Fear of Flying - SOAR
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Trust is the issue

I have not flown for 28 years-used to in work, but now we have enough "points" to fly to Europe for 2 and I really want to go but find 6 million excuses not to fly (everybody knows how I feel about flying-I make no effort to hide that). I somehow feel that it is a "control" issue-I AM afraid to turn over my well being to someone else-like a pilot and copilot and air traffic controllers and mechanics in this age of downsizing and bottom line. Anyone else have these feelings? I think I can handle the turbulence, noise, etc. Its getting me in the plane to begin with. My Mother took a course in Pittsburgh several years ago and agrees if she had acted on it right away she would have been fine. They did fly at the end of the course and she did fine, but didn't go on and fly to New Mexico as planned for various reasons and now hasn't flown again. She used to fly until a bad experience from Charlotte to Pittsburgh about 12 years ago. So-maybe a course would help, but how to address the other issues-of "trust".

Captain Tom's reply:

I think you are on target when you say it is a control issue. We all have had situations where we trusted and were let down - or our trust was betrayed. Some situations are more painful and more severe, but it matters most WHEN trust was betrayed. If it happened between 18 and 36 months, it causes normal development to stop or to be sidetracked. Then, we are left with the result of this development being altered or arrested for the remainder of our lives. And, because it happened so early, memories of it are not well-formed enough to be useful in therapy. There are things we can do, though. We can find an area where you are confident and strong and attach that confidence and security and strength to flying (or other fears). This is a very specialized therapy, but very effective for flying. Some I have worked with on this found it so helpful that they felt as if they have never had a fear of flying.

Captain Tom


Fear began when pregnant

I didn't used to be afraid of flying.

In fact, both my parents got pilots' licenses and we used to go on vacations in small planes when I was a child. In college I flew back and forth to school several times a year--no problem. Then, when I was about 24, I was pregnant for the first time, and we came into a thunderstorm. Here's my husband, looking out at the black clouds, lightning, and rain saying things like "cool, look at that!" He was having a blast.

What was I doing? Gripping my armrests as tightly as I could, afraid to breath, to move. The skin on my face was prickly because I was so terrified. The whole plane was shaking and everyone (except my husband) was quiet and nervous. If only, if ONLY the captain had come on the intercom and explained what was going on! We were trying to land, and could see nothing out of the windows. The plane's engines kept slowing way down, like we were landing, and then they'd speed up really fast, pressing us back into our seats. It was horrible.

That one experience ruined me for life, it seems. Now I'm 30, and every flying experience since then has been pure terror--even smooth, uneventful flights. Is there any help for a basket case like me? My husband thinks I'm off my rocker, and it is difficult for him to understand my weakness, let alone be sympathetic. I do not want my phobia to keep me from any of life's wonderful opportunities. I certainly do not want my children to pick up on this fear either

Captain Tom's reply:

Fear of flying often begins during pregnancy. We might think it is because of the responsibility for another life. But it is more than that. Shortly before deliver, the brain of the expectant mother is flooded with hormones that cause her to become obsessed with safety. Everything that even remotely looks like a risk has to be controlled or avoided. The hormones go away after delivery, but the patterns of behavior established by the hormones may continue.

The patterns need to be recognized and reviewed. Yes, you are responsible for a life other than your own. You might have previously though, "Well, if something happens, it's just me." But now you are making choices for someone else, someone totally dependent upon you. You want to make the best decisions.

To make good choices, emotion must be properly regulated. Why? Because “executive function” in the mind shuts down when there is too much emotion. In the SOAR Program, you train your mind to not react, to not develop fear, but to remain clear-headed. This automatic control helps you not only with flying but helps you make the best decisions for yourself and for your child.

To make a good decision, you need to know that you - and your child - are safer on an airliner than sleeping at home at night. What about during the day? Research has shown that driving 5.4 miles in an urban setting has the same risk as a flight. Since your daily routine probably involves a lot more than 5.4 miles of driving, you increase safety when you stop your daily routine and get on an airliner.

Once you have used automatic control of feelings to help you make the best decision, you need it to
carry out your good decision. You need feelings that could get in the way to be automatically controlled.

Being a parent is pretty overwhelming. It almost paralyzed me as a parent to think how every move I made was going to influence on my child. I had no way to know what the result of what I did would be twenty years down the road. At some point I realized this: the best gift I could give my child was the ability to make his/her own well thought-out choices. And, the way to give that gift is to model that behavior by making choices that are well thought out.

