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  • Trip Report: AUS-BNA-BOS-BWI-AUS

    It had been three years since I had flown and I found myself a few weeks before a wonderful vacation planned for Boston ... with a lot of anticipatory anxiety. I continued to work on my Strengthening Exercise in the days before the trip. The night before I could hardly sleep I was so wound up. As I mentioned in another post, I was mad at myself because I knew SOAR works. I have been using it successfully for more than 10 years now. Yet, as Capt. Tom pointed out in my other post ... I was no longer desensitized after not flying for three years.

    The morning of the trip arrived and I can't say enough good things about the Southwest Airlines gate agents. On the AUS-BNA leg and BNA-BOS leg, agents at both airports gave me a pre-boarding pass which allowed me to visit with the pilots. It was a great day to fly as they all told me and they were right. I could probably count on my hand the number of bumps we had between Austin, TX, and Boston. The pilots were accommodating and friendly and encouraging. I gave "plugs" for SOAR and Capt. Tom to all showing them my letter from Capt. Bunn explaining that I am a recovering nervous flyer. The only issue occurred on my second leg from BNA-BOS. Probably about 10 minutes into the flight, I got that panicky feeling of "oh my god, I'm really high up and I can't get out of here!" This has happened to me before but it took this experience for me to realize it was something I needed to add in to my Strengthening Exercise routine. The panic lasted a few minutes and I was able to calm myself down using 5-4-3-2-1. The irony of all of this is that I love weather and I am fascinated by planes, so when I'm feeling confident and calm in that cabin, I love looking out the window. Sure enough the ride up the East Coast to Boston was phenomenal! The coastline and the ships and sailboats and what not ... just wonderful views.

    I knew I needed some work after spending our time in Boston, so I set up a 20-minute "tune up" with Capt. Tom the day before we flew back. He helped me work out the issue of "oh my god we're so high up and even if I wanted to, I can't get out of here." Spent some time on visualizing the cartoon character reacting that way and using my attunement moment to bring it together in a calming way. So ... the morning of our flight back I see that storms are in the forecast for Baltimore. Not going to lie, I was nervous. But I kept telling myself to trust the process, trust God, and trust my SOAR training and the professionals handling our flight. Gate agent in BOS was helpful and got me to visit with the pilots. I asked them if we would beat the storms into BWI and they both nodded affirmatively and said "oh yeah, no problem." Sure enough we did and it was a nice, quick flight with lots of cool clouds to see. Some thing going back to AUS ... gate agents in BWI preboarded me and I had a great chat with the two pilots. They showed me our flight path on their iPads and talked to me about the radar in the nose cone of the plane. The captain was clear there would be some bumps about 20 minutes west of BWI as we flew over a front. He also indicated we would have some bumps coming into AUS due to the heat. Otherwise he said it should be nice. Well, he was spot on. That is exactly how the flight went. We did have some bumps and a few minor "jostles" as we flew through and over that front and the rain/storms. But we did not fly through any storms as they weaved around the bad stuff. Again, the view outside was pretty cool to me. I still have a little work to do in the area of turbulence but I'm confident it can be handled through the Strengthening Exercise.

    When we landed in AUS, I poked my head into the flight deck and the pilots encouraged me to come in and chat. So we did for a few minutes. Great guys! I thanked them for their time and they said that they know of a few fellow pilots who are afraid of heights. When I told them how fascinated I am with weather and aviation, they said "hey, maybe you should consider taking flying lessons and getting a license!" They also told me they wished they could have allowed me to sit with them during the flight, so I could have seen now "normal" things are. So, all in all, it was really great. Perfect? Oh no, but I know now what small things I need to work on for next time. And I need to make sure that "next time" isn't too far away.

    Thank you Capt. Tom for all you do for us recovering nervous flyer folk. I hope my account here gives some fellow recovering nervous flyers encouragement and hope. Y'all take care!

  • #2
    Great post. But I want to make sure readers know about something you came up with to deal with the feeling of being too high up. You said you envision a track that starts at the runway, then climbs up to cruise altitude. The track goes on from there until reaching the spot where descent begins. The plane then follows the track down to the runway at the destination airport.

    I like this idea because there is real truth in it. Flights are planned by a licensed dispatcher. He or she lays out the entire flight: the takeoff, the climb, the cruise, the descent, and the landing. The path the plane takes has to be established long before takeoff. For example, the dispatcher finds out how many passengers are expected and how much cargo will be carried. The dispatcher has to determine how much fuel is needed to get to the destination. Extra fuel has to be added in reserve. If the weather isn't perfect, a way to get to an alternate airport has to be figured out, along with how much fuel is needed to get there. If holding is a possibility, fuel for that has to be added. Since fuel has weight, the weight of the fuel, together with the passenger and cargo weights, have to be added to the weight of the plane when it is empty. Now the dispatcher knows how much the plane will weigh when beginning its takeoff roll. Considering the weight of the plane, the level part of the track - the runway - has to be long enough to the plane to reach flying speed (plus a 15% cushion) and still have 10% of runway left in reserve.

    When you appreciate all the planning that happens before the pilots even check-in for the flight, this concept of a track that must exist before the plane leaves the ground really fits. I suggest others try this and see if visualizing a track to hold the plane in the air helps.


    • #3
      Thank you Capt. Tom for including mention of the "track" concept. Between that, watching the free videos about the "Jello" analogy, and knowing and accepting the laws of physics and aerodynamics (realizing that at 500 mph the plane is compelled to go in the direction it's pointed ... it all added up to really help me. I'm already eager to plan our next trip and get me back on an airplane. Thanks again!


      • #4
        Wow. Thanks for sharing your experience. I can't believe there are pilots afraid of heights!
        ​​​​​Is the attunement part when you picture something comforting like a face or a pet?


        • #5
          Hi JRod. See

          Attunement? When with a person who is non-competitive and non-judgmental, they give off signals that calm us, signaling us we are emotionally and physically safe in their presence. Those signals slow the heart rate and breathing rate, and provide general calming. Other links inhibit the release of stress hormones: nursing, holding a newborn, sexual afterglow, sexual foreplay,, and pets.


          • #6
            Thank you for providing the link about high places. No doubt that the no where to escape and the need to endure the anxiety cross my mind. It is embedded in my memory. Fearing the fear.


            • #7
              For me, JRod, that is the thing ... the fear of the fear. My worst fear is to get that panicky, scared feeling while on a flight and not being able to do anything about it. Interestingly enough, I am a weather geek and also am fascinated by planes and aviation. Intellectually I know flying is very safe. Takeoff, landing, noises ... that doesn't bug me. Once we're up in the air and I'm cool, I love watching the weather (if any) outside the plane and just get a thrill about the miracle of modern aviation. But it is that fear of "what if I feel that way again?" that creates anxiety for me. Fortunately the Strengthening Exercise and its multiple phases has enabled me to work through that. I'm telling you that prior to SOAR, I needed a boatload of Xanax just to get me to walk on a plane. And once I took it, I was a zombie the rest of the day and useless and annoying to my wife or anyone near me.