Scared to Fly? You Are Not Alone. These Classes and Apps Can Help

An American Airlines flight in the sky. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

It has been a very bad month for air travel.

Nearly 300 passengers died when Malaysia flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, 48 passengers died when a TransAsia Airways plane crashed in Taiwan due to stormy weather, and an Air Algerie flight with 116 passengers crashed in Mali.

Though we hear over and over that flying is the safest form of travel (your chance of dying in a plane crash is one in 60 million), 25 percent of all Americans are still nervous about flying, according to ABC News. This summer’s plane tragedies likely aren’t helping matters. Travelers are venting on social media using the hashtag #ScaredToFly and #AfraidToFly.


Chloe Larsson from Chile worries she might be developing aerophobia (a fear of flying):

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And Holly Johnson, from Boston, posted this grim thought:

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If you feel you need help with your flying fear, there are classes, apps, and centers available at hospitals and universities to help you cope.

If online classes are your style, check out sites such as, and Caitlin Condon from Massachusetts found success turning to, according to this Fox report. Captain Tom Bunn, a licensed therapist and airline captain, created the SOAR program in 1982 to help people conquer their fear of flying. You can call Dr. Tom for a phone consultation, order DVDs and downloads about topics like controlling anxiety and learning how pilots are trained, take part in weekly group sessions, and more. Packages cost between $125 and $595.

Some airports offer fear-of-flying classes, such as Phoenix Sky Harbor International, Milwaukee’s General Mitchell airport, and San Francisco’s International airport. If your airport doesn’t offer one, check with local hospitals and universities, which may have centers that cater to phobia and anxiety disorders. For example, the White Plains Hospital’s Anxiety & Phobia Treatment Center in New York offers a Freedom to Fly workshop that culminates with a “graduation flight’’ to Boston. Massachusetts General Hospital has a Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders, which helped Rachel Zimmerman with her fear of flying. There is a Center for Anxiety & Related Disorders at Boston University that offers a one-week intensive program for $3,000 for specific phobias.


If you are willing to be hypnotized, you can make an appointment with Brian Mahoney at Boston Hypnosis. Karl Orette from Weymouth saw Mahoney about his fear of flying and was happy with the results. Sessions last between 90 minutes to 2 hours and prices vary by issue.

If you want to read about coping mechanisms before your next flight, there are plenty of books available such as “Flying Without Fear: Effective Strategies to Get You Where You Need to Go’’ and “Fear of Flying: The Ultimate Guide to Overcome a Fear of Flying Forever.’’

Apps that can help you once you board include Valk for $3.99, which will coach you through difficult flying moments, or Turbcast for $1.99, which offers travel turbulence predictions.

And if you aren’t inclined to do any of the above, study these 10 tips by Dr. Tom before you board your next flight:

1. The 5-4-3-2-1 exercise: Concentrate on five non-threatening things you see, hear, and feel and say them out loud. According to Captain Tom, this involves intense concentration, which makes the “fight or flight’’ hormones in your body subside. Start with five statements, then say four, then say three, etc. Keep repeating the cycle.

2. Avoid imagination and manage your stress level: Write down your feelings and thoughts and concentrate on what is actually happening and not what you imagine can happen.


3. First-time anxiety: If it’s your first time flying, remember that first time anxiety is to be expected.

4. Avoid imagination: Keep the “visual’’ part of your mind busy with colorful magazines, puzzles, or with a hobby such as needlepoint. You can bring a DVD player but make sure you have a back up during take off and landing when it’s not allowed.

5. Music filters out plane noises: Keep the “auditory channel’’ of your mind occupied by playing music.

6. Make it your choice: Take back control. Be aware that it was your choice to fly. Pay attention to what is outside the plane on the jet-way to reassure yourself there is life beyond the walls of the plane.

7. Meet the captain: Tell the gate agent you need to board early because you are an anxious flier and need to speak to the captain. Or ask to meet the captain briefly once you board. “Meeting the captain keeps you from feeling alone. It also puts you in personal contact with control,’’ according to Captain Tom.

8. Your space: Stretch out your arms and legs to sense the physical space that is yours. Look up the aisle to satisfy your need for more visual space. If it becomes difficult to breathe, 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.

9. Know about noise abatement: During take off, the captain reduces power after reaching about 1,000 feet (roughly 25 seconds after liftoff), which can be scary if you don’t realize this. Ask the captain about it.


10. Lightheadnedness doesn’t mean falling: Expect and understand the physical sensations that are a natural and routine part of flight.

Have you booked air travel lately? Are you nervous about it?


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