Fear of Flying - SOAR
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In The Media

SOAR frequently appears in the media, on TV, online and in many newspapers and publications. View and read some of them.


Articles and broadcast transcripts:

Germanwings Plane Crash
Time Magazine

What you need to know to survive an emergency landing
Fox News

Girl, 7, Who Walked Away from Plane Crash Had Survival Skills: Family
NBC News

Ungrounded: Beating Flying Phobia
Valley Advocate

BBC Travel tweeted an article written by Captain Tom Bunn

After a Plane Starts to Fall Apart Mid-Air, Travelers Wonder: How Safe Are We, Really?
Yahoo! Travel

Search & Rescue Malaysia Airlines - March 2014
Fox News

Malaysia Airlines Incident - March 2014

How to overcome your fear of flying
Fox News

Captain Tom Bunn interviewed regarding Asiana Incident

After tragedies, how can an anxious flyer find the courage to set foot on a plane?
The Guardian

This is why you’re afraid of flying—and how to get over it

How people deal with a fear of flying
Market Watch

9 Ways to Ease a Fear of Flying
Condé Nast

Flight Anxiety After 2014 Air Disasters: One Pilot’s Opinion

5 tips for flying with with infants and kids

High anxiety: Fliers deal with phobia Fear of flying: 'Nothing bad has to happen for people to be fearful'
Tulsa World

TV stars, travel bloggers not immune to fear of flying

Despite recent crashes, flying fears can be overcome
NBC News

Paying for upgrades under the tray-table
Marketplace Business

A Flight School for Letting Go of Fear
New York Times

Overcoming fear of flying

Fight High-Flying Fears

Afraid to Fly? Check Your Baggage Here
USNews Health News

How Flight-Phobic Executives Face Their Plane Fear Head-On
The Wall Street Journal

Fear of Flying
Style Magazine

Aero anxiety, SOAR soothes their fear of flying
The Boston Globe

Business Travel
American Express business publication

Flight Made Right
The Hartford Courant

Extracts of an article on AOL Travel
by Barbara Benham, a former SOAR client

Fright or Flight
Working Woman

Fear of Flying? You can get over it
Paul Abercrombie

High Anxiety
The Messenger Gazette

Unfriendly Skies

The Savvy Traveler
Public Radio International

Some articles condensed


Radio Interviews:

Interview with George Nolly
Host of "Ready for Takeoff"

Interview with Kelli Walker
"Not Another Anxiety Show"

Interview with Maureen Anderson
Host of Doing What Works.

Doug McIntyre Show
KABC Interview Captain Tom Bunn

Germanwings Plane Crash
BBC World Service Discussion

Why are people afraid of flying?
WRVO Interview Captain Tom Bunn

The Career Clinic - Maureen Anderson
Interview with Captain Tom Bunn

Courage Cocktail - WCOM FM
Interview with Lee Anne McClymont

Health Radio
Interview with Danika Quinn

KIRO radio in Seattle, Washington Read more
Interview with Rachel Belle

To overcome fear of flying, think about sex...


ABC, The Wall Street Journal, Good Morning America, USA Today, The New York Times, The Star-Ledger, CNN, The Boston Globe, The Plain Dealer

CNN Features SOAR
Play this video - CNN Features SOAR CNN Features SOAR
Unable to fly for 18 years, Laura triumphs over her fear of flying. CNN follows her from start to finish as she is able to take her first flight after doing SOAR – even on a turboprop! Also listen to a radio interview with Laura.
Fox News - How to overcome your fear of flying
Play this video - Fox News - How to overcome your fear of flying How to overcome your fear of flying
A video clip and written article (see below) describing how Captain Tom Bunn is able to help clients overcome their fear of flying.
SOAR For the iPod, iPhone, or Laptop

Play this video SOAR For the iPod, iPhone, or Laptop SOAR Featured on Fox 29 News
Not only can you do the SOAR Program "on the go", but you can take it with you when you fly. Using your portable device, Capt Tom can coach you through your flight and show you what is happening in the cockpit.

SOAR in the Media
Play this video - SOAR in the Media SOAR in the Media
Since SOAR was founded in 1982, Regis, Good Morning America, CNN, FOX, Newsweek, The New York Times, and other media have focused on the automatic control of feelings SOAR provides.
SOAR in the Media
Play this video - SOAR features on Fox 5 News SOAR Featured on Fox 5 News
Features an interview with Captain Tom Bunn.
SOAR in the Media
Play this video - SOAR features on Fox 5 News SOAR Featured on WXII 12 News
Nicole's Fear of Flying

Ready for Takeoff

Captain Tom Bunn talks to George Nolly

George Nolly is an airline flight instructor having also been a Captain. He has conducted airline safety audits for the for International Air Transport Association on carriers throughout the globe.

Listen to Radio Discussion


Not Another Anxiety Show

Captain Tom Bunn talks to Kelli Walker

Kelli Walker is a registered nurse, Certified Health and Wellness Coach, and former agoraphobe.

Listen to Radio Discussion



Captain Tom Bunn talks to Maureen Anderson

Maureen Anderson is host of Doing What Works -- on her radio talk show she talks about fixing things you don't like about your life.

Listen to Radio Discussion



Captain Tom Bunn talks on KABC Doug McIntyre Show

Doug McIntyre Show that aired September 18th on KABC Radio, Los Angeles CA

Listen to Radio Discussion



Germanwings Plane Crash

Captain Tom Bunn is a former pilot, licensed therapist, and founder of SOAR, a program that provides treatment for the fear of flying.

Pilots really do deserve your trust

Though it has happened only once in recent years, once is all it takes to destroy trust. In aviation, we know failures are possible. Safety depends on always being prepared and having a backup system for anything that might go wrong during flight. Yet European airlines were not prepared for what happened on Germanwings Flight 9525.

In the United States, when a pilot needs to leave the cockpit, a flight attendant is called in. If the pilot at the controls were to disable the cockpit door’s electronic keypad, the flight attendant could open the door by hand. This simple measure would have made the Germanwings tragedy impossible. This protocol is now being rushed into place.

Intellectually, we can understand that this problem does not exist in the United States. We can recognize that it is being fixed elsewhere. Emotionally, though, the unspeakable has happened. A pilot appears to have intentionally flown himself and 149 passengers to their deaths. Now that this has happened, how can any pilot be trusted? Pilots will be occupationally profiled. We will be viewed with suspicion.

We pilots have lost something that will take time to regain. But there is no need for increased anxiety if the flying public understands this cannot happen again. When we ponder an upcoming flight, it’s as if we open a file folder in our mind titled, “Awful Things That Could Happen To Me If I Fly.” How many crashes does the folder contain? When it comes to anxiety, the fewer the better. Each disaster we bring to mind triggers the release of stress hormones. The more stress hormones, the more anxiety. This crash does not belong in the folder. Once the two-person cockpit rule is fully implemented, a tragedy like this cannot happen again.

To avoid unnecessarily anxiety, reduce the amount of stress hormone released when you think of flying. Cull out the crashes in your file folder that are unrelated to your flying experience. The crash of an airline you first heard of when it crashed doesn’t belong in your folder. A crash in some part of the world where you never fly doesn’t belong in your folder. Nor do crashes of military or private planes.

In time, pilots will regain your confidence. It won’t require a public-relations campaign. Renewed confidence will come via the real thing, such as Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s “Miracle on the Hudson,” or Frontier Airlines Captain Gerhard Bradner’s ordering pizza for 157 passengers when facing a lengthy departure delay due to weather, or JetBlue Captain Scott Burke’s landing at LAX with a cocked nose gear.

Pilots really do deserve your trust. If you’re anxious about the pilots on your flight, ask the gate agent to let you board early. Once onboard, ask a flight attendant to check with the captain to see if you can visit the cockpit while passengers are boarding and say, “Hello.” A few moments face-to-face will tell you everything you need to know.




Captain Tom Bunn talks on BBC World Service "Have Your Say"

A discussion about psychology and mental health in relation to the Germanwings plane crash

Listen to Radio Discussion




Valley Advocate


Ungrounded: Beating Flying Phobia

By James Heflin - May 6, 2015

On a recent Saturday, I stared out an airport window at an Airbus 330, emblazoned with green and the Aer Lingus shamrock. For the first time in a long time, I was staring at a plane I was about to get on. I did a lot of work to get there. Still, it was a moment of commitment a lot like steadying oneself to jump from a crane with a bungee cord attached. So yeah, no drama.

Fear of flying — a very common phobia, affecting as many as one in three people — is, like most phobias, tough to cure. Unlike most phobias, it comes with a massive hurdle most of us can’t avoid, one which makes it even harder to cure. If you’re afraid of, say, heights, you can take advantage of exposure-based therapy, in which you expose yourself to ever-increasing heights. Start with a step-stool, work up to skyscrapers over a long time.

