Fear of Flying

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Fear of flying: is there help?

Nov 2010

Does anyone know anyone who has had a fear of flying? Please let me know if they had success in overcoming and if so, how did they do it? I am looking for a therapist or therapy treatment that deals specifically with this fear. I never used to be afraid of flying until I had a terrible flight in Turkey a few years ago with quite strong turbulence. Ever since then, my flying experiences have been traumatic. Grateful for any useful feedback.

Hi there, Sorry to hear you are going through this. I had the exact same thing occur to me: no fear of flying, one bad flight, followed by BAD fear of flying (ie: panic attack, etc.) I, however, only had one of those post bad flight episodes and then asked my doctor if there was anything she recommended. She did: Ativan. Now whenever I travel by plane (which I do a lot) I take 1-2 Ativan before the flight and my fears still exist but they don't bother me almost at all. Talk to your doc. It worked for me.

I simply take a Xanax. I have BAD fear of flying (mine started after 9/11), in fact, I once forgot to put the Xanax in my hand luggage -- that plane did not take off for a while. So I take a pill about 15 min before take-off and I will be asleep for most of the flight. It also has the added bonus that I don't have to worry ahead of time about taking a flight. Good Luck!

10 Years ago I could have posted your question myself. Thanks to a terrible flight experience in China, I'd developed a debilitating fear of flying. It would start days before my flight even, with loss of appetite, anxiety, depression; and then I'd spend the actual flight sweating, gripping the armrest, not eating, not talking, not reading, just counting the minutes until the plane landed. It was really awful, and really embarrassing. For me, the question of how to get over it was especially important, because I literally travel for a living - that's my career. To stop flying, for me, would require a major life change I didn't want for any other reason. None of the suggested techniques worked for me. Taking Xanax was not helpful, and therapy was completely ineffective for me. Eventually I had to face the reality - either get over it, or stop flying.

My approach doesn't sound good at all, but it worked for me. I would tell myself, ''The worst thing that can possibly happen is that I will die in a horrible, fiery crash.'' I'd actually say that to myself on the plane, bluntly, more than once if necessary - and I'd think on it a bit. With that, I eventually came to peace with that possibility, the same way we all come to peace with the fact that we are all going to die some day. Really, it sounds awful, but when you take the knee-jerk, avoidance, reflex-reaction out of it, and replace it with a ''there's nothing I can do'' attitude, that fear is gradually replaced with a logical acceptance (a.k.a. just don't dwell on it). It's hard to explain, but I have no fear of flying anymore. I fly a lot, and it took several flights to completely relax. If you'd asked me ten years ago if I could ever get over my fear of flying, I would have said no. You have to take the bull by the horns, and face your fears head on. Or stop flying. Got Over It

I had the exact same problem. One awful flight, and the next time I boarded a plane and it shook slightly in midair, I freaked out. I got a prescription for Ativan and used it for the next several flights. It helped a lot, but what really helped was an explanation of turbulence I read online. It analogized air turbulence to the way a boat rocks going through water. Since then, when the plane bucks a little, I just visualize being on a ski boat and rocking in the waves, and I don't get nervous at ALL. Good luck.

fearofflying.com, the SOAR program, changed my life. I have always been terrified of flying and have used drugs and alcohol to numb my phobia. Since becoming a Mom, getting wasted is no longer an option, but this is much better. the owner Captain Tom Bunn, though his name may sound a little corny, is passionate about the psychology behind the fear helping people overcome it. Check it out!!! anon

Therapist for Teen for Fear of Flying

May 2010

I'm am seeking recommendations for a therapist to work with my 20 year old daughter, who has developed a fear of flying after a enduring a truly scary flight a few years ago. She has to fly back and forth from college, and envisions a life of travel and perhaps even working abroad. We also have family abroad. So she is ready to tackle this issue seriously while she is home this summer. We live in Lamorinda, but she could drive either to Walnut Creek or Oakland. I hope to find someone who is kind, but will also push her when needed, and who has experience successfully helping patients with phobias.

