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Aerophobia reached hysterical limits - kindly asking for help!

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  • Aerophobia reached hysterical limits - kindly asking for help!

    I am a 36 yo mother of two small children, American citizen of Romanian origins, suffering from a severe case of aerophobia (fear of flying). Because I have immediate family in Europe, I am forced by circumstances to fly over the ocean about once a year. Throughout the years, my fear of flying has intensified to the point where I need very heavy medication to get through the flight. This only works part of the time. When the medication wears off, I am faced with a psychological torture that is hard to describe, especially during turbulence. After having children and being forced to fly with them, the problem has gotten even worse.

    Accompanied by my husband and our two small children, this year I somehow made it over the ocean again (from Atlanta, US to Bucharest, Romania) with plans to stay in Europe for three months over the summer. Unfortunately, only a few weeks after my arrival in Europe and briefly after my husband's return to the US, the Air France 447 accident happened. This was the final straw for me.

    I have now reached the point where I absolutely do not see myself setting foot in a plane ever again, least of all Air France, which I am scheduled to take back to the US on August 4th. For a while I seriously considered taking the boat but the price for all three of us (including train travel on land) was prohibitive; plus it would have been excruciatingly hard for myself alone to handle a 4yo and a 1yo on so many train routes in Europe (Bucharest-Southampton).

    Since the accident I have been walking around with a sensation of sickness in my stomach, knowing that I have to return to the US with my two kids (be it accompanied by my sister and an aunt, who are heading in the same direction).

    I am begging anyone kind enough to take the time, to teach me how to pick a date for return in July when turbulence would be minimum on a Paris-Atlanta flight. Yes, I am flying with AirFrance which, psychologically speaking, adds to my already maxed out anxiety.

    I know I sound pathetic and that I am grasping at straws. The only thing that would calm me down right now would be the 100% reassurance that NOTHING can happen, which I know is not possible. The 99.999 percent (or whatever that "safety" statistic the airline industry promotes) is just not doing it for my terrified brain.

    Thank you in advance for your kindness.

  • #2
    Dear Syracusa
    first of all, reading your message, you don't sound pathetic at all: it is so hard to live with that fear, and it's absolutely uncontrollable. I fly once a month from New York to Milan (I have to... for work!) and believe me every time it's like an endless torture! Especially over the ocean at night, especially with turbulence. But i've learned how to ease the pain by visualize how many planes there are, at the same time, flying all over the world. Millions! turbluence is annoying and dangerous only if you don't strap yourself in. What happened to AirFrance is still a mystery but believe me: AirFrance is super safe and whatever happened to that plane was a chain of events-very unlikely to ever happen again. The truth will come out, Airbus is going to fix it, and it'll be ok. I would suggest to do the following for your return flight: book AF to atlanta and choose a flight that uses a Boeing aircraft (at least AF to NY has several flights a day using Boeing and only one on an airbus). Or switch to delta, which codeshares with AF.That should take your mind off the Airbus fear. Then take the day flight, so you can see outside-at least you know when you see a bit of clouds, it'll be bumpy, but you can see'll know when its over. And third thing: July and August is a fine time to fly!!! have fun in Europe!


    • #3

      I/m a nervous flier as well. This must be because I want control and don't like things to be random. Because I can't eliminate the fear, I then try to control as much as I can.

      Examples I what I can control would be the time of day I will fly and the carrier. I won't fly at night (unless there is no other option, say for a very long flight) and I will not fly when the weather in the destination city if very bad. There are some airplanes I won't fly either, and now that list includes the A330 which is what Air France flew on that sad day.

      To asnwer your question, there is no way to pick the best day to fly this far in advance. What you can do (and I would do this) would be to book the first flight out of Paris to Atantla (I think Au France flies a 777 that takes off at 900am and lands at 1pm local Atlanta time. Flying in the morning might give you a better chance to avoid thunderstorms, which often pop up in the afternoon. Plus that 777 is one great airplane.

      You should monitor the weather patterns in Atlanta three days before your flight - for example can give you pretty decent forcasts, or you can go to the NOAA website.