Captain Tom


A feeling of falling after take-off

Once I was flying out of Houston with my two small daughters.

I thought I was doing all right, but right after the take-off, while we were still pointing up at the sky and the engines were straining to lift us to our flying altitude, the engines suddenly cut back, and it felt as though we were headed back down towards the ground. It was all I could do to keep from screaming! My father told me later that there were probably noise laws in that area and the pilot was required to cut back the engines over a certain neighborhood.

Captain Tom's reply:

You dad was right. On some take-offs, we reduce the power after reaching about one-thousand feet (roughly twenty-seconds after lift-off), and it can be frightening if you don't know what it's all about. Imagine this: you get in an elevator on the ground floor, and press the button for the tenth floor. The door closes, and as the elevator starts to rise, you feel heavy. Then, as the elevator approaches the tenth floor, it has to slow down and stop. As it does, you feel "light-headed." In an elevator you know what the feeling is about. You are just slowing down your ascent. But note this: when you start down from the tenth floor, you get a feeling of "light-headedness." You get exactly the same feeling when slowing your rate of climb upward as when starting a descent downward. Both feel like falling. The same thing happens in an airplane. After take-off, we reduce the power to reduce the noise, but that means the airplane can not climb as fast. When we pull back the power and slow our rate of climb, it feels the same as falling. Actually, we are still climbing - but not as fast. The problem is compounded by hearing the engines get quieter, which can make you believe they have failed. The antidote is to except to hear the engines change power about twenty-seconds after leaving the runway, and expect to get an "elevator feeling" like arriving at the tenth-floor. It is routine, but not used on every take-off. When you first get on the airplane, turn left and go up to the cockpit, tell the captain you are an anxious flier and ask if there will be a big power change for "noise abatement" on today's flight.

Captain Tom


Getting married, afraid to fly on the honeymoon

I am to be married at the end of this year and my fiancee desperately wants me to fly on our honeymoon.

However, I have a deep fear of crossing water (as well as land) in an airplane. Could you please give me some advice.

Captain Tom's reply:

There may be so reasons why flying becomes a problem as you approach marriage. 1. When in love, you experience tender feelings, feelings you first had as a tiny, vulnerable child. Falling in love can lead a person to feel what was associated with these feelings the first time: tiny and vulnerable. Flying is difficult when one feels tiny and vulnerable. 2. You are taking off into a new and unknown phase of your life. Home - like "home base" playing "hide and seek" - may be the place you feel most secure. The farther you venture from home, the more the anxiety. Why? It takes more time to get back home where you feel secure. If home base goes out of your sight, there can be panic. Why? Even if you turn around to return, you can't see home getting closer. On an airplane, your legs are useless for getting back home. You are "out of control" of an ability to find "home base." 3. Getting married can feel "out of control" because it means giving another person major control over what happens to you. Also, you leave the security of home base. So, the "home base" and "losing control" issues are similar for getting married and for flying. You are facing both at the same time. Understanding this may help, but talking with a professional can help more. SOAR can help with the flying, but consider a local therapist to help with the other side of the matter.

Captain Tom


What causes this fear?

I feel really embarrassed not to be able to fly as other people do.

I know I am not crazy but I can't understand why I feel so terrified of something everyone else can do.

Captain Tom's reply:

Vulnerability to fear of flying can stem from a lack of something we call "self-soothing." When the child starts to explore the world, mishaps occur. The child rushes back to mom for soothing. If mom is consistently available to provide soothing followed by encouraging the child to try again, her soothing techniques get built into the child's memory until the child can soothing himself or herself by recalling and imagining mom's actions. You can see toddlers "practicing" this by soothing their dolls.

In time, self-soothing becomes automatic and operates unconsciously. Things that might upset us get neutralized by the self-soothing unconsciously. Two things can go wrong. One: a good self-soothing was not built in; or, two: a good supply was built in but later events damaged it. Good self-soothing is transportable and genuinely owned by the individual. Some moms supply loads of self-soothing but only through a psychological umbilical cord. When one ventures from home, the cord - like a rubber band - gets stretched, and threatens to break and result in panic. Some families teach children that home is safe and the world outside is dangerous. Even a good original supply of self-soothing can be damaged by trauma. The death of some special can damage self-soothing in a general way so that anxiety can arise about virtually everything. Or, a bad flight or being mugged can damage self-soothing in a more limited way so that one avoids flying in similar conditions or certain street situations.