But flying? Unless you have access to loads of cash and your own airport, you’re probably going to have a tough time going to a boarding area, then sitting on a parked airliner, then taxiing in an airliner without taking off, and so on. Even if you manage that, there’s still something irrevocable about taking flight — once the wheels leave the ground, you have to go up for a while to come back down. It’s such a leap that a lot of people just can’t manage to make it.

Even virtual reality exposure is just that — virtual. The real thing is qualitatively different.

So what’s a white-knuckler to do?

There’s always talk therapy, a pretty major commitment of its own. You can talk for years about how it feels to commit yourself to an airborne metal tube, wax eloquent about the tsunami of terror evoked by the shutting of the boarding door. And at the end of it, you might still find yourself white-knuckled in a chair in a boarding area, unable to step foot on a plane.

If you’ve been particularly traumatized by an airborne experience, EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprogramming) is an oft-recommended treatment methodology. A lot of folks have reported success with the method in dealing with such tough-to-address matters as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. All the same, even if you’ve been freed of some of the effects of trauma, that doesn’t automatically translate to freedom from phobia, since it’s about reaction in the moment. And again, launching into thin air can be a rough way to test one’s success. Failure ain’t pretty, and it’s hard to get partially on an airplane.

I like to travel. I’ve been to Europe many times, even worked there for a couple of brief stretches. I wasn’t willing to never go back. So I made getting rid of my flight phobia a mission. I talked to experts, and I gave several methods a try. Some bore obvious fruit — I even got rid of some of the jarring effects of a true near-disaster I experienced in a small plane. Still, nothing convinced me I was ready to really step over the threshold from jetway to actual jet.

For me, the final push onto the Airbus came courtesy of Tom Bunn, former airline captain, psychologist, and head of the SOAR fear of flying program. Bunn has spent 30-plus years trying to develop the best possible method of treatment for flying phobia. His studies brought him to an unusual approach — in short, short-circuiting the amygdalae, which are more or less the brain’s alarm centers. For phobic flyers, they’re more alarmist than merely alarm. When something frightening or just out of the ordinary happens, the amygdalae deliver a jolt of stress hormones, putting us on high alert. Most of the time, we figure out that what’s happening isn’t dangerous, and the hormones subside.

It’s a tough slog to counteract an alarmist amygdala. But Bunn’s clients are often successful, and he’s become a go-to expert on fear of flying as a result.

Most people, Bunn says, don’t really know what’s going on internally when they fly — the regulation of stress hormones just happens automatically. An anxious flyer, on the other hand, is thinking about how to control the perceived threat. “In the air you don’t have anything you can do,” Bunn says. “On the ground, your backup is escape. In the air, you can’t do that, either. If you don’t have automatic calming, you don’t have much possibility to control the situation. There are two main troublesome times — turbulence and takeoff. They’re one shot of stress hormones after another.”

Bunn says that many of the usual approaches — things like breathing and relaxation exercises — just aren’t sufficient to counteract the build-up of so many jolts of stress. Panic is eventually just one bump, noise, or frightening thought away. Bunn also doesn’t recommend the preferred poison of many an anxious flyer: Xanax. That anti-anxiety medication can, for some, blunt the effects of being aboard a plane, but Bunn says it has an additional, quite detrimental effect. Use it, and you don’t gain experience with the reality of flying. Fly with it and then without it, and Bunn says your panic might well be even worse.

Bunn instead touts what he calls “the Strengthening Exercise.” It’s an attempt to circumvent the over-reactive amygdala enjoyed by fearful flyers. Instead of counteracting stress hormones, Bunn’s method aims to prevent their release in the first place. There are times when the amygdala’s reactivity is short-circuited, times when, via romance or empathic connection, our guard is totally down. Link flying with those moments, and the amygdala never gets the “panic” message. Regulation becomes automatic, a matter of preparation, not in-the-moment coping.

That’s not all there is to Bunn’s approach — he augments it with in-depth knowledge of aviation, with disarming visualizations of turbulence and other flight occurrences, and with a rather extraordinary level of personal availability to his clients. He’s also a big proponent of a surprisingly simple addition to all of that: meeting the pilots.

That offers, he explains, “a sense of control by proxy,” and a sense of the pilots’ competence. “We sense whether or not we are safe with another person both via conscious assessment of the person and by signals the person unconsciously transmits and we unconsciously receive,” Bunn adds. “The signals indicate whether we are physically safe with the person. If we sense that we are physically safe, the vagus nerve is stimulated, slowing the heart rate and activating the parasympathetic — the calming — nervous system. This overrides to some degree the stress hormones, setting aside the urge to run or fight.”

Bunn’s Strengthening Exercise felt right to me, like an approach that might actually get me on a plane. I tried several methods to uproot my phobia, so I can’t say for sure if any one thing alone did the trick. But on that recent Saturday, the boarding call came, and I switched off a video of Capt. Bunn on my phone. I’d brought his method with me, gone all in. I grabbed my bags and rolled onto the jetway.

A most curious thing happened. What had before seemed like a walk to a firing squad was just a stroll down a metal hallway. Stepping on the plane felt like stepping into my own living room. The shutting of the door — occasion for brain-splitting angst in days past — had no effect at all. Taking off didn’t even increase my heart rate. Bunn’s Strengthening Exercise seemed to have done its job.

As I watched the tops of the clouds fall ever farther behind, I couldn’t help but smile. I was a hard case. I stayed out of the air for years. But here I was, calmly sipping seltzer at 32,000 feet, heading to Ireland. All that work, finally, paid off.

It’s a thorny problem, flying phobia. It doesn’t go to bed quietly, but now I know: it can be beaten.•






BBC Travel tweeted an article written by Captain Tom Bunn

Why people have aviophobia (fear of flying) and how they can overcome it

View Tweet



Yahoo Travel

After a Plane Starts to Fall Apart Mid-Air, Travelers Wonder: How Safe Are We, Really?

October 14, 2014

Worried looking couple on plane

(Photo: Corbis Images)

These are stressful times for air travelers.

On an American Airlines flight Monday from San Francisco to Dallas, cabin panels pulled apart from the walls of the plane, terrifying passengers and causing the Boeing 757-200 to make an emergency landing. According to the Associated Press, American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said the incident was the result of a blown air duct and posed no danger to passengers.

But there's nothing scarier than seeing your plane start to fall apart in the sky — especially on the heels of this summer's high-profile aviation incidents, like the tragic shootdown of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine on July 17 and an Air Algerie flight with 116 people on board that crashed in Mali on July 24.

With plane tragedies hitting the news with alarming regularity, it’s easy to see why those who already have a healthy fear of flying are absolutely on pins and needles these days. 

"People afraid of flying try to deal with their anxiety by keeping it out of mind," says former airline pilot Tom Bunn, a licensed therapist and founder of SOAR — a program that helps people get over their fear of flying. But he notes that the willful ignorance “aviophobes” practice when they don’t have to fly goes away once they have a flight coming up, and seeing this recent string of flight tragedies can be terrifying. “They think if things happen all at once there’s some meaning there — that flying is getting more dangerous, otherwise this wouldn’t be happening. They’re paying attention, and it absolutely drives them up the wall.”

Some travelers try to mitigate their fear of flying by getting as much information as they can about their upcoming flights. For passengers in this situation, here’s what Bunn thinks they need to know — and what they don’t:

Flying Is Incredibly Safe 

Here’s the time when plane experts generally start quoting the famous line Superman says to people he’s rescued from aerial perils: “Statistically speaking … it’s still the safest way to travel.”

Bunn has no problem doing just that. He points out that the U.S. is experiencing a stunning streak of plane safety. “When I started flying in Pan Am in 1965, the U.S. never had a year where we didn’t have a fatal crash. Sometimes two. Finally in the late 1970s we had a year without a fatal crash, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is amazing!’ Now, we haven’t had a fatal crash of a major U.S. airliner in over ten years.” 

But “statistically speaking” doesn’t work for people terrified at hurtling through the air at hundreds of miles per hour and tens of thousands of feet in the air inside a thin cylinder. “To say flying has one chance in so many million [of an accident], that’s too abstract,” Bunn says.

What he finds more helpful is showing people with flying fears how well-trained modern pilots are. “These days an airline pilot fresh out of training has more experience with emergency situations than a thirty-year veteran did back in the Sixties,” Bunn says, noting how great flight simulators are. Plus, he says, modern cockpits include tons of safety and backup (and backup backup) systems to ensure the plane stays in the air. “When I get that across to people concerned about their physical safety, that is very helpful to them,” he says.

The Age of the Plane Doesn’t Matter …

It’s often one of the first questions people ask after a plane accident: How old was the plane? Bunn says in most of the world, including the U.S., that’s an irrelevant question. “Planes go into overhaul every three to four years, and when they come out it’s like a new airplane,” he says. “So if you’re on an airplane that’s 20 years old that just came out of an overhaul, it’s in a way newer than an airplane that just came off the assembly line two years ago.”