      One piece of useful advice, but difficult to embrace, is to not think about this plane flight right now. You can't do anything about the flight right now, so there is no benefit to think about it or to worry about it. I know you will worry, but let that worry not ruin your daily life. Start the worry, if you must, a few days before the flight. Do something about the worry by checking the weather pattern and making a decision about the best time to fly. Know that if you fly in daylight things will always be better or safer than flying at night. Fly the 777 knowing it is a great plan with a great record. Fly the plane knowing the pilots care just as much about their lifes as you do yours, and that they have families too. Fly with the visual about the goal - to get home. Fly with something to distract you, perhaps you might have a goal to read several books outloud to your kids, or you might want to write a diary during the trip itself, or maybe you just bring an ipod and "tune out" as your aunt takes care of the kids.

      Good luck with your approach, and everything will be fine.


      • #4
        Thank you so much for taking the time to respond!

        My return flight is scheduled on August 4th but we are ready to pay the extra fee to change the dates in July, as my husband and I overestimated how long we would be OK apart, me with the kids staying with my family on one side of the ocean, and him on the other side by himself. He misses the kids like crazy and I just need all of us to be reunited at this point.

        Apparently, at some point before our trip to Europe, he looked up the aircraft and said that on the Transatlantic portion IT IS a Boeing and IT IS during the day. I don't know if it is the 777 though. I also don't know about the Bucharest-Paris portion. He suggested I take the train to Paris by myself and leave the kids to fly with my sister and aunt to Paris and then all of us would fly over the ocean from there. His rationale is that by avoiding the small flight I will only have to take the medication once, otherwise, when I get off the first plane to take the transatlantic connection I must get functional/walking again...and then I have to take it again when the big plane takes off. By the time I take so much Ambien, I also face severe vomiting, not just psychological disturbance.

        One of the aspects that significantly worsened my fear (already out of control) after the 447 accident is that so far, I was somehow riding on the idea that only take-offs and landings are dangerous. Throughout the years, many people told me that once on the horizontal flying pattern, up in the sky, NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!! can happen. So I was able to calm down a little once up there.

        And then the AirFrance 447 happened and said "NOT!!!"

        For the first time, I am afraid that I will simply NOT be able to calm down AT ALL during the flight, and that says something considering the 10 hours ride.
        The Ambien I take was mostly for take off which was the scariest part for me up until 447, when EVERYTHING became very scary.

        At this point, I just wanted to know how I can inquire about the actual type of aircraft for each flight. Is there anything on the AirFrance site?

        Also, is there any way to inquire about the crew in the cockpit? Who are going to be those humans - in my mind just one small rank below God Himself - who are literally going to hold my life and my children's life in their hands, for 10 hours in a row? (plus three, if I also count the Bucharest-Paris portion).

        Sgambaccini, I could not even begin to imagine having to travel for work over the ocean once a month with a flying phobia. My heart goes out to you, sincerely. I do not want to bring in religious discussions here as this is a personal topic, but I will think of you (or, as some say, "keep you in my prayers"). Also, I hope they raise your salary to 2.000.000 dollars a year soon. Or more. Much more. You name the price. :-)

        Thank you so, so much for your support and soothing words.


        • #5
          I really relate to some aspects of your situation although my phobia has not reached that level yet. I have been having a hard time trusting the message that flying is safe considering the financial difficulties that airlines have and the information that we now have about the Buffalo crash.

          That being said, statistically, the odds of flying safely are still pretty good. And visiting family and being a part of this great big world are very good incentives for trying to make peace with this phobia we have.

          My history: Flew forever with no anxiety except just during turbulence. I never worried about it before a flight. For some reason getting a bit older has changed it to worrying about flying in general. I even get a little twinge in my stomach just looking at a plane in the sky.

          I take very light medication to help.....and I also try to take a short flight now and then w/out it just to reassure myself that I have other coping mechanisms.

          On a flight, I am really only very scared during turbulence. I just let myself forget that something could go wrong when the flight is smooth. I also use a trick I learned on this sight which is to not let my feet touch the floor when the flight gets a bit sort of helps. I breath in deeply, and on the outbreath I say to myself (and in a small whisper if I have to) "I am safe."

