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Extreme Anxiety about Flying

I'm a consultant who basically flys for a living.  I live in the Midwest, but routinely fly to consulting engagements all over the country.  California to New York, to Florida and all points in between.

But in the last year or so I've developed an incredible anxiety about flying.  More specifically, on the takeoff I go into what can be described as complete and total panic.  I can't sit still, can't read, basically I close my eyes and pray.  This is peculiar, since I've flown for the past 10 years or so without this, in fact, I used to LOVE the takeoffs.  Once we are airborne, and into smooth air above the clouds, I calm way down and am OK.  I don't even mind landings, unless it's choppy, then the panic returns.  Today we took off and there were 30-40 mph gusting winds here, and we had to take off into them and then do a complete 180 because we were going in the opposite direction.  So we were in this chop and a very steep turn, and I was just about crawling out of my skin.  I looked around, and the other passengers were sleeping, reading, yawning.  I just hoped they did not notice me squirming in my seat.

If it's a night flight, I've taken to hitting the airport bar and spending 20 bucks on drinks before the flight, which helps a lot.  If it's morning, I really can't drink, so I'm fully alert for the whole experience.  I'm considering going to the doctor to get a few valium for the weekly round trip.

Does anybody else have this anxiety?  Do you think it can be related to all this constant terrorism talk?

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Hmmm, the obvious answer is to visit a professional (therapist, psychologist, etc.) to get a handle on the anxiety.  Consumption of alcohol will not be a good solution for the long-term - period.

Hypnosis or self-hypnosis may be worth investigating.  Self-hypnosis is -- basically -- the repeated practice of relaxation techniques along with "programmed" messages to yourself.  Once you're in a completely relaxed state, for instance, you might program yourself with "the odds of an airplane incident are far better for my safety than the drive to the airport..." and other fact-based means of dealing with the situation.

Google for self-hypnosis and talk with a professional to help get a better handle on it.  Good luck.

dir at badblue com
Sunday, April 18, 2004

I wonder if you are afraid of dying?  You say it only happens when something 'dangerous' happens?

Sunday, April 18, 2004

heh, Im a bad flyer as well.

I dont hit the total panic you describe, but its merely a question of degree.

What particular interests me is that your symptoms are relatively new...Ive _always_ been a bad flyer, most people I know have _always_ been good flyers.

The change in your level of anxiety is almost certainly due to some particular problem IMO.

too much stress?

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Suck it up and deal with it, you wimp!

Sunday, April 18, 2004

I experienced the same thing.  When I was younger flying never bothered me.  Then one year, I started getting very nervous about takeoffs, landings, and turbulence.

It took me a while to figure out what it was.  It coincided with having children.  For some reason, having kids gave me a exaggerated fear of my own mortality.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

This sounds like "the plane might crash, I might die, and __there's__nothing__I__can__do__about__it__!"

Maybe, the next plane you get on will be your last.  Very unlikely, but it could happen.  In that event, or even in the event of an 'incident' that you escape from alive... you have no control over the situation.  You can't fly the plane, you can't escape, you're stuck: all you can do is sit and wait for whatever's going to happen to happen.

Does thinking about this make you feel anxious?  If so, try learning acceptance.  By that, I mean being totally "okay with" whatever is going to happen.  Recognize that you can't prevent it, can't control it, so just accept that it's out of your hands and the way it is is the way it's supposed to be.  Whether it's God's divine plan, or fate, or random chance.  And don't fear "bad things" happening over stuff you can't control.  Bad stuff does happen, and it happens not because you didn't "prevent" it, but because you don't control the universe.  Just yourself -- your thoughts, what you say and do.  And if you're like me, you have trouble doing that!

Real acceptable brings serenity.  It means being able, any time, in any situation, to focus on what *you* have control over -- what you say and do; to let go of the illusion of control that tells you that something "needs" to happen a certain way; and accept that whatever will happen is the way it's supposed to be.

Should be working
Monday, April 19, 2004

I also used to be a consultant with extreme anxiety about flying. For me, it started with a work colleague being on a crash of a DC-10. She walked away from the crash, but about 1/3 of the passengers were killed. It took plane crashes from "not happening to people I know" to "happened to someone I know and could therefore happen to me". A few years after the crash, I interviewed for a consulting job -- I knew that the job would involve a lot of travel, but I wanted to do the work.

I went to a therapist who did one EMDR session with me. I don't know why it works (maybe the placebo effect), but it worked for me. That was about 10 years ago, and I've done a lot of flying since.

I recommend doing something because white knuckling the armrests during takeoffs and landings really sucks.

Good luck!