And while you can use sites such as SeatGuru.com to look up the make and model of the plane on which you’re about to fly, Bunn says it’s not worth the effort — especially if you’re flying a plane operated by a major airline in the U.S., Western Europe or Japan. ”All the airplane manufacturers are building really great machines,” Bunn says. ”All of them are so good it’s not worth their trouble to go fussing over this airplane vs. that airplane.”

… But the Country You’re Flying In Might

Bunn notes that airlines and airports in Russia, China, and some African nations might be operating without the modern safety mechanisms that are common in the U.S., Western Europe and parts of Asia. Furthermore, he says, while modern airplanes are safer than ever, some of the troublesome models from the past — which have long since disappeared from service in the West — might still be flying in places such as China and, especially, Russia, where you might see some of the more trouble-prone Soviet-era models in the air.

Bunn’s website features safety records of pretty much all the major airliners in use today. It lists the Airbus 340 as the safest airliner, with about 18 million flying hours with no accidents. At the bottom of the list: the early 737-200 with JT8D turbo-fan engines. That plane has one crash per 500,000 flying hours (to put that in perspective, that’s one crash per 57 years of operation. Most of us would consider that one heck of a good driving record).


Look for the Union Label

The one piece of information Bunn believes fliers might want to investigate is probably the last thing you’d look into: whether an airline’s pilots belong to a union. Bunn says union airline pilots carry a huge safety advantage: They’re protected from reprisals for ignoring a management decision that they believe jeopardizes safety.

"If you’re a pilot in a union and you’re told to do something that’s unsafe, you can tell them pretty much, ‘Go stick it up your butt, I’m not doing it,’" Bunn says (although he points out that pilot would be called upon to defend that decision). However, non-union pilots in the same situation, Bunn says, would probably be fired. "It’s good to know that a pilot doesn’t have to make a choice between paying the mortgage or doing what’s right." A quick online search of "pilots union" and your chosen airline can tell you which union, if any, its pilots belong to. 

So while it’s easy to get bogged down in the scary minutiae of the news we’ve been seeing, a little perspective is required. “Planes are so remarkably safe,” Bunn says. Statistically speaking, they really are the safest way to travel.




Fox News

Fox News - March 2014 featuring Captain Tom Bunn

Fox news asks aviation and search-and-rescue experts what clues can help locate Malaysian crash

View Video





Captain Tom interviewed on msnbc March 8th 2014

Captain Tom Bunn on MSNBC

Capt Tom appeared on MSNBC Saturday morning to comment on the Malaysia Airlines crash.

View Video






Flight Anxiety After 2014 Air Disasters: One Pilot’s Opinion

Flying can be a rather stressful activity. You’re boxed in a tight, closed space for several hours on end with people who may or may not have a cold, the flu, or Ebola, and every few hours you’re hit by a round of inexplicably unnerving turbulence. To add insult to our mental injury, we’ve had to overcome the fear surrounding our highly publicized year of aviation tragedies and anomalies, such as the disappearance of MH370, the shooting down of MH17, and the fatal demise of Virgin Galactic‘s VSS Enterprise. While it’s no wonder flight anxiety is on the rise, commercial pilot and licensed therapist Captain Tom Bunn explains why travelers shouldn’t be afraid to fly. 

For anxious flyers, what should have been one of the best of years of travel has been one of the worst. Since 2002, no U.S. airline has caused a passenger fatality. However, things that have happened outside the U.S. have thrown anxious flyers for a loop.

Those of us in the industry recognize that flying is safer in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand than it is in other areas. In these countries, airlines follow well-developed methods to ensure safety. All major airports are equipped with modern navigation systems that guide planes down to touchdown on the runway with great accuracy. Planes are tracked on airways by radar. As a backup, planes are equipped with devices that prevent mid-air collisions even if air traffic control makes a mistake. Other cockpit systems keep pilots from making navigational errors.

If an accident were to happen in one of these countries, it would—at least initially—seem inexplicable. Every past accident has led to measures to make sure that kind of accident cannot happen again.

Anxious flyers who are generally not part of the aviation industry may not understand that when a crash happens in some other parts of the world, it has no bearing whatsoever on the safety in areas where aviation is thoroughly up to date.

In addition, anxious flyers tend to avoid thinking about such details. They feel better when they can keep flying out of mind. In extreme cases, phobia keeps the person from looking skyward for fear they might panic at the unwanted sight of an airplane.

As one of the worst of years, the unthinkable happened: a plane simply vanished, and did so almost without a trace. All that was seen of it were a few blips on a radar screen as it ventured unaccountably off course, and all that was heard was a “handshake” signal to an information system the airline did not subscribe to.

I’m referring of course to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and to the disbelief that in our day and time an airliner can just disappear. The reaction from both anxious and confident flyers has been the same: “That just can’t happen.”

Eyes stayed glued on cable television waiting for the thing that just can’t happen to “unhappen.” We needed to find that plane, for unless the unthinkable could be replaced with the thinkable, how could a person get psychological closure.

Anxious flyers said they were simply not going to fly again until the plane was found. There was a primal fear that if it happened to those people on board that flight, it could happen to me.

This is the crux of flight phobia. If fear is going to be ruled out, the possibility of disaster has to be ruled out. It does not seem that it matters whether a crash happens in one flight in a thousand, a million, or a billion. What matters is encapsulated in the statement, “planes crash, and since they do, if I get on one, it can happen to me.” It doesn’t matter to the anxious flyer how rare disaster is. It matters that disaster is possible.

This is where the border exists between phobia and non-phobia. A non-phobic can choose to stop thinking about possible disaster because it is improbable. If something awful is possible, the phobic flyer cannot stop thinking about it. Thinking about it, of course, triggers the release of stress hormones. Stress hormones, in turn, keep the mind focused on it.

The impossible quest is absolute safety. Without absolutes, the phobic cannot rest. Since absolute safety does not exist in aviation, the phobic’s mind cannot rest in the air. So, being in the air is ruled out.

Even though surface travel is not absolutely safe, the phobic’s mind is relieved by the idea that if something bad happens, they may be able to walk away from it.

As anxious flyers were reeling from Malaysia 370, there was Malaysia Flight 17. Still searching for closure, and searching in vain, another plane flown by the same airline, probably an airline was shot out of the sky.

Again, another thing that can’t happen happened. It begins to be easier to see how the mind is undermined. When things repeatedly happen that can’t happen, there is nothing a person can count on.

Many having given up on aviation forever were not surprised when an Air Algeria plane went off course, disappeared from radar, and crashed in “bad weather” in Mali.

When these events were capped off recently with the crash of an experimental spacecraft, messages on Twitter expressed hope, for the fear they had long considered irrational had been validated as making perfect sense.

How do I deal with this as a therapist and pilot? I asked people to consider automobile racing. When there is a crash at the track, do they fear driving on the road? No. Of course not. They know racing is different. I ask them to consider that they should understand that airline operations are vastly different in different parts of the world.

When a crash happens to an airline that they had never heard of before, they should ignore it. A crash in some part of the world where they would never fly means nothing about flying in the part of the world where they do fly. Military crashes need to be removed from concern; a military crash means nothing about the safety of flying on an established airline. Plus, flying experimental aircraft, riskier than automobile racing, is meaningless when it comes to airline flying.

So, put the worst of the year’s events into context. In spite of the notion that “planes do crash,” you do have to go back to November 2001 to find one that belonged to a major U.S. airline.

That may not be absolute safety, but if there is anything you could be doing right now that is safer than being on a modern U.S. airliner, I don’t know what it might be. Statistically, if you grab the “red eye” tonight from L.A. or San Francisco to New York, you will be safer sleeping on the plane than sleeping in your own bed.

For more flying advice from Captain Tom Bunn, check out:

By Captain Tom Bunn for PeterGreenberg.com. 




The Guardian

After tragedies, how can an anxious flyer find the courage to set foot on a plane?

By Captain Tom Bunn


The dull roar of the airplane was rapidly becoming the only noise I could hear as we bumped up and down and rocked side to side, 32,000 feet in the air above the Caribbean Sea. I could feel tears in my eyes, but I was concerned that if I took my lorazepam then – my first time ever using the anti-anxiety medication – I would have an allergic reaction and nowhere to go because I was hurtling at 550mph in a metal death trap.

Virginia, the stranger next to me, had taken a similar pill before takeoff. So had her two sisters, whom she was vacationing with. She encouraged me to take mine. The flight attendant happened to be at my side with our white wines.

“Is this normal turbulence?” I asked, putting all of my courage into the positive response that had to be coming. “No, I think we’re flying over some unusually severe weather.” Eyes wide, I looked at Virginia and took the pill.