If self-soothing is not transportable, problems arise when going out into the world on our own. Leaving home separates us from our source of soothing. Anxiety comes in the teens and twenties as we venture from home. We handle the anxiety by maintaining the option - if panic threatens - to turn around and head toward home. Just knowing we have the option can prevent panic and anxiety. Anything that blocks this option is a threat. Fear of flying presents a dual problem. It blocks our option to - if anxiety arises - head home; the pilot is not going to respond if we change our mind. But it is worse than that. We are throwing away control horizontally and vertically. We are mom and home base horizontally and "mother earth" vertically.

It is a big deal. The soundest thing you can do is get yourself into a fear of thorough flying course which has a good, long-term track record. Short of that, the single best thing you can do is to go to the cockpit immediately upon boarding and meet the captain, so that he or she can become a substitute source of soothing. Find out s/he is real - not just a voice on the PA. Make personal contact so you know s/he cares about you. S/he then becomes a soothing influence to make up for the deficit. If you want to really get some effective help, you may want to talk with Lisa Hauptner at SOAR. Lisa's number is (800) 332-7359. She really understands.

Captain Tom


Long flights

I have to fly to London. It is an overnight flight. Do you think taking a sleeping pill will work? Or will my anxiety prevent it from being effective.

Captain Tom's reply:

I would not take a sleeping pill connected with a flight, because there is no research to determine their effect at altitude. Also, medications commonly prescribed for anxiety are risky for two reasons:

1. they are highly addictive;
2. when desperate for relief, people often combine them with alcohol, which can cause breathing to stop.

Captain Tom


Turbulence terror

I'm OK about take-off and landing but turbulence terrifies me. Help!!

Captain Tom's reply:

First you need to know that turbulence is a problem for people only because people think turbulence is a problem for the airplane. Actually the airplane couldn't be happier than when in turbulence. It just doesn't bother airplanes, only us who think it bothers airplanes. Second, it can help to understand that turbulence is natural. The jet stream is caused by earth rotation, and zips across the U.S. up at 30,000 to 40,000 feet. If you fly in it, it is smooth. Also, if you are some distance horizontally or vertically from it, it is smooth. But when its vicinity, friction between fast-moving jet stream sort of makes the nearby slow-moving air into ball bearings to roll across the sky on. Then, when you are flying in those rolling ball bearings of air, you get turbulence. When you go into one rolling up, the airplane goes up; then you come out the back side which is rolling down, and the plane goes down. Try this: practice matching every down with an up. It is easy to not notice the "ups" because most of our childhood fears are about downward motion (falling) not upward motion.

Captain Tom


I can't put it out of my mind

On an airplane, other people just sit there so calm and collected. My friends say just think about something else. Either they are crazy or I am.

Captain Tom's reply:

People tell you, "Just put it out of your mind." It isn't that easy, so what I'd like to do is teach you a technique you can use - not to put it totally out of your mind - but to allow you to think about it, even worry about it, but remove some of the impact it has on you emotionally and physically. We do this by "distancing" yourself emotionally from the thing you are thinking and worrying about.

Here's how it works. First you have to really let yourself get into the thing you are anxious about . . . really let it get going. Why? Because, to get a handle on it, you have to make it substantial and real. So, I want you to see what "pictures," are included. Ask yourself what scenes are part of this anxiety. Go ahead and capture one of these scenes, such as (possibly) the airplane plunging down to crash. Then, use your imagination to create a small TV set. Imagine the set is half way across the room. Plant yourself in your chair. Really FEEL you body planted HERE, and see the TV set over there. Make sure this is only a small screen (5") black and white set - no color! Then put the scene that is bothering you on the small, black and white TV set, and all the time you are viewing the scene, be absolutely sure to keep the scene enclosed by the framework of the TV cabinet. If there is sound, remember these little sets have poor quality artificial sounding sound. If you want to, you can imagine the scene on the TV set is coming from a VCR and you have the remote control in your hand and can run the scene backwards and forwards, freeze-frame, or turn it off.

This is a very powerful tool for anticipatory anxiety. This is NOT, however, to be used during an actual flight, as what you need to do then is experience things just as they are without imagination, because imagination makes things worse than they are.