Definitely call the San Francisco Bay Area Center for Cognitive Therapy (www.sfbacct.com) in Oakland. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the best treatment for phobia, and the psychologists at the Center for Cognitive Therapy are top notch. Liz

Anti-anxiety drugs and nausea

Feb 2008

I wrote the original post about being afraid to fly...Thanks for all of the responses! Many folks have gotten relief from taking anti-anxiety drugs to help them during a flight. I have taken ativan during several flights before and it was somewhat helpful. However, the issue for me is that I also get terrible motion sickness (which I have had my whole life and have in cars, boats and other non- anxiety producing situations.) I definitely need to take something for the motion sickness and have been told not to take it with an anti-anxiety drug because they both make you sleepy. Anyone else have a drug combo they like to address both situations? fearful and nauseated flyer

One word: GINGER! I get MISERABLY motion sick. Tried every Rx and non Rx med around until I was in England and going over to France via ferry and forgot my meds. The only thing they had in the ferry gift shop was ginger tabs. I took them and fifteen years later can't imagine ever living without. I buy the capsules and take two an hour before flying and then every three hours while flying. They are 99% effective. I've never vomited, but once on a super turbulent flight I did feel a tiny bit queasy. So, GINGER!! Very Queasy Traveler

Okay so I know exactly what you are going through. I have really bad motion sickness, I can't sit in an ocean side restaurant and look at the sea without getting sick. I am also very anxious about flying. I stopped flying at one point for about 7 years. The combination that I have come up with, which I am not saying is safe but I have taken dozens of times is 2 dramamine (normal dose) and 2 sudafed (normal dose) every 6 hours and then about 8 zanx that are the lowest dose .25 mg and I might take that again for a long flight. This combo has worked really well for me but now i am going to be trying my first flight free of medications with my new baby because I am breast feeding exclusively. Good luck feel free to email me if you would like. I have also taken the fear of flying course at SFO Laura

A healthy alternative to medication for fear of flying - I had hypnotherapy sessions with Dr. Francis Dreher in Kensington for my fear of flying. Prior to hypnotherapy I took anti-anxiety medication when flying but now instead I listen to his hypnotherapy tapes every night for about a week before trips. I still have to work at releasing the anxiety caused by flying and can at times have some tense moments when in flight but I am able to fly and I feel totally fine when I get off of the plane. With medication I found that I was calm during the flight but once the flight was over I felt very drowsy and ended up losing at least the rest of the day when flying because I was so tired from the meds. It might be worth a try. Gretchen

I hate to fly. I am totally afraid of it

Jan 2008

I hate to fly. I am totally afraid of it. I am looking for recommendations of ''treatments'' that others have found helpful (i.e. therapy, Fear of Flying Clinic, taking medication). Thanks! Fearful Flyer

On the last flight that I took before I decided to do something about my fear of flying, I spent the entire flight curled up in the fetal position weeping -- so I really do know what it means to be afraid of flying. I am so sorry that you are suffering from the same fear, because it makes life so difficult if you want to travel. I tried various kinds of drugs -- valium, zanex -- but none of them helped.

What helped me was going to a therapist who specializes in phobias and panic and really confronting why I was afraid. I went to her for probably ten sessions. Then, she recommended that I buy a relaxation cd -- Flying Without Fear -- and practice the techniques on the cd. I still don't like flying, but I can do it -- and even enjoy myself a bit. You can do it, too. You just have to really make up your mind to change how you approach flying and how you think -- this is much more difficult than it might sound. But my life is so much better now that I've overcome this. I can fly to see friends and family -- I can fly to travel to wonderful places -- and I don't suffer from that panic and anxiety that were so unpleasant and difficult. Good luck to you! Flying without fear

Hi. I want to let you know that I too have had anxiety while flying in the last few years. Before that I was pretty cool even with turbulence. But, on some recent flights with turbulence I was a nervous wreck - sweating, gripping the arm rests, etc. So, when I had to fly to Chicago in inclement weather recently I called my GP to see what he would recommend to ''take the edge off''. He prescribed the generic form of Xanax and I took one pill before my east bound flight and one pill before my return flight. Although there was turbulence, I was a lot calmer. I don't have anxiety in other situations, I was just wreck when flying. So, maybe Xanax would also work for you. I had no side affects but I did sleep well on both flights. A