          I really feel for you, though, and I would suggest that you actually take a class or see a therapist when you get back if you really want to keep flying. It would be a shame to let this Air France incident stop you.

          I am convinced that to beat my phobia, I really have to believe that flying is safe, and I am committed to trying to keep that message in my head so that I can enjoy all the world has to offer (and all that my finances can bear). If you also want to change the message in your head, perhaps therapy or hypnosis can help.

          Good luck with your travels....we will want to know how it all turns out.


          • #6
            Dear all,

            I was very pleased to come across this forum and thread. I am a university professor. I have a PhD and over ten years of university experience. My friends, family and work colleagues consider me to be "very rational". However, every time I have to fly they and I experience a very different person. Before each flight I talk about it endlessly and then I stand outside the airport for about an hour debating with myself about whether or not I should fly. I always do, but it is a tortuous process getting on that plane.

            A recent example. I am due to fly from Europe to LA in August for a series of research meetings, but I have just canceled. Although I feel relieved, I am also disappointed that I allowed my fear to get the better of me. This trip had been booked since April and from the moment of confirming my flight I was not able to stop myself from worrying. I do know that I will rebook and take the trip - this is a common process for me, canceling and rebooking. Interestingly, my fear of flying developed only quite recently - around three years ago. Up until then I flew very happily and on a regular basis.

            There is a trick I have learned which I find extremely helpful once I get on the plane. As the plane begins to take off, I visualize all the people I know who fly - family, friends and colleagues. I particularly focus on an old aunt. She is 72 yrs old and flies regularly. I imagine her experiencing the bumps and shakes of take off, turbulence, and landings. And I imagine how none of it causes her any cause to worry. In fact, she never complains. Something about her long life and experience helps me to cope. When I experience a bit of panic, I just say to myself, 'auntie Janice has experienced this hundreds of times without any worry'. It usually makes me laugh thinking of her being so stoic, but it helps. It also helps to think of colleagues, even those who I don't know very well, who fly on a regular basis. I think to myself, 'that professor experiences this at least twice a week, but still goes ahead'. I imagine him sitting back, relaxing and enjoying his whiskey and movie. I also visualize my past self as a child who flew once a year with his mother, and how I was completely unaware of anything other than the great excitement of being on a plane.

            There is something about personalizing the experience in this way that helps. I don't know if anyone else would find this trick useful, but even now when I think about putting the visualizations into practice whilst flying, it makes me want to rebook . In fact, I know I will.


            • #7
              Originally posted by roger View Post
              Dear all,

              I have a PhD and over ten years of university experience.
              Oh, how I wish the PhD and the rationality assumed to go with it could help! I have it too, along with about 8 years of University experience; and it does squat with reducing the fear of flying.

              I have always felt that beyond our understanding of science and empiricism, there is something HIGHER that really calls the shots.


              • #8
                hey syracusa,

                as long as that something higher keeps my plane up there with it, I'll put my faith (and rationality) in it


                • #9
                  I completely understand how you're feeling.

                  One thing about the Air France incident that should put your mind (somewhat) at ease is that it was flying through an area that is known as the thunderstorm capital of the world, meaning that it would be very, very prone to turbulence. Your flight, on the other hand, does not go through any areas particularly known for turbulence. Also, Air France is an extremely safe airline. Just think: driving to the airport is several hundred times more dangerous that the flight itself.

                  Another thing you might do to calm your fears is to talk to flight crews before and/or during the flight. They routinely deal with people who are afraid of flying and are probably better than anyone else when it comes to calming people on the matter.

                  And also, just imagine how good you will feel when you land in Atlanta. I find that if I just think about landing at my destination, I always feel much calmer.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by bologna View Post
                    Just think: driving to the airport is several hundred times more dangerous that the flight itself.
                    Not that I wasn't able to find the controversy surrounding these reassuring statistics which some claim are only promoted by the airline industry with purposefully biased. OK - this is what I read, maybe more people can throw in their two cents?