If you would like to have some more help on fear of flying, you may want to call my associate, Lisa Hauptner at (800) FEAR-FLY, about some additional ways to beat this problem.

Captain Tom


First time flying

I am about to fly for the first time and I am afraid.

Captain Tom's reply:

It's good to really understand that doing anything for the first time can cause anxiety. It may help to keep in mind that we, pilots, would not be doing this job unless it was safe. And if you wonder if it really is safe, consider that insurance companies are no fools, and they give us the same insurance rates as non-pilots. Be sure you board early and go up to meet the captain. Then you know somebody knows you and cares about you. They will also make more informative announcements during the flight.

Captain Tom


Turbulence: avoidance and passenger injury

Can't pilots plan ahead to avoid turbulence, and will fly around/above/under it?

There have been instances of where turbulence has caused injury to passengers. How can this happen if turbulence is harmless?? Why wouldn't the pilot avoid it??

Captain Tom's reply:

Clear air turbulence forecasts are not accurate enough to help much. Pilots get the best information from listening to remarks between Air Traffic Control and other aircraft. We avoid turbulence that is reported there by changing altitudes, but in some situations, the smooth altitudes are already taken by other aircraft, and in other situations, all practical altitudes have turbulence. A different kind of turbulence can exist around thunderstorms. We can see them on radar. If the thunderstorm is isolated, we can go around it. But if there is a line of thunderstorms, we have to pick a gap between two storms which may still be somewhat turbulent. Passenger injuries due to turbulence occur because of not using seat belts.

Captain Tom


Avoiding panic

I can keep my mind on other things before I get on the plane. Then I panic when they close the door. Can you help?

Captain Tom's reply:

Many people I have worked with try to keep flying off their mind by super-busy during the day of a flight, rush to the airport at the last minute, dash onto the flight. Why? To try to block from awareness what is being done. This is a great way to set yourself up for panic. If would be better to be aware of building anxiety. When you are no longer dashing around like mad - keeping your mind occupied - you suddenly realize you trapped yourself on the airplane. What should you do instead? Just the opposite. Instead of avoiding awareness during flight day, you need to be ultra-aware . . . aware of every thought, every feeling, every anxiety, every fear. Why? So you don't surprise yourself. You need to get used to the feelings. So you don't let them get collected up, and built up.

If this is not something you now feel strong enough to do, SOAR can give you some tools to manage these feelings, or we can provide a therapy that focuses on your individual needs to strengthen your ability to deal with these feelings. Meanwhile, on the day of your flight, get up, take plenty of time for everything you do. Perhaps make a checklist of everything you need to do (make the the day before). Don't rush anything. Go to the airport early. Don't rush driving. Be leisurely. Get used to the airport terminal. Go to the boarding lounge. Yes, I know you are afraid that the more time you are there, the more time to get afraid and change your resolve. But it doesn't work that way. Fear is like peanut butter and time is like bread to spread it on. There is only so much peanut butter, but there is a whole loaf of bread. If you take more time, the LIMITED amount of fear will get spread more thinly, and EVENLY. More time lets you experience it leisurely and that's what makes panic impossible.

Captain Tom


Used to fly - now terrified

I am planning a trip to Italy in February to see my daughter who is stationed in Sicily. I haven't flown in years.

I don't know why I don't like to fly, I used to fly when I was in my 20's and no problems. I am 44 now and I am terrified of flying. I have missed some wonderful opportunities to see the world. I know flying is safe and I encouraged all of my children to fly. But when I try, it's just panic city. Please help me to be rational about this, I am resolved to conquer this fear.

Captain Tom's reply:

Most people who fear flying have lots of ability to imagine things going wrong. Then, what you imagine causes physical tension, which then tends to make you think what you imagine is really taking place. So, to help stop this process, keep the visual part of your mind busy. Buy a number of magazines with splashy color pictures, and take them with you. Just flip through the pictures to keep the "visual" part of your mind too busy to make up imaginary disasters. You can take a further step by keeping the "auditory" part of your mind busy. Bring along a "Walkman" with several tapes.

Captain Tom


Claustrophobia when flying

I think my problem is not fear of flying but claustrophobia. Is that possible?