Monday, April 19, 2004

Is this post-September 11 syndrome?

Monday, April 19, 2004

Elmay: I went to a therapist who did one EMDR session with me.

What's EMDR?

This probably isn't a practical solution, but could you drive or take the train instead? 

I live in Vancouver, B.C., and travel a few times a year to Las Vegas and San Jose, but haven't flown in the last 3 years.  It obviously takes a lot longer to drive 1500 miles, but I prefer to avoid the hassles of security checks and the wasted time spent hanging around airports.  While driving, I can think and talk to travelling companions, and stop to stretch whenever I want.

Monday, April 19, 2004

> Is this post-September 11 syndrome?

For my part, I can only confirm that I was totally unafraid of flying before September 11, but am afraid since.

Ignore my ignorance
Monday, April 19, 2004

"For my part, I can only confirm that I was totally unafraid of flying before September 11, but am afraid since."

interesting.  Ive been scared of flying all my life...controllably scared, it doesn't actually stop me from flying....just makes me tense up a _lot_ during turns, turbulance, changes in speed, takeoffs and landings....<g> Id be fine if the plane was plunging toward the ground so long as it was doing so smooooothly.

but its certainly got no worse since 9/11

Monday, April 19, 2004

I'm the same. I just make sure that I am reading or doing something else to occupy my mind during take-off (like the OP, I'm much happier with landings).

Monday, April 19, 2004

Here is a website where you can learn about EMDR:

It sounds kind of hokey and I don't know how it works (like I said, maybe the placebo effect), but I'm glad that it worked for me...

Monday, April 19, 2004

I also have a fear of flying. I used to be OK -- even enjoyed it. During university I shared a house with an aerospace engineer, and I learned a lot about aircraft. I also learned what his course mates were like. My friend is pretty intelligent, but these other guys certainly were not. I know that several of them got jobs in the industry working for the big aero corps, and that worried me.

But this isn't the sole cause of my fear. After graduating, I happily flew to S/E Asia and back, totally fine. Even when I saw on the electronic map that we were flying over places like Iraq, Iran and the India/Pakistan border. Didn't worry me.

September 11 certainly didn't help. I think I'm afraid of two situations:
1) A terrorist attack, like Lockerbie or 9/11.
2) A random accident. Like someone forget to screw an engine bolt on properly or something.

Most people think that fear of flying is an irrational fear, but in my case I disagree. I know the statistics -- flying is the safest form of transport -- but associated with those statistics is a probability: there is a non-zero chance that the next plane you take won't land safely at its destination. And I'm not too comfortable with that. I know that the wings (probably) won't fall off. I understand how an aircraft flies, and how they are operated. I know that there are redundant systems. I know how much testing every component has to go through. I don't think I'm being irrational.

I know I'm going to die. I just don't want it to be in a tin can, with two hundred terrified people, plummeting towards the earth from 40,000ft, engulfed in flames.

Oh, and to the original poster: Stop drinking to get through the flight. If you turn to alcohol to solve this problem, what's to stop you turning to it again to solve other problems? That behaviour is much more likely to do you harm than flying will. Go see the doctor. I will.

Captain Terrified
Monday, April 19, 2004

Since my teenage years I have never been good with flying. I am also rather scared of heights and suffer from mild vertigo.

I think it has something to do with not being in control. One of my hobbies is car racing (as in wheel-to-wheel on a circuit) and I am typically calm, where the risk of getting hurt is quite a lot higher.

Rhys Keepence
Monday, April 19, 2004

Go Hang-gliding... Seriously.

Mr Jack
Monday, April 19, 2004

"...but associated with those statistics is a probability: there is a non-zero chance that the next plane you take won't land safely at its destination. And I'm not too comfortable with that."

There are no certainties in life other than death and taxes. Was that one of Oscar Wilde's?

John Topley (
Monday, April 19, 2004

It's a rational fear. If planes crash you're dead. And most people don't have a clue what it's like to be trapped with crazies with sharp knives.

I'm not afraid of flying, but I manage the risk. I refuse to travel for my work if it can be avoided, and often it can.

On a related subject, I was almost killed in a car crash, and that emphasised to me that horrible things do happen, and they do have horrible consequences.

Me And The View Out The Window
Monday, April 19, 2004

This may seem counter-intuitive but might I recommend reading a book called "Air Disasters" by McArthur Job.

The conclusion I came to was that to be involved in an air disaster you either have to be very unlucky or there are a whole series of connected reasons.  Generally the reason's are identified and fixed following the accident and it does not happen again.  In order to prevent accident's you generally only have to eliminate one of the causes since this will break the chain.  This has generally been done.