                    Supposedly, the "odds of dying per passenger mile" is different than "odds of dying per trip". It is apparent that insurance companies use "odds of dying per trip" and when looked at it that way, someone who gets on a plane is three times more likely to NOT come out alive than someone who gets on a car. Intuitively, it makes sense because the car goes with a given speed, more or less fast, while the plane goes with insane speed period.
                    Another person was saying that based on this statistics, flying is only slightly less dangerous than riding a motorcycle!! Goodness!

                    And then there is another famous statistic, this one pro-plane, supposedly calculated by a mathematician: one would have to fly daily for 30,000 years before he/she would be SURE to run into a plane crash. Now that sounds almost crazy. How can it be "three times more likely to NOT come out alive from a plane as compared to a car", yet "30,000 years of daily flying to have a guaranteed plane crash"?

                    Also, I wanted to ask people about how to read the Tubulence map on this site.


                    I understood that everything within the dashed red region is turbulence; but what are the red and violet spots as well as the yellow arrows? What about the green clouds? With my control issues, I wouldn't put it beyond myself to enroll in a PhD in Aviatic Meteorology (is there even such a thing?) just so I know what to expect on the trip; and then change it if needed.


                    • #11
                      Get therapy, there are many programs out there which can help. It will probably be covered by insurance as well.

                      Secondly, avoid irrational thinking..for example the chances are not more that you will be in a crash simply because of the recent Air France accident. The chances were the same as before..that crash has no influence on the next one. Additionally, flying is safer than any other form of travel..including walking. Turbulence, while unpleasant, is not dangerous. When you start thinking irrationally, fears grow so if you feel yourself making far fetched, illogical leaps, take a step back.

                      As far as smoother flights go, your options may be limited due to trans Atl least on the flight back to America. West bound tends to be in the day time, east at night. Night flights tend to be smoother by a small margin with cooler air over the ocean. Day flights can be rougher over land.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by syracusa View Post
                        [...] Also, I wanted to ask people about how to read the Tubulence map on this site.


                        I understood that everything within the dashed red region is turbulence; but what are the red and violet spots as well as the yellow arrows? What about the green clouds? With my control issues, I wouldn't put it beyond myself to enroll in a PhD in Aviatic Meteorology (is there even such a thing?) just so I know what to expect on the trip; and then change it if needed.
                        Hi syracusa,

                        In regards to your question above, I'll attempt to explain some of the maps features, but I'm no expert! These maps are produced by a company called Jeppesen and they have a guide to reading the map here:

                        To summarize briefly, the blue line with triangles, the red line with semi-circles, and the violet line with triangles and semi-circles are general meteorological symbols representing cold, warm, and "occluded" weather fronts respectively. You can learn more about weather fronts and their symbols here:

                        The yellow arrow represents the jet stream, which flows in the direction the arrow is pointing. The white sections within this line represent the speed of the jet stream... the thicker/more lines there are, the faster the jet stream is moving through this area. The number under the white (for instance: FL370) is the altitude of the jet stream, in this example, 37,000 ft. The green "cloud" areas are areas where thunderstorms are likely to occur.

                        I hope that helps. I, like you, feel more comfortable when I know more about what's happening. One thing that has helped me in that regard is the ability to listen to the aircraft's radio communications. On some United flights I've taken (and maybe other airlines) the pilot allowed passangers to listen to the flight's radio communications on one of the inflight entertainment channels. I've learned from listening to it a few times that pilots really strive to limit the amount of turbulence we experience by adjusting the altitude to find smoother patches of air, and reporting their experiences to air traffic control to alert other pilots of rough spots.


                        • #13
                          Red, purple, blue spots are fronts, green are thunderstorm areas. Yellow arrows are the jet stream.

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                          • #14
                            I wish people would stop using the word "phobia" to describe those who choose not to fly. It's not a phobia. It's a personal decision.


                            • #15
                              its your personal decision dictated by a phobia. I fly every week and often across the atlantic (i can't do that by boat or by car!) and my fear of flying hasn't stopped me from traveling the world.I have been hit by lightning, had aborted takeoff, sever turbulence and all. Was I scared? yes. But fear is not going to win my life over.