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Travel Talk

Travel Talk: There’s no need to fear the flight

On one of our homeward flights last week, I noticed a young man with a sickly gray-green pallor. I tried to catch his attention and smile reassuringly, but his eyes were screwed shut. Aha! Fear of flying. . . . in fact, stark terror at being in a long metal tube whizzing along at 200-plus miles per hour, 20,000 or 30,000 feet above the ground. In fact, 20 years ago, that was me. But no more! Not only am I not afraid, I love flying! How did the transition happen?

Distraction: One well-known technique for dealing with situation-based fear is trying to distract your mind from obsessing over the perceived danger. For me, the take-off was the worst, followed closely by any and all turbulence once airborne. This meant making sure that I had a novel, a real page-turner, in my sweaty hands at all times. On long flights, I would have a backup novel as well as a collection of crossword puzzles. If these distractions sound low-tech, it was long before e-readers, iPads and smart phones – and your choices still need to be low-tech, especially if the take-off and/or landing bothers you. Current regulations still prohibit the use of electronics for the first (and last) 10,000 vertical feet of the flight – so forget relying on your Kindle. I hear rumors the regulations may change soon at least for some planes, but for now it’s important to plan ahead and make sure your books, puzzles (how about Sudoku?) and such are in your carry-on.

Seating: It’s no surprise that some airplane seats are more comfortable than others – specifically aisle, bulkhead (for legroom) and business and first class for the best of comfort, convenience and free food and beverages. But there’s another level of distinction, especially in coach cabins, that can directly impact your fear levels. If turbulence bothers you, avoid the tail sections – they can whip around and greatly exaggerate the motion of turbulence. The most stable part of the plane in turbulence is right over the wings, as well as often having the advantage (at least psychological) of nearby exit doors. I, however, am not fond of that area because the main wheels are often under the wings and make very scary sounds (plus the stomach-dropping whoosh) as they leave the ground. Bud doesn’t like the crunch of the wheels on landing, so you usually won’t find us midplane. What do we like? If we can’t snag free upgrades, we book as far in advance as possible and pick opposite aisles. We have stability, easier access to a speedy exit if need be and a bit of breathing room so we don’t get that panicky yikes-I-am-stuck-in-this-confined-space feeling.

Reality: Think I have no clue how scared you really are? Ask friends and family who have watched me hyperventilate, cry, toss back stiff drinks and eventually turn to my doctor for Xanax just to walk onto the jetway! It can be overcome! Experts say that “exposure therapy” (just getting on that plane and flying) is the best long-term solution – and I have to say I am living proof. But there are also formal programs like SOAR (fearofflying.com) which offer multifaceted approaches that combine education and traditional therapeutic strategies. The reality, of course, is that flying is the safest mode of transportation by far. The Aviation Safety Network says that 2012 was the safest year in the skies since 1945 using at least two points of measurement – the number of accidents involving passenger planes and the longest period without a fatal airliner accident. Visit the ASN website at aviation-safety.net and click on “Safety Review 2012” for more interesting – and comforting – data!

(Chase Binder lives in Bow. Read her blog at
travelswithchase.blogspot.com.)

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