Hi, I took a FEAR OF FLYING Class at SFO, it was Fantastic. We talked to Pilots, Stewardess, Machinests, Baggage Handlers,went into the Air Traffic Control tower and ended this class (lasted 4 weekends I think) with a flight to Seattle. We went there and then flew right back. You did it with a ''graduate buddy'' who sat next to you for the whole flight. I loved the class and still refer to the binder. It TEACHES you why you should n't be afraid and if you are, how to cope. I highly recommend you take it, well worth the money. Don't let your fear make your miss important events because you don't want to get on the plane. Good Luck, Sue

I too had a huge fear of flying. I wouldn't go on any trips unless I absolutely had to and then I would dread it for weeks until I had to get on the plane. Once I was on the plane I was a wreck. Crying, sweating, just a complete mess. My doctor prescribed Lorazepam (also know by the brand name Atavan) and it was the best thing I could have hoped for. It is an anti-anxiety medicine and I have the best, most relaxing flights ever now. I even try to see if I can get myself all worked up while on the flight by imagining the plane crashing, and I just don't react. My brain is able to rationalize that the probability of that happening is very slim and I will be fine. Before the Lorazepam I would have been in a complete panic. I do not usually like to take medicine so I tried just a half a pill and it still worked for me. I would usually take it about a half hour before my flight, to make sure it was working before we took off, and a half a pill lasted me about 5 hours. relaxed traveller

After a traumatic flight several years ago, I don't like flying either. I did an hour therapy session with the former pilot turned therapist at fearofflying.com -- which was helpful. He has a ton of tricks to calm your mind and keep your head in the right place (and he sells a set of CDs). My doctor also prescribed meds to take before flying, which work OK, but not great. My husband, who is usually my flying companion, is good at talking me down, and I like to watch the flight attendants, who look nonchalant during the worst turbulance. I've also found that the MORE I fly, the better it is. And I make it through 3-4 trips per year -- including cross-country and international flights. Working on it

I have the same fear, but I have managed some progress with it this way. First of all, if you are like me, stop feeling bad about being afraid of flying. Everybody has fears and being afraid of flying isn't so irrational. It is unnatural for humans to fly.

Anyone who blows you off or makes light of your fear or teases you can go to ****.

For me, it was about control. I'm not afraid to drive myself places, because I am controlling the car. But I have to trust perfect strangers to fly my plane. I learned to give up my need to control things I couldn't control by controlling the things I could.

I stopped being so ''nice'', I got more sleep. I took showers when I wanted to (even if it was during the dang NFL pregame show). I cooked what I wanted to eat for dinner and everyone just had to live with it or go make themselves PB Get the picture?

I stopped naively trusting, too. This may sound harsh, but instead of counting on DH to remember little things, I just stopped asking. Stop counting on things that are unreliable and put your trust in things that are. Like the piolet. You can safely assume he has never crashed a plane. Turbulence is scary. I read up on it on the internet. Most of the bumpy stuff we feel is teeny tiny turbulence. The plane is designed to basically survive a hurricane. Sit in the backseat of a car with your eyes closed and realize how much bumpier the ride is than most turbulence. So if the little bumps on the road make your car ride so turbulent, just realize how small the bumps of air current are during plane turbulence. Arm yourself with facts. Also, an iPod with your favorite music that you can completely concentrate on really helps.

Close your eyes and sing along in your head. Do yoga breathing. I also learned the air in the cabin doesn't have as much oxygen in it as on land, and you can definitely experience altitude issues,that's why you feel anxious because your brain is reacting correctly to less oxygen. It's a physical reality, you are not imagining something silly. Take care of yourself. You are not alone and you don't have anything to apologize for. fellow reluctant flyer

My nurse practitioner prescribed an anti-anxiety medication called Alprazolam (.25mg) which is a generic for Xanax because I also felt I needed something before I got on a plane last summer. Just to let you know, I hadn't been on one since the summer of 2000 at that point. I never took any of it, but just having it somehow allowed me to feel okay about flying from CA to two different cities in central Mexico and back with a total of 5 take-offs and 5 landings! It was very reassuring to know I had something I could take if I felt uneasy. Elaine

