a second honeymoon this month, Mrs. LaMarca vowed this time not to let the idea of cruising at an altitude of 30,000 feet get her down.
The LaMarcas left May 14 on a two-week trip to Paradise Island, the Bahamas, to celebrate their 11th wedding anniversary, and although they have taken driving vacations to Florida and elsewhere, until now, Mrs. LaMarca's phobia had grounded hopes of dream vacations overseas.
"Basically, I can't feel comfortable at 30,000 feet in the air," she said in an interview before leaving. "To me it's not natural. I know my fear is irrational, but I can't help that. I know its safe to fly, you can tell me the statistics, but it doesn't matter."
When her husband took a job with London-based Barclay's Bank, requiring him to make occasional trans-Atlantic flights, she decided it was time to overcome her fear.
To do that, she contacted Captain Thomas Bunn, something of a pioneer in the field of "aeroanxiety," as he calls it.
Capt. Bunn is a former Air Force fighter pilot who now flies for United Airlines. He has combined his 23 years experience as a commercial pilot with a batchelor's degree in psychology and a master''s in clinical social work to develop a program known as SOAR, or Seminars on Aeroanxiety Relief.
The program combines therapy sessions and a thorough tour of a cockpit, visits to local airports to watch take-offs and landings, and listening to cassettes at home.
Public Radio International's "The Savvy Traveler."
Public Radio International's "The Savvy Traveler" featured SOAR on its October 24, and October 31, 1997 broadcasts hosted by Rudy Maxa, a Washington-based colunist for msnbc.com, and contributing writer for Worth and Forbes magazines.
The broadcast was produced by Michelle Kholos, winner of a Massachusetts Broadcasters Honorable Mention for her documentary "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., His Legacy Today."
Rudy: Last week during the question and answer segent of our program I had an unexpected question about flying from our Associate Producer Michelle Kholos. As it turns out Michelle is afraid of flying . . . now we have a Savvy Traveler staff member afraid of flying. So I've got Michelle here with me and on the phone we have Captain Tom Bunn a former airline captain and the creator fifteen years ago of a fear of flying cassette course called SOAR which stands for Seminars On Aeroanxiety Relief. Now Captain Bunn we've got your course for Michelle but she has to get on a plane this weekend so we though we could have a little chat here to help her speed the process along. First of all, Michelle, tell us exactly what it is you're afraid of, about flying.
Michelle: I am afraid of turbulence. I don't mind takeoff and I don't mind landing - I don't love 'em, but I don't mind them. But it's bouncing around in the air unexpectedly that terrifies me.
Tom: Well first Michelle, let me tell you that the airplanes are built to take not only the amount of turbulence that you get in ordinary flight but about five times that much, so structurally . . . strengthwise . . . the airplane can handle it. What we are really talking about is psychologically even if you know the airplane can handle it, is it still a problem for you?
Michelle: I don't like the way it feels.
Tom: I would imagine it has something to do with the fact that you are up high and you think if something goes wrong, you are going to have a long way to fall.
Rudy: That brings us to the question of what us fear is flying usually about . . . is it someone who is afraid of dying, or it someone who is afraid of losing control, or both?
Tom: The problem with flying is it puts you in a situation where you have no control.
Rudy: So people are afraid . . . they are afraid of losing control and afraid of dying as a result.
Rudy: All right. If you took an average commercial plane . . . let's say there are 250 seats on a plane, Captain Bunn, how many . . . what percentage of the people in that plane do you think suffer from some degree of fear of flying?
Tom: Well, on the plane itself, I'm not sure, but Boeing did a survey and they said that about one person out of three has a problem with flying and of those people half won't fly at all, and the other half fly with great difficulty.
Rudy: All right. So what can a fearful person do in advance of a flight to be less fearful?
Tom: Well, the first thing I would suggest they do is they take their time about getting on the plane. A lot of people will rush to the airport to try to block the feelings from their awareness and then suddenly they realize, "Oh my God, What have I gotten myself into!" It's much better to make sure that you take your time and do things very deliberately and try to keep your stress under control throughout the whole day. And then secondly, my suggestion is, get on the airplane early and go straight up to the cockpit . . . introduce yourself to the captain . . . let the captain know . . . don't be cutesy . . . just tell the captain, "Look, I know that flying is OK because you guys do it, but I don't feel good about it." And then just see what happens. You're going to find that you've got someone who really does understand how you feel.
Rudy: One of the clichés of flying is it's the safest mode of transportation. More people get killed by lightening every year than die in plane accidents. Is this a true cliché?
Tom: It is true. You're actually safer if you are on an airplane than staying home at night and sleeping in your own bed, but it doesn't feel that way. Rudy: OK. So, Mich . . .
Michelle: Wait a minute.
Rudy: Go ahead.
Michelle: I'm sorry. I just want to understand this. It's safer for me to be on a plane than to be sleeping in my own home?
Tom: Sure it is! That's actually the statistics.
Michelle: I can't believe that.
Tom: I know. All right, maybe let's try instead of pushing it that far . . . just think about the risks you take every day. You see, we tend to think that the things that we every day are totally safe. Everything you do has a certain amount of risk. Flying is just another risk but it happens to be a smaller risk than almost anything you do during the day.
Rudy: Are you feeling better Michelle?
Michelle: I'm feeling a little better . . . I'm just wondering if there's anything I can do on the plane. I know that you've got some meditations in your tape course and I haven't had a chance to run through them just yet, but . . . you know . . . any little bits of advice while I'm actually sitting there on the plane and we're bumping along.
Tom: Sure. Most people are very visual. They make pictures in their mind and the pictures are so vivid it gets them in trouble. Get yourself a dozen magazines with big splashy ads. They are intended to impact you. You might even want to bring a Walkman with some tapes, but visually . . . if you can block the visual imagination you can stay out of trouble, and you can do that by giving yourself some real to look at.