There are people who don’t particularly like flying, and there are people who start feeling like the room is closing in on them as soon as they book plane tickets online. Their anxiety levels also skyrocket when there are reports of a catastrophe like the Germanwings flight that crashed into the French Alps this week.

Flying is the safest form of transportation, but that doesn’t matter when you are convinced that the small bag of salted peanuts you just ate is your last meal.

“The phones have not stopped ringing,” said captain Tom Bunn, a trained pilot and licensed therapist who estimates that he has worked with “tens of thousands” of people to overcome their fear of flying since starting his popular Soar course in the 1980s.

Plane crashes can lead to a spike in this phobia-fighting business, but sometimes they drive people away from the industry altogether. Bunn said that nobody called him after September 11, because people did not want to get over their fear of flying. A similar thing happened after MH370 went missing in March 2014. “People were saying things like ‘I’m never going to get on an airplane again if they don’t find that plane’,” he explained.

Bunn said it is individuals who need to be in control and probably have trust issues who tend to be afraid to fly. “They are people whose anxieties push them towards control and escape,” he said. And the problem is, he notes, that you cannot escape from a plane. After he said this, my heart rate increased and my lungs felt like they were constricting.

Bunn’s strategy for overcoming this feeling relies on the theory that the positivity-inducing hormone oxytocin can be applied to flights. Mothers might remember that feeling from nursing a child, other people when they have had good sex. Researchers are optimistic about oxytocin’s potential to have an anti-anxiety effect.

“If you can remember a moment when there was good sexual chemistry between you and another person and you could feel your defences melting, that’s oxytocin doing that,” Bunn counselled me. “Just pretend that your lover has a picture by their face of a plane door closing in, then you switch to a picture of a plane taxiing out and then a picture of the plane taking off.”

Fear-of-flying expert Dr Martin Seif adds that avoidance helps quell anxiety in the short-term, but it reinforces anxiety in the long-term. “You have got to get on the dance floor and make mistakes, and then learn from the mistakes,” he said.

He’s right. Less than 10 years ago, I would not have been on any plane. That’s why, at 18, I would seclude myself in the quietest room in our house and listen to an exuberant British man instruct me to imagine my ancestor’s experiences to account for the source of my fear. This required relying heavily on memories that I don’t actually have and almost certainly did not happen.

The program also used positive emotions in a similar way to Bunn’s Soar course, which manifested for this program as me lying in that room and imagining the people I love the most as I pinched the fleshy area between the thumb and forefinger, to be pinched again during takeoff or turbulence – a sort of Pavlovian response.

It was weird and scientifically dubious, but it worked. Sometimes I even enjoyed turbulence on flights. But these personal victories took a sharp turn sometime in the past three years, and I now once again rely on the medically discouraged combination of lorazepam and whiskey.

Bunn says such backtracks are unusual, but he is confident it can be fixed. He had one final reassuring thing to add: “There are going to be procedures put in place immediately after this crash that’s going to keep this from happening again,” Bunn said. “At least people aren’t going to have to get on an airplane worried about the same thing happening.”

For now, I’m sticking to the miniature bottles of whiskey.






This is why you’re afraid of flying—and how to get over it

By Captain Tom Bunn


It’s perfectly reasonable to be afraid of flying. According to several studies, even pilots get flight anxiety.

Some fearful fliers are concerned about the safe arrival of the plane. Others are not afraid the plane will crash; they fear “crashing” psychologically. They are afraid they will have a panic attack in an environment where they have neither control of the situation, nor any means of emotional relief.

Paradoxically, it is cruising—the safest part of the flight—that causes the greatest psychological stress.

At cruising altitude, of course, the plane is far from the ground, and thus far from your most logical escape route. But it’s also when passengers are most likely to encounter turbulence. Most of us know we can keep anxiety about flying at bay if we stay occupied. When the flight is smooth, the anxious flier might accomplish this by focusing on a book, music, or a movie. But when the plane feels like it is falling, even for a momentary jolt or drop, stress hormones are released. These hormones force us to pay attention to danger—in other words, to notice that we’re suspended 30,000 feet in the air.

In turbulence, a plane might drop again and again. Each drop triggers its own shot of stress hormones, causing stress to build up. As stress levels rise, cognitive ability declines. Without you being aware of it, your ability to discern and test reality fades or become completely disabled. In this state you might begin to believe the turbulence you are experiencing is not, in fact, normal. In other words, it becomes possible to experience your plane falling out of the sky, even if it isn’t, and to panic accordingly.

It’s a self-reinforcing cycle. People with severe fear of flying will leave even a perfectly normal flight with the impression that they have survived a life-threating situation. That stress leaves its imprint on the brain’s stress system, and can condition you to associate flying with mortal danger. No matter how many good flights you subsequently have, you will feel anxiety before and during the flight.

The good news is, you can reverse this process. To combat fear of flying, or aviophobia, my fear-of-flight treatment program SOAR helps fliers to turn off their stress response when flying.

How do we shut the stress response down? We look for a source of oxytocin in the person’s interpersonal life. Oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone,” is well-known for inspiring feelings of trust and intimacy, and can interfere with your brain’s fear response.

Triggers for oxytocin release in females include nursing a child, seeing a newborn for the first time, good sexual chemistry, and gazing into your dog’s eyes. In males, one reliable source of the love hormone, other than his dog, is an orgasm. So, in training, I direct men with a fear of flying to recall a moment of sexual afterglow. I ask the client to imagine his partner’s face, touch, and voice, all of which are already strongly associated with oxytocin production.

With oxytocin circulating in the brain, the amygdala—regardless of what it has learned to perceive as danger—is kept from releasing stress hormones. Thus, by consciously linking various moments of the flight experience to an oxytocin-producing moment, we can keep the brain’s fear system shut-down during flight. This can also be applied to non-flying situations.

Fear of flying, and flight-related demand for anti-anxiety medication, often seem to increase after plane crashes make it into the news. In particular, the Malaysia Airlines flight 370, which completely disappeared, continues to haunt people with a fear of flying because it lacks closure. I’ve heard my clients say, “Unless that plane is found, I’m never flying again.”

I believe that the Germanwings flight 9525, which crashed Mar. 24 in the French Alps, will be accepted more easily. Why? It has a fix, and the fix is already in place in the US. When a pilot needs to leave the cockpit, protocol calls for a flight attendant to enter the cockpit and remain inside by the door. This way, there are two people in the cockpit at all times, and if necessary, the flight attendant can open the cockpit door for the returning pilot.

Since these protocols will likely be put into place across Europe, the Germanwings crash may seem a less daunting worry. Anticipatory anxiety can be worse than flight anxiety; anything that rules out one more source of anticipatory anxiety—in this case, a change in protocol—goes a long way toward giving anxious passengers relief.

Given this year’s several highly-mediatized flying incidents, aviophobia should be more seriously discussed and treated. After all, anyone boarding a plane is putting their life in the hands of an unknown pilot and co-pilots, and giving up their ability to escape from the situation. They should know that there are ways to train the mind to inhibit its stress reaction, and to reliably control panic.




Market Watch

How people deal with a fear of flying

By Quentin Fottrell (featuring Capt Tom Bunn)


A lot of people have fear and anxiety about traveling by airplane. And it’s understandably heightened after high profile crashes, like the Germanwings plane that went down in the French Alps on Tuesday with 150 people on board.

And they won’t be assured by seeing statistics that show how safe commercial flying really is.

“I’ve had a lot of inquiries from people who are afraid to fly this week,” says Tom Bunn, a former airline captain and president of SOAR, a Westport, Conn.-based organization that helps people overcome fear of flying and the author of the self-help book “SOAR: The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying.” (Perhaps less surprisingly, Bunn has also received several calls from members of the media.)

Although it varies in terms of severity, fear of flying is not that unusual. “I’m the first one to acknowledge that everybody, on some level, is afraid to fly, that’s normal,” says Patrick Smith, a Boston-based pilot who has flown Boeing 747 airplanes around the world, and is the author of the “Ask the Pilot” blog and the book “Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel.” “The accident rate is still down, considerably, from what it was 20 or 30 years ago, when multiple large-scale accidents were the norm, year after year,” he says. “In years past, we didn’t have a 24/7 news cycle with media outlets spread across multiple platforms, all vying simultaneously for your attention.”

“These fixations tend to be short-lived, but they are intense enough to give people the impression that flying has become more dangerous in recent years, when in fact it’s become safer,” Smith says. “The cluster of serious accidents over the past year, tragic as they’ve been, is unlikely to change the overall trend.” They include an AirAsia Flight 8501 from Indonesia to Singapore, which crashed into the Java sea on Dec. 28, 2014 killing 162 people, and an Air Algerie jetliner traveling to Algiers from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso on July 24, 2014 with 116 people on board. On July 17, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, killing all 298 people onboard, and on March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight 370 disappeared while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people onboard. (Read: It may take years to find Flight 370)

Tragedies such as these and the Germanwings crash can have a big impact on fliers, especially those who must fly regularly for business. It took Elizabeth Hudson Willingham, 53, co-founder of a software development company in Charlottesville, Va., a decade after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 to fly again with relative ease. “I started taking trains and driving,” she says. One particular train trip from Charlottesville to Chicago took her 17 hours, due to delays, and it took her 24 hours to get back. (She took a sleeper car.) “I think some of it had to do with being a mother. When I was single parenting a young child, I had a lot of conflicted feelings about leaving her and that lack of control about putting my life in someone else’s hands,” she says.