Most of the accidents which happen seem to happen to very old aircraft which are not maintained properly or very new aircraft which have flaws which have not been found yet.
I think the problem that you need to overcome is the 'irrational' fear.  Aeroplanes are alot stronger than you think.

I would not recommend reading that book during a flight though.  You might get arrested !

Monday, April 19, 2004

Just think that even considering the passengers in the Sept11 events, air travel is still HUGELY safe.

Per mile it's safer than almost any other mode of transport except trains. Statistically, you're more likely to die during the drive to the airport than on the flight. Flight deaths peaked in the 1980s at something like 2000 worldwide annually. It's now down in the hundreds; which is about the DAILY death rate on America's roads.

Caveat: I don't fly either. But that's because 1. I live in a tiny little country so I don't need to and 2. I've got too much risk of DVT without going in planes.

Now -- motorbikes. *THATS* a dangerous mode of transport....

Katie Lucas
Monday, April 19, 2004

Flying is not a rational fear. If it were, no-one rational would driving - getting in a car is far more dangerous than getting in a plane.

Mr Jack
Monday, April 19, 2004

I think somebody hit the nail on the head when they said it had to do with having children.  I now have a 2 1/2 year old daughter and this symptom developed since I had my daughter and then subsequently had to increase my flying to continue my career in consulting.

It hurts me to be away from my baby, she calls herself a "little mermaid" and anybody with children knows how it changes your life.

But presently, my consulting business is going into an uber growth phase, and I need to go on the road to close business and meet with clients.  My longer term plan is to delegate more travel, buy right now my particular skill set is needed on the road. 

Anyways, these comments are great, and as one poster said, I have to suck it up and deal with it.  But I'm going to look into some of the other suggestions I see here.

Also, I don't really like drinking, and have no urge to do so.  I only drink to numb myself for airplane takeoffs.  Part of the problem also is that I still can't believe that tons of metal and luggage and people can lift into the sky so quickly.  How powerful is a jet engine?

Monday, April 19, 2004

One thing you might consider is moving closer to your clients.  I understand that you have clients all over the country, but is there a location where many of them are centralized?  This might allow you to drive or take a train more and fly less, minimizing the situation you don't like (flying), and maximizing the situation you do like (being with your daughter.

I understand the desire to stay in the midwest though.  I live in a small city in west-central Illinois, and like it very much.

Oh, and of course this comes from one who loves to fly. :)

Monday, April 19, 2004

Try taking flying lessons.

Once you've got a licence, and can fly yourself, the commercial airline anxiety gets worse because someone else is in control!!!

Monday, April 19, 2004

Interesting and fascinating topic... i myself have  this "late-onset flight anxiety" or whatever you want to call it.  A few years ago, i just started getting antsy, much like the original poster.

And how, timely.  I just flew back home from San Diego last night and had to experience an aborted takeoff due to a generator malfunction... needless to say, it was a bit scary and nerve-racking (the front landing gear slamming back down on the runway)... however,  somewhere in the fear that i felt was a strange serenity... i think through the anxiety, your body and mind learn despite all the tenseness some form of management of the fear and i think it kicked in at that moment.  i go through all kinds of relaxation observances.  I tell myself, don't ratchet yourself to the plane, float with the plane through the turbulence, sway with the plane, look at some of the other folks around and draw strength from them.. i also found that laying my head down on the tray-table helps for big chunks of the flight.. it seems to work for me :)

on my flight last night, the capt got back on the P.A and said something to the effect that after talking to maintenance at the airport and at their main hub, that they'd redirect power from the APU to handle the downed generator.  It's 'perfectly safe' in their words... Even with this, the plane took again 15-20 mins later and got us up, away and back home smoothly and safely.

I'll fly again, and i'll be anxious again, but if you build up some coping skills, it helps and makes things easier.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Whenever I have those irrational "flying fears", I try to remember the flights attendants. For me, its comforting to know they are in the same situation (i.e. no control over the plane) every single workday. And since flight attendant is not considered a dangerous occupation, I realize I must be safe.

Sometimes its not enough to factually know something is very safe, you must also convince the irrational part of your mind.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Like someone said, take up hanggliding. Seriously.

Better yet, build yourself an ultralight. Cheap to build, cheap to run and depending on where you are, no licensing requirements.

When you feel comfortable in one of these bamboo, cloth, and engine contraptions long enough (and even these have a better safety record than road travel),  that costs less than a midsize car,  you will by extension have more faith in something that is orders of magnitude larger, stronger, expensive and piloted by someone who has put in a lot of time into qualifying.

(sob... I miss microlight flying)

Monday, April 19, 2004

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