Rudy: Captain, I thank you for joining us. The good news is of course Michelle will be not so afraid of flying. The bad news is she's going to be afraid to sleep in her own bed at night.
Tom: Oh, my goodness. Sorry I did that . . . we'll have a new course for that.
Rudy: Thanks Captain, and Michelle, have a lovely flight this weekend. The following fear of flying segment was aired on "The Savvy Traveler " on October 31,1997.
Rudy: . . . fear of flying is high on the list of travel worries. As a matter of fact, according to a Boeing study one out of three Americans is afraid to fly. Not the least of whom is Savvy Traveler's Michelle Kholos. Well, we couldn't have that. So we enrolled Michelle in a course designed to help her get over her fear, and now we're putting her on a plane to see if it worked. We join Michelle in a boarding area at Los Angeles International Airport.
Michelle: Well, I followed the course instruction and arrived early so I wouldn't be stressed out before getting on the plane. Naturally, my flight's delayed which is giving me lots of extra time to panic, so I'm just sitting here trying not to imagine all the terrifying reasons the plane is delayed. Oh, good. It looks like we're just about ready to board. Now, once I get on the plane, the first thing I'm supposed to do is meet the flight crew.
Captain: My name's Mike. I'm the captain of this flight.
Michelle: And you're feeling good today . . . you're feeling cofortable . . . ready to fly ... .
Captain: I feel good every day. Sure.
Michelle: My biggest problem is turbulence. So, where do you recommend is the best place to sit when it's turbulent?
Captain: Generally, it's smoother towards the front.
Michelle: So when we're hitting that turbulence, do you know that it's coming?
Captain: Most of the time, yeah, it is predictable and you can avoid a lot of it. In the winter time sometimes there's just not much you can do . . . it's bumpy at all the altitudes.
Michelle: But there's nothing for me to worry about when we're bouncing around?
Captain: No, no. There really isn't. The planes are safe.
Michelle: Well, what's your advice for someone like me who can get spooked up in the air?
Captain: What I usually say is we all have families, too. Our lives are in this airplane, too, so we're not in any hurry to do anything scary or dangerous.
Michelle: I actually find a lot of comfort in that. When I fly my life is a multitude of unsavory scenarios each ending with my plane crashing into an uncharted mountain somewhere. Knowing that the captain isn't a kamikaze pilot with a death wish eliminates at least one plot line.
P.A. announcement: "The flight attendants are coming around to see make sure that your seat belts are fastened, tray tables in their full upright position, all carry on luggage completely stowed . . . ."
Michelle: OK. Seat belt . . . check. Gum . . . check. Magazine . . . check. This looks like a nice group of people, not the kind of group that should die tragically in an airplane crash. OK. The plane is vibrating. We're starting to go . . . . Uhhhh. Up we go. OK. We're going up. We're definitely going up. OK. We're up! We're off the ground. (Sigh) Oh my God, we're bumping so much. All right. OK. I think we're leveling out a little bit. I'm trying to keep my mind occupied with my list of statistics. The stairs in my home, if I had stairs, are ten times more dangerous than flying. Being in my car is two-hundred and sixty-six times more dangerous than flying. I'm starting to feel better until Robert my seat-mate puts in his two cents.
Robert: I almost died in a plane crash, so
Michelle: You did?
Robert: We didn't crash, but the plane went out of control for about forty seconds.
Michelle: And you still get back in planes?
Robert: Well, it was a prop plane like a little Cessna 182. This is like different. This is very, very different.
Michelle: Robert's experience is not typical, I keep telling myself . . . I need some reassurance. Betty Tomavich is our head flight attendant. So much for reassurance. Surprising, Betty tells me she also gets afraid sometimes.
Betty: I do. During turbulence.
Michelle: Turbulence bothers you, too?
Betty: Uh huh. Yeah. Michelle How do you keep yourself going?
Betty: Well, I know that I'm safer up here than I am in my car. I know that. That's an intellectual thing. It's like going over a bumpy road. And the airplane is quite capable of going over a bumpy road, just like a car. Boeing does a very good job with these airplanes. They're pretty smart people, you know.
Michelle: OK. That makes me feel better. And I've been doing the recommended relaxation exercises, rotating my neck, letting my arms and legs hang without any tension. I remember what Tom Bunn, a fear of flying expert, told me last week.
Tom: Most people are very visual. They make pictures in their mind and the pictures are so vivid it gets them in trouble. Get yourself a dozen magazines with big splashy ads. They are intended to impact you. You might even want to bring a Walkman with some tapes, but visually . . . if you can block the visual imagination you can stay out of trouble, and you can do that by giving yourself some real to look at.
Michelle: Check. Since my goal is distraction I've indulged in the guilty pleasure of People Magazine. It probably wasn't too smart getting the John Denver edition, but this one does have funny pictures of JFK junior. That should keep me occupied for a while. Well, I can't believe this. We're actually coming in for a landing. I think I'm going to survive. Oh, God. It just occurred to me . . . I'm going to have do this again on Sunday. Here we go. We're down. Thank you. The ground. How I love the ground.
Robert: That was the most turbulent flight to San Francisco I've ever been on by far. That was more turbulence and it was bumpier on takeoff and landing than I've ever seen.
Michelle: There Robert again. I don't know what he's talking about. It wasn't so bad. Really.
Music: I just want to fly. Put your arms around me baby . . .
Michelle: Hugging the ground in Oakland, I'm Michelle Kholos for the Savvy Traveler.
Rudy: Michelle is safely back home now and already planning her next trip so it seems to have worked.
The Savvy Traveler is produced by the University of Southern California.
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