For Willingham, it helped to share her fears with others. “There is a stigma against fear of flying in the business community,” she says. “Some people think it makes you look weak.” When she opened up about her fear, however, others with similar feelings came out of the woodwork. And now that her daughter is 24 and independent, her flight anxiety has dramatically improved and she has traveled by plane to many countries, although she usually doesn’t sleep well the night before. “Weather is still my nemesis,” she says.

Airlines may cancel some flights due to bad weather, but if a customer cancels a flight due to bad weather, they will almost always have to pay a cancellation or “change” fee of up to $200. “It’s a huge dilemma, knowing you will be penalized,” she says.

There are, of course, many reasons why people suffer from a fear of flying — and not all of them are related to air crashes. Jaime Nanci, 38, a musician and milliner based in Dublin, Ireland, used to love flying until he discovered that his father had a fear of flying and, since then, started having panic attacks and nightmares (about sleepwalking on a plane and accidentally opening the emergency doors) weeks before a flight, especially before he’s due to take long-haul flights to visit his parents, who now live in Australia. “I have tried pretty much everything to get over the fear, from Xanax and whisky to meditation and hypnosis. Nothing works,” he says. “On board, I am usually just trying to take my mind off all the possible scenarios by reading or watching a film.”

“We ask people to recall a moment of good sexual chemistry or a time when a mother nurses a child.”
Tom Bunn, president of SOAR, which helps people overcome a fear of flying

Taking drugs for a flight to ease anxiety can backfire, says SOAR’s Tom Bunn, “and it’s not a long-term solution.” Research has shown that anti-anxiety medication doesn’t always work for people who have flight anxiety. One Stanford University study found that alprazolam (or more commonly known under the brand name Xanax) “increases physiological activation under acute stress conditions and hinders therapeutic effects of exposure in flying phobia.” Willingham prefers a stiff drink to medication because she never wants to feel groggy before a business meeting. Bunn agrees, saying it should be a last resort. “You should only prescribe benzodiazepine when every other method has failed and, yet, some people take them like candy,” he says.

Trying to combat flight anxiety is not an exact science. Aside from breathing techniques and mental exercises to focus the mind, Bunn uses a method that he says helps people produce oxytocin, a hormone produced by the brain and, according to studies, plays a role in helping to reduce anxiety by blocking stress-related hormones.

“We ask people to recall a moment of good sexual chemistry or a time when a mother nurses a child,” he says. Oxytocin is thought to be released before sexual intercourse as people lose the fear of becoming physically intimate, he says, and during lactation so that the mother focuses on the needs of the child. “It’s very basic psychology.” SOAR has worked with around 10,000 people over the last 30 years, Bunn says, and charges around $300 per client.

Some families choose to fly separately. Christine Schnabl and her 5-year-old son were killed when Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed on June 1, 2009 over the Atlantic Ocean with 216 passengers and 12 crew onboard. Her husband Fernando and their daughter were on a separate flight. While news reports at the time said that they took different flights to maximize their rewards points, some families do it solely for safety reasons. Rebecca Eckler, a Toronto-based author and writer, recently wrote that she never travels with her family.

“This may seem very far-fetched to many to worry so much about being on the same flight,” she wrote last year. “And, it is. But I cannot live with the thought that if our entire family traveled on the same flight and something happened.”





Conde Nast

9 Ways to Ease a Fear of Flying

By Joanne Chen (featuring Capt Tom Bunn)


Feeling stressed about a trip? Follow these expert tips for easing your fear of flying.

If you become an anxious mess every time you board a plane, you’re not alone. “It’s a fear that’s particularly difficult to tackle because we need repetition to overcome our fears,” says Reid Wilson, Ph.D., a Chapel Hill, N.C.-based psychologist who has worked with American Airlines to devise fear-of-flying programs. “When it comes to flying, repetition is costly. Most people don’t fly frequently enough.” That’s why therapists often work with patients to dissect what exactly might be bothering them, whether it’s the fear of heights, enclosed spaces, or not being in control—and then zeroing in on those issues. But what if you haven’t resolved them yet, and you take off next week? We asked Wilson and other experts for some quick solutions.

1. Learn how planes work. According to the National Safety Council, the odds of dying from a car crash in a lifetime is 1 in 112; the odds of dying from “air and space transport incidents,” which includes airplane flights, is 1 in 8,357. The problem with these stats, of course, is that it contains the word “one,” says Tom Bunn, a former Pan Am pilot who is now a licensed therapist. So it’s helpful to understand how an airplane works, says Bunn, who also runs SOAR, a program to help fearful fliers. “Everything you really need to fly a plane, there are two, three, or four of them, on board,” says Bunn. “Anything that can break, you have multiples of it.”

2. Understand turbulence. Most airplanes can handle up to 5 G’s of turbulence, and all are built to sustain at least 2.5. In mild turbulence G-forces vary the same as in a moving elevator, from .8 to 1.2 G’s. Moderate is from .6 to 1.4 G’s; severe is from .4 to 1.6 G’s. If you need convincing during a flight, download the SOAR app; among other tools for calming your fears on-board, it contains a G-force meter. The next time you hit bumpy skies, you can whip it out, read how much G-force the turbulence is causing, and confirm there’s no reason to worry.

3. Train your brain. The amygdala, the emotional region of the brain, is wired to stress out a little when it feels like you’re falling. Take the edge off by doing this exercise before you fly: Ask a friend to take one step up on a flight of stairs with you; now turn around so that you’re both facing the floor, and put your arms around each other. Now jump down to the floor together. You just experienced free-fall—exactly what you fear that the plane will do, but less terrifying. Ideally, your brain will associate the sensation of dipping, albeit in small part, with that positive experience.

4. Focus on the purpose of your trip. Travel isn’t about about sitting in a plane for three hours—it’s usually about exploring a new culture or seeing a loved one. So keep a picture of the destination or person on your smart phone. Notice the details, including the faces, shapes, lights, colors and other vivid features. Notice how these details awaken your intentions for the trip and remind you what the trip is about. “Focusing on the higher purpose of your trip puts the fear into perspective,” Jonathan Bricker, Ph.D., affiliate associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle.

5. Accept your anxiety. “The more you don’t want to feel worried, the more that feeling will come back,” says Bricker. So instead, be open to it. Notice the sensation in your stomach and other parts of your body. Let it come and go. Don’t judge it. Just observe it. “Now mentally pack it into an imagined carry-on bag, which you can store above and below you—the idea being that ‘the anxiety is with me, but I bring it with me and still travel wherever I want,’" says Bricker, who uses this concept as part of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a program with the goal of managing anxiety as opposed to fighting it.

6. Try relaxation exercises. Wilson suggests this breathing exercise: Fill your lower lungs, then your upper lungs with air; then exhale slowly while relaxing the muscles in your in your face, jaw, shoulders, and stomach. Turn your attention to the sound of your breath; if worries interrupt your focus, observe them coming and going, then go right back to focusing on your breath and the present. Wilson also suggests the “10-Second Grip”: Grip the arm rests while contracting your upper and lower arms, stomach, and legs. Hold for ten seconds, then let go as you take in a nice full breath, and then exhale slowly. Repeat. “If you can loosen the muscles in your body, your anxiety will reduce automatically,” says Wilson, who is also founder of anxieties.com.

7. Avoid alcohol and coffee. What’s worse than feeling anxious? Feeling dehydrated, sick, possibly drunk, and anxious. Plus, alcohol is a crutch for avoiding your anxiety as opposed to managing it, says Wilson. If you truly need chemical help to calm down, talk with your doctor about getting an appropriate prescription medication for use before boarding or during your flight. (It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to take effect.) While there’s no scientific evidence that natural remedies can treat jet lag, it wouldn’t hurt to try a calming herbal tea as opposed to coffee (which can exacerbate jitters).

8. Tap into your oxytocin supply. Oxytocin is the hormone produced during breastfeeding, when you see a baby animal, or romantic arousal. When your body is secreting this so-called “love hormone,” it has trouble secreting stress hormone at the same time, says Bunn. So try this next time you feel anxious on board: Envision feeding an infant, picking up a kitten, or cuddling with your partner while working a picture of a plane into the scene (OK, it’s hard, but perhaps your significant other, or—in the other scenarios, another person—is holding the picture nearby); in doing so, you encourage the flow of oxytocin as opposed to cortisol in your bloodstream. Practicing before your flight will slowly nudge your brain toward associating planes with warm feelings.