Captain Tom's reply:

Whether or not people with a problem with flying recognize it or not, there is almost always a problem with claustrophobia. But why is claustrophobia a problem, and why is it mainly with airplanes? When we don't have enough control to stay comfortable, we try to get more control. If that fails, our natural (but primitive) reactions are a. fight, b. freeze, or c. flight. On an airplane, these don't work, but we try. Fight: passengers get obnoxious with the flight attendants or bother other passengers. Flight: you can't run away physically but try to run away mentally. Freeze: difficulty breathing and panic (a form of freezing). Some courses on fear of flying merely teach you that you are safe and then try to teach you to relax and trust that you are safe. Easier said than done. There is much more that can be done such as rebuilding your own natural ability to soothe yourself, an ability that is learned in early childhood to a greater or lesser degree, but which may not - without reinforcement - be up for the task of dealing with flying. Two hours of specialized therapy can often rebuild ones natural ability to be calm and confident even in stressful situations. If you would like some information on this, please call us at (800) FEAR-FLY.

Captain Tom


Airport security

Does anyone else find security a legitimate reason to feel worried about flying?

And does anyone else find it VERY suspicious that the Feds are not telling us more?

Captain Tom's reply:

I can understand your concern completely. Having been an airline pilot for about thirty years, this is something I have had real concerns about. Over the years, a lot has been done, and one of the best things is the recent developments in bomb detection devices through which the luggage and carry-ons go through. Effective security can be produced. El Al has been, for obvious reasons, a target of Middle Eastern terrorists for many years, and yet terrorists have never succeeded in getting a bomb on El Al. But for American's to put up with the measures needed to provide it, there will have to be a consensus that these measures are essential.

Captain Tom



I keep seeing things on TV about windshear being a cause of accidents. It makes me really wonder if I should fly.

Captain Tom's reply:

Most wind shear is of no great significance. In fact, until the 1980s, we never believed wind shear could be strong enough to cause an accident. It was only in the 1980s that we discovered that it could be, and we started training to recognize that type of wind shear and how to handle it.

Captain Tom


Fear of the airplane going out of control

I fly once or twice a year at most.

I just recently got back from a trip and realized that my discomfort and anxiety on airplanes seems to be getting worse. Every time the pilot banks the plane I have this uncontrolled terror that the plane is going to roll and dive. I'm an intelligent person, and I know intellectually that this is extremely unlikely. And yet I cannot seem to control this fear. I also hate takeoff and landing. I just cannot believe that this enormous flying tube can stay in the air. It all seems so tenuous. One more thing: I am intrigued by the suggestion that those with this problem meet the pilot. I know that would help me, but is it inconvenient for the flight crew, busy with their preparations for takeoff?

Captain Tom's reply:

We all feel more comfortable when we control things. That applies to pilots, too. When there is an accident, we want to know what caused it so we can figure out how not to make the same mistake. If it is mechanical, we expect some fix to be required by the FAA. This Pittsburgh accident bothers pilots and non-pilots. Recently, there has been some thinking that the older military-trained pilots had something in their training that some of the newer civilian-trained pilots have not had. In the military, the instructors would have us close our eyes while flying instruments, and turn the airplane upside down, then tell us to open our eyes and recover. Instinct may make you do the wrong thing and put the airplane into an unrecoverable situation. But, when training, no problem: we do the right thing every time. But civilian pilots haven't generally had that training because the airplanes they trained on were not strong enough to handle those maneuvers. There has been speculation that in this accident, the airplane may have gotten into an unusual position and the pilot made a panic correction that was fatal. The airlines are now working on providing training on recovery - the safe way - from unusual positions (in the extremely rare case it should somehow happen). So, having ruled out every other cause, we are now think "pilot error" of that type.

As far as your specific question, the airplane has built-in stability that makes it go back to level flight, just as your car - if you are turning and let go of the wheel - will return to going straight ahead. An airplane is built like an arrow, with fins at the back. It will not tumble. It will not tip over. It takes FORCE to put in into a turn, and when you let got, it goes straight again.

Don't worry about visiting the cockpit. It takes us only a few minutes to set the switches up and run the checklist to be sure it is all correct. Then, we just wait until everyone is aboard. If the crew is busy, they will tell you, but most likely when you arrive, they will already have finished their prep. Flying is safe, but no matter how much intellect we have, it may not FEEL safe.

The work I do with people helps it feel safe, too. If you would like some info on that, please call me or Lisa at (800) 332-7359.

