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Lynne S. Gots, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist

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Don’t Let a Fear of Flying Ground You This Summer

By Lynne Gots, posted on July 12th, 2014.

DSC_0390In the last month, several fearful fliers I’ve worked with have successfully bought tickets, boarded planes, and arrived at their destinations without incident. Nobody went crazy, created a scene trying to get off a plane, or even white-knuckled it for the duration of the flight. All of them had avoided flying for years, making excuses for missing weddings and funerals and even turning down promotions if the new position would require travel.

I can’t say they loved their aviation experiences (varying in length from less than two hours to eighteen, involving layovers and connections). In fact, very few people actually enjoy air travel these days. Who would relish standing in long security lines, removing shoes and belts, being scanned by xray machines, cramming toiletries into tiny ziplock baggies, jostling for overhead storage space, and sitting thigh-to-thigh with sweaty strangers?

But we endure these indignities because we want to get places. Not being able to fly can be very limiting.

If you suffer from a flying phobia, you may worry about the plane’s safety even though you know the statistics: the probability of dying in a plane crash is much lower than the odds of suffering a fatal injury in an automobile accident. But the numbers probably don’t reassure you.

Many people who worry about flying aren’t even afraid of the risk. By far the majority of fearful fliers I see in my practice suffer from panic attacks, especially in situations where they feel trapped. So they’re terrified of becoming panicked aboard an aircraft where there’s no escape.

For those who’ve avoided flying for years, I often recommend they get a prescription from their primary care physician or psychiatrist for a short-acting medication for anxiety to take the edge off enough to get them on the plane. But other strategies can also make the flying experience easier.

Here are a few tips my patients have found helpful.

1)    PREP

Learn the facts about air travel and flight safety. Knowing that turbulence isn’t dangerous, for instance, can help ease qualms. You also can view plane interiors and flight videos online to familiarize yourself with the experience without actually having to get on a plane. One of my patients who recently flew all the way to Africa after a five-year hiatus from air travel discovered YouTube videos of the flight she would be taking. Watching it over and over allowed her to visualize the situation, feel the anxiety, and learn to work through it.


Most people who fear flying can replicate the dreaded physical sensations either by watching flight-related videos or by engaging in other activities they may find anxiety-provoking, such as riding the Metro or taking an elevator to the top of a tall building. Becoming familiar with the feelings and learning to tolerate them are important steps in the process of desentization.

3)    PACK

Avoid the last-minute jitters by packing early. Treat yourself with books you’ve wanted to read, make a playlist of favorite tunes, and download movies and TV shows on your tablet or computer. You might consider adding some guided relaxation audio files  as well. Remember you’ll  have to power off electronic devices during takeoff and landing—times when many people feel most anxious—so make sure you bring some reading material or crossword puzzles you can access nondigitally.

With preparation and practice, you nervous travelers can make it through a flight. But I can’t promise you’ll ever get used to the full body scan.




Posted in Anxiety, Phobias |

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This blog is intended solely for the purpose of entertainment and education. All remarks are meant as general information and should not be taken as personal diagnostic or therapeutic advice. If you choose to comment on a post, please do not include any information that could identify you as a patient or potential patient. Also, please refrain from making any testimonials about me or my practice, as my professional code of ethics does not permit me to publish such statements. Comments that I deem inappropriate for this forum will not be published.

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© 2008-2024 Lynne S. Gots, PhD. Photographs by Steven Marks Photography.