9. Keep track of the flight. When the pilot announces how long the flight will take, write it down. Find a map in your in-flight magazine and draw a line between your departure city and arrival city. Then divide the line up to coincide with the number of hours of your trip. Set your phone alarm to mark every hour. “In Alcoholics Anonymous, you’re told to take one day at a time; here, you can tell yourself to take one hour at a time,” says Bunn.






5 tips for flying with with infants and kids

November 11 Keep holiday travel stress-free with these tips from a pilot-turned-therapist.

No one wants to be the person with a screaming baby on a plane. Traveling with your kids is stressful enough without having to worry about how to avoid being the most hated person onboard. For tips on how to keep things calm, we called up Captain Tom Bunn, a former commercial airline pilot who is now a therapist helping people of all ages overcome their fear of flying. 

Tip 1: Manage your own anxiety

If you're anxious about how the flight is going to go, your baby will pick up on that, according to Bunn. "Brain scanning has shown that as an expectant mother approaches delivery, the brain is flooded with a hormone that causes her to become obsessed with safety," Bunn says. "The hormones go away after delivery, but the patterns can remain." If you recognize that and stay calm, chances are your baby will stay calm, too.

Tip 2: Save feeding time for right before landing

Bunn says infants won't have any problems with take-off, but landing can hurt their ears as their eustachian tube is still primitive. "The key here is to make sure the baby is awake during this time, so he or she can move around and maybe wiggle their jaw a little bit," he says. Bunn suggests nursing your infant right before the plane starts its descent, but if that doesn't fit into your feeding schedule, giving him or her a pacifier will help, too.

Tip 3: Show kids what to expect

Children with austism especially can have a hard time with flying because they have trouble not being in control or knowing what's about to happen. Before your trip, Bunn suggests watching these pretty cool videos on YouTube with your child, which are filmed from a child's perspective. Developed by PEAT (Parents Education as Autism Therapists), the videos show kids what to expect every step of the way. "They aren't just good for kids with autism," Bunn says. "They're great for any kid who isn't keen on flying."

Tip 4: Visit the cockpit 

Passengers with children get to board the aircraft early, and Bunn says this is the perfect time to take your kids to meet the pilot and check out the cockpit. "By this time, the pilot is done with the checks, so they are happy to talk with kids. Just ask a flight attendant and he or she will almost always take you and your kids up," Bunn says.

Tip 5: Know when it's an indicator of a bigger problem

Bunn stresses that if an infant or child is scared to get on an airplane for no apparent reason, chances are it is a sign of a bigger problem that should be addressed through therapy. "There may be a problem with your child really feeling safe," he says. A child should instinctly trust that their caregivers will keep them safe, even when experiencing something new, so if he or she doesn't seem to feel that way, the parent-child relationship needs to be analyzed. Bunn stresses that it's important to do this when the child is young as the relationship and patterns will be hard to mend when he or she becomes a teenager.





Tulsa World

High anxiety: Fliers deal with phobia Fear of flying: 'Nothing bad has to happen for people to be fearful'

SOAR puts an end to white-knuckle flying

By CASEY SMITH World Business Writer

Former Oklahoma State University professor John Abernathy’s fear of flying surfaced suddenly.

The early morning flight Abernathy took from Reno, Nevada, to Denver in 2009 wasn’t what would be generalized as a “bad flight,” he said. But for some reason Abernathy said he was overcome with an intense bout of motion sickness during the aircraft’s ascent up the mountains.

“I got sick. I got miserable,” Abernathy said. “Up until that point I absolutely loved to fly. Flying was a treat. From that moment on flying has been a difficult task.”

The fear that morning caught Abernathy off guard, he said. It was inconvenient as well, because Denver was a layover. Abernathy needed to get on another plane to reach his final destination in Birmingham, Alabama.

“It was a white-knuckles (situa

tion),” he said. “I had to force myself to get on the airplane to get home.”

As soon as he made it to Birmingham, Abernathy told his wife that he was never flying again.

Flying is a true phobia for probably 2 to 3 percent of the population, said Dr. Matt Meyer, medical director at Tulsa’s Laureate Psychiatric Clinic & Hospital. Probably as many as 30 percent to 40 percent of people, he said, would say that they are anxious or uncomfortable fliers.

“A lot of people who are afraid of flying, there’s no specific trigger for it,” Meyer said. “It’s just the anxiety of flying. Nothing bad has to happen for people to be fearful.”
Coping strategies

People who have a true phobia of flying probably won’t even entertain the thought of getting on a plane, Meyer said.

Those who fall into the category of uncomfortable fliers might employ various strategies to address the anxiety such as practicing repeat exposure, relaxation strategies or distraction techniques.

“For most people it’s very manageable,” Meyer said. “A combination of exposure — the more they fly the less anxious they become — and using as-needed medications.”

To people who are afraid to fly, it doesn’t matter that statistically airplanes are a safer mode of transport than cars, said K. Renee Marlow, a licensed clinical social worker in Tulsa.

“It doesn’t feel that way and it doesn’t sound that way,” Marlow noted, when two people are killed in a car crash but 300 might be killed when an aircraft goes down.

Of the 99 commercial flight accidents that occurred during 2012 worldwide, 11 were fatal, according to United Nations agency the International Civil Aviation Organization. Those accidents killed a total of 388 people.

Comparatively, during the same year in the United States there were 30,800 fatal motor vehicle crashes resulting in a total of 33,561 deaths.

“Logic doesn’t apply,” said Mike Lewis, who works as a buyer for the American Airlines maintenance base in Tulsa. “I understand how airplanes work and that it’s the safest mode of travel, and I can’t get my mind to wrap around that.”

Lewis has been afraid to fly since young adulthood. Growing up, Lewis said his family flew frequently and he loved the experience. But in 1997, when Lewis was about to get on his first flight since sophomore year of high school, he suddenly became fearful.

“In the parking lot I started vomiting before we even boarded,” Lewis said.

Since that time, Lewis said, he’s become nauseous and anxious leading up to virtually every flight he’s taken. He hasn’t flown in a decade, despite free flights being a perk of working for American Airlines.

When Lewis began working for American in 2000 he would frequently eat lunch on a parked plane to try to desensitize himself. But that didn’t work, he said, and neither has hypnosis, therapy, medication or other techniques.

Fear of flying could be triggered by a traumatic incident on an airplane or a traumatic incident happening to a loved one on a plane, Marlow said.

But often the issue isn’t the fear of flying itself, she said. Rather the problem is some sort of claustrophobia, trust issue, panic disorder or general anxiety disorder that manifests leading up to a plane trip and on an airplane.
Root cause of fear

Marlow’s treatments for those afraid to fly vary depending on the root cause of the issue. Techniques that she uses include cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis and desensitization techniques.

Abernathy, who now teaches accounting at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, eventually came across the SOAR program online and purchased the curriculum. SOAR is a program founded by former commercial pilot and licensed therapist Tom Bunn to help people overcome their fear of flight by learning to control fear, panic and claustrophobia automatically.

“In the back of my mind, I always knew that because I had flown before, this is something I can overcome, I can get back to,” Abernathy said.

The program helped Abernathy. It allows him to put one foot in front of the other and get on a plane, he said.

But between the terrible flying experience Abernathy had in 2009 and purchasing the SOAR program in early 2013, he flew probably three or four times — only when it was absolutely necessary.

One year when Abernathy and his family were living in Stillwater, his fear led to them canceling tickets for a flight from Oklahoma City to California to visit his wife’s family. Instead they drove to Albequerque and from there boarded a train en route to California.

“This is how bad it gets — turning a 3½-hour flight into a two-day trip,” Abernathy said. “We turned it into a family trip, seeing the Midwest, but there was still no way I was getting on a flight.”

Abernathy said he had been under significant stress when the fear began. He was defending his dissertation and was a first-time parent.

Marlow said that anxiety over untimely death can manifest itself after people have a major life event such as becoming parents.

“Sometimes there’s an event (such as having a child) that makes you think about what would happen if something happened to you,” Marlow said.
‘Terrified flier’

Megan Baker, a mother of four who lives in Tulsa, said her fear of flying began after having children.

Baker had not flown for several years. When she was pregnant with her youngest child, who is now almost 6, she took a flight from Tulsa to visit her sister in Albany, New York.

It was on that flight that the fear began. She became dizzy, physcially tense and claustrophobic.

The anxiety is expensive, Baker said. When she must fly, she always buys a first-class seat so that she will have more room and be sitting with people who fly often. She also tries to only book direct flights so that she won’t have to go through the discomfort of multiple plane trips.

It also affects her socially, Baker said. If she wasn’t afraid to fly, she’d see her sister more often.

If both Baker and her husband must travel, she insists that they take separate flights so that their children wouldn’t lose both parents if something happened.