Captain Tom


The fear hit in my twenties

My fear is a few years old. It started when I hit my '20s

and only gets worse the longer I am out of the stable worlds of family and college. My fear is at the point where I have to convince myself on every flight that I am prepared to die, and accept the fact that I am going to die. Lots of fun. I can get on a plane, no problem, but I spend the whole flight in rigid anxiety, and, in turbulence, severe terror. In May I was on an Air France flight from Milan to Paris, by myself (which for me is extra-scary). The macho pilots, who do not deign to speak to the passengers at all during the flight, flew us straight into a major T-storm over the Paris area. At one point the plane lurched violently and skidded precariously to the right, listing at what felt like a 70 degree angle. Every single person on that flight started screaming. We got down, but only after circling in deadly silence, punctuated by bad turbulence and lightening next to the wings, for 30 minutes. I have never in my life had to endure a more terror-wracked 30 minutes, and I hope I never will again.

I fly frequently, and have found that the things that calm me down (slightly) during the flight are: perfectly smooth air, Xanax (although it does not help when the turbulence is severe), and especially, listening to "From the Cockpit" on United Airlines. Hearing the pilots talking to ground control and other pilots in a calm voice does wonders for me. Especially when they request permission to ascend or descend to avoid some nasty turbulence. I know they don't like turbulence either. I also found myself feeling better when I was actually sitting next to someone on a flight who was even more terrified than me. Interestingly, reassuring this total stranger made me feel much more in control, and had an enormous calming effect. So, I suppose the only things I can do are sit in the cockpit and pay the pilot to talk to me the whole time, or else sit next to someone having a panic attack. By the way, are you sure it's OK to introduce yourself to the pilot before the flight? I know that would help a great deal to dissipate my terror, but what do you say to him? "Hi, please don't let me die"?

Captain Tom's reply:

First, Xanax seems to be the medication that helps best. And, I'm glad you find listening in on our transmissions. I think that is a very good sign, because many fearful fliers are too panicked to want to even know what is going on. The fact that you are interested shows me that you are on the right track, which is to pay attention to what is real rather than what is going on in your imagination.

Now, what can help? First, pre-board and go directly up to the cockpit. You would never think of just checking into to a hospital and say "operate on me." Not except in an emergency. Instead, you want to meet the doctor and check him or her out, and get comfortable with the doctor's manner and level of confidence, which then gets transmitted to you. Do the same with your pilots. Their confidence is contagious; it will help. And, you will not have to deal with those thoughts such as, "is the pilot drunk" and "did s/he have a fight with his/her spouse last night." You will know somebody there has YOU in mind. This means you are not alone at 30,000 feet, and that is important.

Turbulence is totally mechanical. It is just air making its own ball bearings upon which the jet stream rides. The area near the jet stream is always turbulence. In other words, it exists all the time. And when airplanes venture into that area, it is no problem at all for the airplane. But, people have a hard time believing that, so people thus have a problem with it.

People have a problem for two reasons. First, we imagine how high up we are, and think how awful it would be to fall. O.K. We are up high, but airplanes don't "fall." If you tried to get the airplane to go down fast by putting the nose down, it would just pick up speed and the extra speed causes more "lift" on the wings, which keeps the airplane up. To go down, we have to pull the power way back and sometimes even use the speed brakes. Airplanes are really gliders; they don't like to go down, and you really have to take some time to get them to go down (unless you use the speed brakes), so forget - forget - about falling out of the sky. It doesn't happen.

Next, up is not a problem - just down. People don't pay attention to upward movements - just downward movements. So, when in turbulence, the airplane goes up, down, up, down, up, down, etc. But since people ignore the up movements and fear the down movements, what registers mentally is ONLY the downs so the experience is not up, down, up, down, etc, but down ... down ... down ... down. The antidote for this is to focus intensely on the up and down experience and pair up every down with an up, and pair up every up with a down. Another part of the problem is this: "seeing is believing" and when you look out at the wing, you see nothing holding it up, and thus - with nothing holding it up - it seems like the airplane should fall. In a car, you see the road hold the car up, or in a boat, you see the water hold the boat up. But in an airplane, you can't see the air hold the airplane up. What can you do to make air real when you can't see it. Remember when you where a kid and put your hand out the window when mom or dad was driving. That air rushing by the window felt real. Imagine right now how that air felt against you hand at 50 MPH. Now multiply that times ten to think about air's power at 500 MPH. Then multiply that times how many times you would have to "handprint" the wing to completely cover it with handprints - thousands and thousands. That is the power that securely holds the airplane in flight.