There is a class at Vallejo Kaiser (not restricted to kaiser members) called Phobease.It's a 6 week (I think) class for people with all kinds of Phobias. There is one for adults, and one for kids. I don't have the number anymore. We took my son to it years ago. Great class. Good luck. anon

I'm also terrified of flying. I started taking lorazepam to fly several years ago - it doesn't help with the days leading up to the flight when I begin the nervous cycle, but it does help me actually get on the airplane, and frequently helps me sleep through the flight. I'm curious to hear if others have managed to actually get over their fear of flying... anon

When my husband and I met, he had not flown for many years due to fear of flying. Within a year, he was back on a plane after trying the 3 things that you mentioned: seeing a hypnotherapist (Andrew Condey in Berkeley), using a prescription for Ativan, and going through the Fear of Flying Clinic at Oakland Airport (www.fofc.com). At this point, he's now a volunteer at the clinic to support other fearful flyers. Within a couple of years, we traveled to Europe twice, to South America once, and have taken many shorter flights in the U.S. If you want me to put you in contact with him, feel free to write to me directly. I wish you the best of luck. You really can do it!! Elisabeth

One word: Valium

But I'm sure any anti-anxiety medication would work. I know people who've gotten prescriptions solely for the purpose of flying and they have had success. Not sure which drugs though, but my point is that you could certainly discuss with your doctor and explain that you would only use it when flying. anon

Oh I can relate. I have a horrible fear of flying. About 6 years ago I did a Fear of Flying class, based at SF Airport that was actually pretty helpful. It was expensive and facilitated by a ''therapist'' (IE someone who called herself a therapist who wasn't licensed). BUT it was very helpful to be around all of those other folks who were also TERRIFIED of flying, and realizing that others have similar thoughts and fears (maybe even worse fears than I do!). We were given a lot of practical information (a pilot, mechanic, flight attendant, others met with us and answered all and every question thrown at them) as well as behavioral techniques to help us deal with our fears. We then flew together (had to pay extra for that) round trip to Portland.

I DO think it was helpful, I DON'T think it cured me. I still avoid flying pretty much, which is a drag. I''ll be curious to hear what others post. fearful flyer too

I had this problem--I used valium for a while (one 10 minutes before take-off did the trick), then got over it. Dunno whether the relaxed flights de-sensitized me, or if something else helped, but it's not a problem anymore. Laura

I was deathly afraid of flying from the age of 20 on. Just took one slightly negative experience and I was done. I was landlocked for about seven years before I started trying to get back to life. Flying really is part of living. I signed on with an amazing cognative therapist who worked with me on my fear of flying (and other fears that developed through that). With a combination of therapy and some medication, I now fly almost once a month. I'll be the first to admit, I'd rather not. I'll never be totally comfortable with it, but exposure is the best way to get over it. I would suggest you contact the San Francisco Center for Cognative Therapy (they have an office in Rockridge) and see if there are any openings. I have definitely been there and the best way to get over it is to... fly. Good luck.

How to stay brave for my 3-year-old

Sept 2006

I will be flying alone with my 3-yr-old to visit family in a month. My child is great on planes, but I am not. I get very nervous during any kind of turbulence and I am worried about upsetting my daughter by my anxious facial expression. I realize that this is a pretty irrational fear and I usually talk myself through it. Usually I am flying with my husband and he distracts our child if I need some time for myself. Does anyone have any tips for me? Or facts about how the laws of physics wouldn't allow the plane to crash in regular turbulence, etc.? Thanks! nervous

I hate to fly too! and you and I are not alone. My children have helpt me tremendously though getting over my fears: I totally focus on them, their well being and it gets me out of my own anxiety. Your husband not being there, putting you in charge totally may be a great opportunity to step out of yourself. Talking about turbulences with your daughter as it occurs, explaining to her how harmless it is, will hopefully do you some good anon

Dear Nervous, I have anxiety about flying too and my ob/gyn has prescribed Xanax to take to ease the fear when I fly. I highly recommend it, both for yourself and your child. It works very well at taking the edge off and keeping you calm, and doesn't make you sleepy anon