“I think just the fear of leaving them without a mother, that’s why we fly separately,” Baker said. “I think (it’s) not having any control over your circumstances and coupled with leaving your kids without a mom.”

On one business trip, Baker looked up the SOAR program while panicking in the terminal, she said.

Baker still describes herself as a “terrified flier” who has not totally overcome the issue after going through the material. But the program’s suggestion of meeting the aircraft’s crew before takeoff has helped tremendously, she said.

“I always go meet the pilots,” Baker said. “They never mind it and they’re so nice.”

Talking with and seeing the face of the people in charge of the aircraft makes the experience more personal and less scary, she said. She also speaks with the flight attendants before takeoff to let them know that she’s a nervous flier.

“Not feeling so alone in that fear has helped a lot,” she said.

The act of naming and claiming any type of fear can help a person deal with it, Marlow said.

“Admitting you have a fear is one of the first steps,” Marlow said. “We all have things we’re uncomfortable about.”




Fox News

How to overcome your fear of flying
By Kimber Crandall
Published June 20, 2012

American and United Airlines Jets at Airport - Fox News Video Clip

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.”



Captain Tom interviewed on msnbc July 6th 2013

Captain Tom Bunn on MSNBC

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TV stars, travel bloggers not immune to fear of flying

By Jill Martin Wrenn, Special to CNN
June 26, 2012 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Reality TV star Kendra Wilkinson hates to fly, and her fear is not uncommon.
Reality TV star Kendra Wilkinson hates to fly, and her fear is not uncommon.

  • Kendra Wilkinson travels by plane five times a month and hates to fly
  • Wilkinson tries to calm her fear with visualization, a glass of wine
  • Various therapies have helped others conquer the fear

(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.

John DiScala conquered his fear of flying and now runs a popular travel website.
John DiScala conquered his fear of flying and now runs a popular travel website.

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...


NBC News

Despite recent crashes, flying fears can be overcome
Harriet Baskas NBC News contributor

July 29, 2013 at 12:20 PM ET

Even the most experienced travelers may be feeling some anxiety in the aftermath of the July 6th crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport and the rough landing of a Southwest Airlines plane with collapsed nose gear on July 22 at LaGuardia Airport.

“There are always incidents, but these were bigger than the ones you have day in and day out, like emergency landings or smoke in the cabin,” said SOAR, Inc. founder Tom Bunn, a 76 year-old retired airline captain-turned therapist who’s been counseling fearful fliers since 1982. “In the Asiana crash almost everyone got out. And with the Southwest 737 nose gear problem it was not really life-threatening. Still, it’s understandable that people will be concerned.”

But concern doesn’t have to lead to fear, said Bunn, whose forthcoming book “Soar: The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying” offers travelers strategies for dealing with flight-related anxiety.

Bunn’s SOAR tips include concentration exercises to control "fight or flight" hormones, focusing on the “what is” aspect of a flight instead of an imagined “what if” checklist, understanding the natural noises an airplane will make during a flight and making an effort to meet the captain before the flight. “That helps you from feeling alone,” said Bunn. “It also puts you in personal contact with control.”

Those strategies worked for Beth Shubert, a 53 year-old event planner and designer in Glen Rock, N.J who used to turn down vacation ideas or any business travel that required flying.

“I have a vivid imagination, which helps in work, but when a plane crash happened I’d feel everything and imagine what it was like to be on the plane. That became a movie that played over and over and made me more fearful to fly,” said Shubert.

When her parents moved to Florida about 10 years ago, Shubert decided she could no longer avoid flying and found the SOAR program online. “What worked for me was learning concrete facts and statistics about what makes flying the safest way to travel and not letting my mind wander and worry about what could happen,” said Shubert, who was eventually able to fly to London to celebrate her 20th wedding anniversary.

The fear of not being fine in airplane is what holds many people back from an interesting job, a promotion at work, the opportunity to visit family or the chance to go on a fun weekend with friends, said Pat Rowe, spokeswoman for Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport. The airport has been sponsoring a course called “Overcoming Your Fear of Flying” for 26 years and Rowe said interest remains steady, “with no spikes in the aftermath of aviation incidents.”

The course culminates with a real airplane flight, which gives students a chance to try out their newly learned travel skills in a real-world environment.

“The program also supports the airlines flying out of MKE,” said Rowe, “which now have hundreds of new passengers who are able to fly comfortably.”

Shubert's experience in overcoming her anxieties has led her to advise those who find themselves approaching the jetway with trepidation to “focus on the fact that the plane is in the air and that you are going forward. You are fine.”

Find more by Harriet Baskas on StuckatTheAirport.com and follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas.



Marketplace Business

Radio Interview >

Paying for upgrades under the tray-table

Flying is not what it used to be. What was once glamorous now feels like walking through a mall to get to a cattle chute. Airlines are expanding first class and squeezing coach passengers into tighter quarters. Every spare inch of space and every service from bag-checking to expedited security has a price.

So on a recent trip from Los Angeles to Chicago, I decided to try for my own upgrades. At every opportunity, I discreetly offered cash to airline employees, Transportation Security Administration employees and fellow passengers in exchange for a better seat or faster service. I wanted to know what would happen when institutional fees leave the institution and were offered instead on the black market.

I started at the United Airlines ticket counter, offering the agent a $20 bill for a seat upgrade. She refused, acting as though this kind of thing happened all the time. She pointed to a seat map on the screen. “This is the only upgrade I have,” she said. “It’s $85.” At security, I tried to slip a couple of twenties to the officer at the T.S.A. PreCheck line so I could breeze through. He gave me a look that said, “Nice try,” and pointed to the long line of people inching toward the body scanners.

Once I got to the gate, I approached the passengers in the roped-off section for premium fliers. I went down the line, one by one, offering cash for their seats. One man shook his head, barely looking up from his phone. Another appeared confused. I had to explain that I wasn’t trying to get on the plane; I had a seat in coach. He declined. “I’ve got to get some work done,” he said.

Nearly everyone seemed bothered by my offer. The closest I got to a yes was with a couple who did not want to split up for the flight; otherwise, they might have considered it.

On the plane, I could not persuade anyone in a seat with extra legroom to switch places for money. I was surprised; I said I was willing to go as high as $100 and told them I needed to sit close to the front to exit quickly once we landed.

Perhaps I appeared a little suspect to some people. I have a bushy beard and long hair. I could pass for a young Cat Stevens in the right light.

But I did talk to Debbie, a flight attendant who was not on my flight but who observes the behavior of hundreds of passengers every day. Debbie, who asked that I not use her last name, was a social worker at a mental hospital before becoming a flight attendant. “So I was used to working with unpredictable people,” she said, “and I was actually kind of surprised at the general rudeness and lack of caring about other people that I saw in passengers on planes when I first started.”

Now she’s used to it. She wasn’t surprised that no one took my offer of cash for a seat. She sometimes has trouble getting passengers to switch seats to accommodate families, even when she offers free drinks and a seat that isn’t a downgrade.

Once, while Debbie was flying off duty, the pilot announced that an emergency landing was needed. “The working flight attendants wanted to move me up front so that I could help with an evacuation if it was necessary,” she said. The crew asked first-class passengers if one of them would give up a seat for her, but none were willing to move. “Luckily we didn’t need to evacuate,” Debbie said. “But it was interesting that nobody wanted to move, even when a flight attendant is saying ‘This will help save your life.’”

I also ran my experiment by Tom Bunn, a former airline captain (whose employers included United) and a licensed therapist. He, too, was not surprised by the reactions I got, but for different reasons.

For many people, he said, the act of flying is incredibly stressful. It is not so much because of long security lines and cramped seats, but because of the psychological act of giving up control, of leaving solid ground. Settling into an assigned seat, he said, is part of the process of quieting their anxiety. “So any change they have to face, they would rather not face it,” Bunn said. My cash offer may not have been enough to justify restarting that process of calming themselves.

My own theory is that people considering my offer may have been afraid that they would be breaking a rule and could be kicked off the plane as a result. Recently, a group of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men traveling from New York to Israel caused a flight delay when they refused to sit next to women for religious reasons. Many of the men offered passengers money to exchange seats, which, it turns out, is not against many airlines’ policies.

I contacted six airlines, including United, to ask about their policy regarding passenger-to-passenger transactions. Delta, United, American and Spirit responded. Delta and American said they had no policy that forbade passengers from exchanging seats for money. Spirit forbids only switching to an exit row or to larger front seats, the airline’s first-class equivalent.

Rahsaan Johnson of United said it was against company policy for employees to take money from a customer in exchange for a favor. But United does not have a policy against customers exchanging money for seat swaps. “Seat assignment is not specifically prohibited at this point. Changing cabins is,” Johnson said. So, for example, if you are in coach, you cannot switch with someone in first class.