Captain Tom


I couldn't breathe

I flew last year for the first time in 5 years and for the first time, I started shaking and couldn't think straight.

I couldn't breathe. I'm not scared to fly but I get CRAZY inside that TUBE. Last years flight was only 3 hours but on the 27th of this month I will fly from Phila to Orlando and back. Then in May, I am flying from Phila to San Francisco-non stop on a US Air 757--AAAAHHHHHH! If it were up to me, I would have suggested a wide body for this 6 hr flight. It is a business trip and my co-workers made the choice. They obviously don't have claustrophobia. If you know how to help me cope, please email ASAP.

Captain Tom's reply:

This is one of the major components of fear of flying. Yes, it can be dealt with. Some of the things you can do follow. You, first, need to take some control back for yourself. To start, be very aware that you have a CHOICE whether you fly or not, so that when you choose to fly, you have made that choice consciously and deliberately. Then, when you are on the airplane, you know you are there because you chose to - not as the victim of pressure by someone else. Then, before you board, to to the window of the boarding lounge and MEMORIZE VISUALLY what is outside the jetway and outside the airplane. Use your photographic memory to record in detail what you see. Then, when walking through the jetway, you can remember what is outside; this helps reassure you that there IS an outside and the walls are not able to pressure you. Then, onboard the airplane, recall what is outside. Also, be sure you find out if there are any "eyeball" air outlets that you can control; turn them on. If not, place your hand near the air vents to prove to yourself that there IS air coming in. Stretch out your arms and examine PHYSICALLY how much space is yours. If you find yourself having breathing difficulty, hold your breath for one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three at the end of each exhalation and at the end of each inhalation.

Remember that the engines pump air into the aircraft; there always is air. Any failure in the air supply causes the oxygen masks to automatically drop. Keep talking to yourself. Tell yourself, "There is air; there is always air; there always will be air."

Choose an aisle seat so you have visual space looking through the aisle - not a bulkhead seat that blocks you visual space. If you need more help, contact me at (800) FEAR-FLY

Captain Tom


Fear the pilot may lose control

I get worried that the pilot may not be able to control the plane or be jerked from his/her seat, etc.

I know the pilot is belted/ harnessed in the seat and that the plane is probably in auto-pilot anyway. But, I have a big concern that maybe the automatic systems and/or the pilot may lose control. Another issue is that I have a lot of allergies and sinus problems that make me dizzy while I fly and it's hard to believe that the pilot does not feel the same thing. Here again I don't see how the pilot can control the plane...when I've lost my equilibrium!

Captain Tom's reply:

The pilots are always belted in. In turbulence, the airplane is on autopilot anyway. The next time you fly, it may help to sort of step back mentally and observe what is going on as if you were a scientist, and ask yourself, "How much in fact is this airplane moving? How can I test it? If I have a half-cup of soda in my hand, or on my tray table, how many inches up out of the cup does the liquid travel during the turbulence? Does it, go an inch up out of the cup? Does it go a foot up out of the cup? Does it hit the ceiling?" I'll bet you are getting anxious about large movements of the airplane when the soda is still in the cup. . . and while the pilots are still securely in their seats - and would be even without seat belts. See, when we imagine how high up we are, be are hypervigilant. If a little kid shakes your leg standing on the floor, so what; but if you are on the top of a ladder, that's different! Try getting your perception back "down to earth" by stepping back and imagine you are perceiving the situation as a scientist.

Captain Tom


Can this fear ever end

Have spent many an hour pouring through travel magazines but as soon as I realize that to get 'there' I have to get on a plane. Went to New York a few years ago and had clenched fists for the entire trip. How does one ever get over this damned fear of flying?

Captain Tom's reply:

Yes, since 1982, we have been able to take the long-term success rate from about 60% to nearly 100%. We even give a guarantee that if you have done the complete program and YOU are not satisfied with the difference when you fly, you can have some free additional therapy sessions. If still not satisfied, you can return the course materials for a refund of that part of the course.

Captain Tom


More than just afraid . . . terrified

Used to fly fairly often, probably about 2 -3 times a year.