Take some homeopathic Gelsemium (available at Whole Foods elephant Pharmacy, etc) before heading to the airport. Take the bottle in your purse and take as needed for the trip Used to be scared

I am also a chicken-of-the-sky. In fact, I'm already dreading a flight I have to make in October. For your non-baby-related fears about flying, you might want to look for a really good book called ''Ask the Pilot: Everything You Need to Know about Air Travel'' by Patrick Smith. The author, a pilot and Salon.com writer, answers questions about flying itself (how the plane stays up in the air, turbulence, what *was* that noise?!, etc.) and gives a ton of other strangely fascinating information about the airline industry and its employees, what it's like to be a pilot, etc. The best part of the entire book for me was learning that there are around 27,000 commercial flights *every day* in the United States. That's more than 9 million flights per year, in the U.S. alone, and in most years every one of those flights is successful -- or at least crash-free Tori

Oh I can so relate, I HATE flying, and my kids do not, nor do I want them too (I also loved flying as a kid). If it's any help at all, I took a fear of flying class and part of the class featured a pilot who ASSURED us that turbulence does not cause a plane crash. Also, turbulence is ranked, and I believe (if I remember correctly) that anything we typically feel in airplanes is a level 0 or 1 (level 4 is a hurricane or something insane like that). One thing that always makes me feel better on a flight is watching the flight attendants. Maybe you already do this, but if they look calm, I usually feel better b/c they do this every DAY and have a good sense of what is in the range of normal. GOOD LUCK, I really empathize with you, it is truly hard. Another thing to think about is that it is OK to show your child that you feel fear. What about saying something like, ''It makes Mama nervous when the plane bumps'' nothing wrong with that, right? Another nervous flyer

Hi, Scaredy-cat flyer, Me, too. I have known to be a wreck flying (and I just logged an international flight to Europe by myself). Here are a few suggestions:

1) Can you upgrade or get a ticket for business and/or first class? There is much less movement felt toward the front of the plane. DO NOT LET THE AIRLINE PUT YOU IN THE BACK OF THE PLANE, where families with children get relegated. If you can't manage a bus. or first class ticket, how 'bout paying the small, extra amount for economy plus, at the front of economy/coach?

2) Can you get some Xanax; the most superficial dose, you can consult your doctor, will relax you and not put you in the position of falling asleep (we scaredy cats can never sleep on the plane anyway, eh?) or making you so whoozy that you can't take care of your child (you can even experiment with dose, on the ground, in your home).

3) I am about to start Cognitive Behavior therapy for this issue (as well as a myriad of other anxieties), but the thinking behind this is to replace a thought like, ''Ohmygod, the plane's shaking, this is it'' with ''The plane is shaking, it does it all the time, planes are built for this, and this plane, on this route, with this airline, shakes on every flight and makes it, safely, to its destination.''

4) Let the stewardess/steward know that you are a nervous flyer and may need some reassurance. Good luck--been there and done that Always happier on the ground

Have some project ready with which to distract yourself - a trashy magazine, sudoku, a crossword, reorganizing the carryon bag, whatever. I HATE flying (and yes, I also realize how irrational it is), and have found that I must have something to do in order to distract myself and hide my frozen mask of terror from the kid Terrified of Turbulence Too

Two books that have helped me enormously are: Ask the Pilot by Patrick Smith (he also has a column on Salon.com) and Flying without Fear I re-read them before I have to fly, and find them both informative and reassuring. I actually find that I am less nervous flying with my child than I am flying without him. I think that having to tend to his many needs takes my mind of my own fears and makes me less hypervigilant. I don't love flying and never will, but his presence improves things for me. Good luck! White Knuckled

Flying post-911 seems so frightening and overwhelming

Feb 2004

Hi, We are beginning to make our plans for a european vacation and everytime I think of the flight or the days leading up to it I get a pit in my stomach. I was always a bit nervous flying, and now after 911 and all of these flights that keep getting cancelled because of threats , it just all seems so frightening and overwhelming. Has anyone tried taking a seditive just for the flight? Any other suggestions? I can't just take sleeping pills as I have kids I will need to look after on the flight. help! anon please