Of all the upgrades I tried to get, only one could have landed me in any real trouble: offering cash for access to T.S.A. PreCheck. “That’s not how the program works,” said Ross Feinstein, T.S.A.’s press secretary. “Bribing a federal employee, I believe, is illegal.”

It does however, seem to be legal to buy your way to the front of the T.S.A. line. “The actual T.S.A. process begins where someone checks your ID,” Feinstein said. Before that point, anyone ahead of you in line is fair game for an offer.





The New York Times

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.

CNN ScreenshotEdmonds, 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."



USN Health

Afraid to Fly? Check Your Baggage Here
Jettison your fear of flying in time for summer travels

By Rachel Pomerance
June 3 2013

Jettison your fear of flying in time for summer travels

As a college junior, Samson Frankel was all set for a semester abroad. But the night before he was supposed to leave New York for Israel, Frankel backed out, his fear of flying too big to beat. He didn't consider jetting anywhere again until his job with a Manhattan law firm demanded it – ironically, for dealings in Israel.

For Jean Ratner, a clinical social worker based in Bethesda, Md., fear of flying came on slowly and then in one sudden blow. On a flight 30 years ago, a several-second drop in altitude felt to her like a death plunge. She'd never fly again, she told herself, but train travel for work was getting tiresome.

Martin Seif, a psychologist with offices in Manhattan and Greenwich, Conn, studied phobias to try to cure his fear of flying. But the irony was not lost on him when a train delay nearly kept him from addressing a conference on phobias. "I remember thinking to myself, you know, maybe I'd rather fly than die," he says.

Avoidance, as these fearful travelers can attest, only tends to work for so long. When circumventing the fear became as or more difficult than the fear itself, they sought help and eventually overcame the phobia.

About one in three people have a fear of flying, according to Captain Tom Bunn, a therapist and former U.S. Air Force and commercial airline pilot who treats fear of flying with a program called SOAR. Among those who fear flying, half don't fly at all. And since only half of Americans fly, that's one in six Americans who stay grounded, Bunn says.

The precise treatment for the phobia depends on the individual and his or her particular fear, which could involve claustrophobia, turbulence or fear of having a panic attack aboard. But sufferers and therapists (in some cases, the former become the latter) rely on a few basic remedies: knowledge about air travel; calming techniques, like visualization and deep breathing; and cognitive behavioral therapy, guided exposure to the fear itself to finally slay it.

Fear of flying results from ancient stress hormones going haywire in a modern world, experts say. More specifically, the airplane blocks someone from resorting to the coping mechanisms that would traditionally put the stress response to rest by verifying that everything's OK and, if not, either gain control of the situation or leave it, Bunn explains.

He likens the stress response to an alarm system that can be disabled. How? By triggering oxytocin, the hormone that produces a feeling of bliss and bonding. It's released during birth, nursing, sex and amid post-coital comfort. "It sounds crazy," Bunn says. But considering the following scene can quell flying anxiety: "Think of lying there, with someone looking at you the way you hoped someone would always look at you after making love," he says. Before a nervous traveler flies, Bunn says that connecting each step involved in flying with an image of your lover's face or your nursing baby can stop the stress from ever starting.

Robert Reiner, a psychologist and executive director of Behavioral Associates in Manhattan, uses biofeedback and virtual reality to arm patients with a "competing response" to the act of flying. By measuring a patient's breathing and heart rate, Reiner pinpoints the patient's "belly breathing" – deep, abdominal breathing that he says "has the effect of making anxiety impossible to experience. It disables the fight-or-flight response." Reiner then creates a recording – by blowing notes on a harmonica that match the patient's relaxed breathing. The patient practices breathing along with the recording and simulated flights. His cure rate is 92 percent, Reiner says. "I think [fear of flying is] just a matter of bad wiring and bad luck, and that's why it's so easy to correct."

According to Seif, who now runs workshops called Freedom to Fly Now, "The active ingredient for overcoming anxiety is exposure." Seif takes patients inside a flight trainer, used to train private pilots, at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, N.Y. In general, he advises fearful flyers to learn about their personal triggers and about flying itself. As he says, "Anxiety loves ignorance."

Before Frankel flies, he'll prepare himself by watching YouTube videos of takeoffs and landings. Plus, he'll speak with "Captain Tom," who will provide a sense of what to expect on his route and other helpful hints – a down bump, for example, is always leveled by an upward one, Frankel says...


Wall Street Journal

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


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."





The Hartford Courant

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.


Boston Globe

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."


American Express Publishing

Business Travel
from the American Express business publication "Ventures"

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.


AOL Travel

Conquer Your Fear of Flying
Extracts of an article on AOL Travel, by Barbara Benham, a former SOAR client

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.


Unfriendly Skies

News Week Cover - Phobias

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."


Fright or Flight

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.


Style Magazine

Fear of Flying

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.


The Washington Post

Fear of flying? You can get over it.

By Paul Abercrombie

I love to travel. But I hate to fly.

My overactive imagination doesn’t help with my fear of flying. All I have to do is shut my eyes, and the Parade of Horror commences: wings snapping off like brittle twigs, engines exploding or dropping off, freak high-altitude tornadoes swirling — you name it, I’ve dreamed it up.

And I’m not alone. More than 26 million Americans suffer from some form of flight anxiety, says Lucas van Gerwen, aviation psychologist and director of the VALK Foundation, which studies how to treat flying fears.

Aids for fearful fliers

I’ve tried getting sloshed to blunt my anxiety. But this has just left me dehydrated and more panicky than ever about my ability to operate the emergency door “in the unlikely event of a water landing.”

I’ve tried pills. A Xanax I popped right before a trip to Los Angeles once led to a full-blown panic attack in mid-flight. I ended up watching a Jim Carrey flick with an oxygen mask strapped to my face, a nearby fellow passenger stage-whispering to a flight attendant, “Excuse me, ma’am, is that man going to die?”

Rare embarrassment aside, I typically plaster on a fake smile and endure. Yet a recent bumpier-than-usual flight left me sweat-soaked and wondering whether I should finally seek to cure — or at least curb — my fear of flying.

A survey of friends reveals various methods of coping. The most popular involve boozing. One, a kind of inoculation-by-flight.

Two decades ago, after a bad snowstorm forced the pilot of his flight to Salt Lake City to abort a landing at the last second, my high school friend Conte Cicala and “grim-faced” fellow passengers spent 45 very bumpy minutes on a circling plane until it was safe enough to land. On every flight over the next decade or so, “every bump stressed me out,” he says.

Yet Cicala, an attorney in San Francisco who flies upwards of 50,000 miles per year, says that he slowly got used to turbulence. “I guess my brain eventually learned that these bumps may be unpleasant but don’t mean that we’ll crash,” he says.

Considering the persistence of my flight fears — and my track record with self-treatment — I decide to search for outside help.

An Internet search reveals a cottage industry dedicated to combating everything from flight jitters to full-blown aviophobia. Books, videos, online courses, smartphone apps, even clinics that use virtual reality and flight simulators as treatment. Since travel to a clinic would probably involve, um, air travel, I decide to explore the other options.

Suppress that amygdala

Like most of the online courses that I check out, SOAR involves a combination of practical education and behavioral therapy. Over a few hours — and a dozen or so video lessons — program founder Tom Bunn, a retired pilot and licensed therapist, demonstrates how and why planes do the things they do and helps equip me with a mental tool kit for challenging fearful thoughts and replacing them with happier ones.

No quick fix, this is a process in which you work to replace every specific fear of flying by conjuring memories of “emphatic connectedness” — basically, moments when you were most happy with another person or persons. After a few days of working at this, I’m unsure whether it’s working. Bunn assures me later by phone that this is normal.

“Most people are so busy trying to consciously control their fears that they don’t even know they’ve already started to set up unconscious controls” with SOAR, Bunn says. “Sometimes it takes them two or three fear-free flights to believe that it’s working.”

The trick to this whole approach of fighting flight anxieties, he says, is finding ways to shut down the amygdala, the part of the brain that stores fear memories and responses. The best way, he says, is to encourage your body to produce the hormone oxytocin, which banishes fearful thoughts. Women produce this chemical particularly well by thinking of nursing a child, men by contemplating sex. Not that I should act on such thoughts aboard a plane, he adds.

“This isn’t about you telling someone, ‘I’m having a panic attack. Let’s sneak into the bathroom together,’ ” Bunn says with a laugh.

If this scenario seems likely to be more frustrating than it’s worth, imagining your beloved pet dog gazing into your eyes works about as well. “Your dog looking at you like you’re the only person in the world also produces oxytocin” in you, he says. “And, unlike with people, you can always depend on your dog to look at you like this.”.....


The Messenger Gazette

High Anxiety

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.


Rudy Maxa's World The Savvy Traveler

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: Yes.

Tom: O.K.

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.

Tom: Exactly.

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.

Michelle: (laughs)

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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