I flew for the last time about 2 years ago with the help of Xanax and a litre of wine. Even then I was more than just afraid. Terrified is the only word that conveys the depth of the emotion I feel even when I think about being on an airplane. I recently had to get to Florida from NY and took Amtrak. It was a hellish 24-hour plus trip. I want to be able to get on an airplane, but am sure I cannot. I've read many of the postings in this forum and it seems I'm not alone. I'll try some of the tactics suggested here, but my fear is so consuming, I don't know that any will be effective. The most common remedy seems to be a sedative, but this doesn't work for me. I believe the level of my agitation overcomes the effect of the sedative. Anything you can suggest would be appreciated.

Captain Tom's reply:

If the tips presented here are not enough, I recommend you enroll in the entire SOAR Program. We have had so much success with people who believed nothing would work that I have to believe you can find effective help here.

Captain Tom


Stuck in one place for seven hours

I have flown several times before, with the longest flight being about 4 hours.

However, I will be flying to London this summer and am already getting anxious about it. I guess I don't like the fact that I will be flying at night - I won't be able to see anything, let alone the fact that I will be over a huge body of water! Also, being in one place for about 7 hours or more does not exactly thrill me. Any suggestions? I don't hate flying, but just want some ideas to make this trip more enjoyable Thanks!

Captain Tom's reply:

From my point of view as a pilot, flying at night has safety benefits. At night, we can see the lights of other airplanes at a great distance, which allows us to see them several minutes earlier. Runways are easier to see because runway lighting systems stand out at night much better than during the day. Your night flight should be more comfortable, because the air is usually smoother at night than during the day. Now, about being over water: find a globe and a piece of string that you can stretch from your departure airport at one end to London with the other end. Notice that for most of your flight, you are over land - not as you would suspect with a flat, paper map. And even when over water, you are always within an hour or so of land and a place where you can land if need be. Also, engines on modern jets are so reliable they can run for years and years (electric companies literally do that with them to produce electric power) without problems, so crossing the Atlantic - though it may seem a big deal - is just another routine trip. The anticipation can still be difficult; so look here in the forum for info on how to deal with anticipatory anxiety.

Captain Tom


Losing sleep

I am TERRIFIED! of flying.

I am flying from Toronto to Malaysia on July 16 and I am starting to lose sleep over it already. I have flown all over the world (it never used to bother me) and have read books, tried relaxation and everything but nothing seems to work. Last January I flew Toronto-LA-Tahiti and back, loaded up with Xanax. It didn't work. I was trembling, crying, and on the verge of hysteria! And this was with 3 or 4 Xanax tablets and a whole bottle of champagne. Does anyone know of or has had success with any other drugs which help to calm down fearful flyers? I would appreciate any help.

Captain Tom's reply:

Drugs don't work for everyone. There are, however, some good courses out there, some of which are nearly 100% effective. If the tips here don't do the job, you are a candidate for doing a good course on fear of flying.

Captain Tom


Extreme fear of flying

My fear of flying is so extreme, I recently took a 32 hour bus ride to Vegas.

(my husband flew and met me there) Actually, I was so relieved to not fly, I enjoyed the ride! I'm planning to see a shrink soon. Is there really any hope of curing a fear this bad?

Captain Tom's reply:

Yes, there is great hope! Since 1982, I have worked with about 3,000 people to help them find a way that works for them to overcome their fears, and do the things they want to do. Originally, the course I presented was only a bit more effective than the others available, but over the years, we have developed a program which we believe can enable anyone who really wants to fly to be able to do so. First, I would suggest you read all the tips on this forum. There are many others things I can teach you, however, and if these tips are not enough, please call us at (800) FEAR-FLY

Captain Tom


Best single fear of flying tip

I have a flight coming up and am terrified and don't know what to do.

Captain Tom's reply:

The best single thing you can do for yourself approaching an upcoming flight is to make the commitment to go up to the cockpit as soon as you go onboard and meet the captain. This does many things. It helps you not feel alone and potentially abandoned to the vast unknowns of the sky where you have not the slightest control over your destiny, because you have developed a personal contact with the person who finds this area his/her element, and you will discover he/she is fully competent to operate in this vastness, day after day, year after year, with safety and confidence. The captain's confidence comes across in some wordless way, and it makes all the difference in the world to how you feel on the flight. Blame it on me; tell them I made you promise to do it.

Captain Tom


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