I have been afraid of flying for years. A few years ago I started to take clonipin just before getting on the plane, and it's worked wonders. It makes me sleepy, but I can still attend to the kids. It's made it so I can fly without my heart jumping into my throat when there is a little turbulence. So I definitely recommend medication! jennifer

I would strongly recommend the Fear of Flying Clinic... you can see their website at www.fofc.com I loved flying until I was in my late 20's and then suddenly became afraid and started avoiding flying and was very anxious when I did fly. I attended one the Fear of Flying classes and it was great. They have wonderful speakers including a pilot, flight attendent, former fearful flyer and mechanic. The class is co-facilitated by a psychologist who specializes in this area. You get to visit the air traffic control tower at SFO which was really cool! Anyways it helped tremendously. Also the people in the class were great and showed a lot of humor about their fear. The class included people who hadn't flown in years because of extreme fear to people who fly regularly but feel a little anxious. I took a flight a week after the class and I actually enjoyed it. roxanne

Xanax, baby, xanax. I've always been a nervous flyer but 911 put me over the edge. I jump at any sound, suspect that every other person is a potential shoe-bomber, I start to panic when anyone heads to the bathroom at the front of the plane... I asked my Dr. for a little something to take the edge off and she recommended Xanax because it wears off within six hours (of course, you can pop another one at that time) and it doesn't put you to sleep. I found that this was a very good solution to my troubles. I'm still not 100% comfortable on planes but Xanax has helped me get through both short and long flights. Happily Popping Xanax 20 Minutes Before Take-off

There is a wonderful 6 week class through Vallejo Kaiser called Phobease. One class is for kids with phobias and one is for adults. My son took the kids class and it was really great. They deal with ALL kinds of phobias. You don't have! to be a Kaiser member. The leader of the class, Dr. Liebgold and his 2 helpers were both cured of a variety of phobias. I don't have the number but it's through Vallejo Kaiser Health Ed. dept.

I used to be very anxious about flying and would almost get panic stricken when there was any turbulance. A few years ago I told a flight attendant about those feelings adn she told me that a plane has NEVER been struck out of the air due to turbulance.The most dangerous thing about turbulance is if it's bad, the overhead compartments can open and things fall out. Although that doesn't seem to be your issue, that TOTALLY put my mind at ease and although I don't love flying, I'm not as anxious about it as I used to be. Good luck. anon

My boyfriend has a paralyzing fear of flying. I recently asked my doctor what we can do about this, since I'm getting worn out from doing all the flying (he lives on the E.Coast presently, my kids and I fly to see him, but never the reverse because of his fear). The doctor suggested Xanax,(sp?) which would have to be prescribed by his doctor. I've since talked to several people with anxiety about various things, each of them has used Xanax for single-use and multiple-use anxiety and found that it worked very well. Good luck! Karin

There are drugs that you can take that will relax you and take the edge off the fear and still allow you to be awake and deal with your kids. Talk to your doctor. I've done that a couple of times and it makes a huge difference -- I began to realize I was as afraid of the feelings of fear and panic ! as I was of actually flying, and by taking a mild sedative I was able to enjoy my vacations from the very start to the very end. I would suggest taking a test run with anything prescribed just in case you have a paradoxical reaction or an unpleasant side effect. still afraid but calmer

Hi - I suffered through a panic disorder/depression about 12 years ago and never spoke with a doctor. I felt panic at the thought of being stuck in traffic on a bridge or in a tunnel, or being on a plane for long periods of time. Luckily, time, exercise and self-esteem building activities have helped me. My personal take on the matter, is it all comes from my perceived lack of control (especially after the birth of my daughter, who is now five). Although I don't really have a problem with panic anymore, I still have occasional discomfort in crowds, and specifically within cr! oweded, enclosed spaces (Disneyland!) and long air flights. Two years ago, prior to a long flight, my physician prescribed a mild dose of Xanax to combat this problem and it worked very well. I have taken it a few times for long flights with my children, and do not feel impaired at all. If you feel your issue is bigger than occasional (and logical, given the times) fear of flying, You may want to check with your doctor about therapy. I wish I had. anonymous