Aerophobia reached hysterical limits - kindly asking for help!

carla

New member
Syracusa,
I also have this strange feeling about all those statistics used by airlines. What is not convincing me is that even if it is otherwise the carriers will never admit it - it would mean end of their business. And even if the planes are safer than cars it will not change the fact that the victims from the recent crashes were probably thinking the same while boarding those flights..

I was a fearless flier till last month, until one particular flight to Germany that hit what I suppose they call moderate-severe turbulence just half an hour after take off. It was during strong wind and it lasted some 20 minutes or more, the plane was shaking in all directions and going from left to right and falling from time to time (and no communication from the crew). I still remember the terrible noise and some people screaming. It was the moment when I had my panic attack (never happened to me before in my life) and could not catch a breathe - not a pleasant feeling I must admit.
Now my day starts from reading the reports on turbulences and checking out the news every few hours (AirFrance crash helped to intensify my anxiety)

After that flight I already took 2 other flights and were OK in terms of safety but since then I do not feel well during the travel. I cant do anything during a flight, all the time tensed, not able to even drink some water or listen to music. whenever the lights to buckle up are on or announcement is made about turbulence coming, my body starts shaking and I have breathing problems.

I have a 10hour over atlantic flight in 3 weeks and for the first time in my life I face the option of canceling my vacation. That's why I know I have to act right now! I dont wanna give up. The problem is how to deal with anxiety and how to deal with the stress during the flight that lasts so long? Some techniques work with me as I tried them recently - taking slow breaths, thinking of some very frequent fliers I know, trying to distract my attention during take off, etc.
At that point I think half of the success is to pass the gate and make it to the aircraft. And I already know I will be checking the turbulence forecast every hour starting a week before the flight :)

I think it is great we have this forum and we can share our doubts. At least we do not feel alone with this problem ;)

I do wish you all pleasant and safe flights!
 

PlaneEnthusiast

New member
Planeenthusiast,

First, I wanted to thank you so much for your reassuring post and your kind words. They made a difference. Until about a few hours ago, when I found out about the new Airbus crash. This is really getting insane. It is either sabotage from the competitor or the machine really has problems and needs to be taken off the market before it kills many more and destroys many more lives.

As I am facing a flight on an Airbus A320 in 2 weeks, this is starting to sound like Russian Roulette to me. It is sending me through waves of depression, desperation, helplessness, numbness.

Now, for one last time re: statistics. Of course there have been thousands of deaths involving cars in the past month: that's because there have been hundreds of millions of cars getting on the road every day. That's an enormous number. By comparison, only a few tens of thousands of flights happen every day,...and of these, two already managed to kill half a thousand people or so.

These are not fair statistics and they do not portray an accurate image of reality.

The question is: when someone steps foot in a plane, how much more likely is he to come out alive than someone who steps foot in a car? Not much more. And with the latest events, I am afraid he is less likely. In fact, much less likely.
Though trying to convince one through use of statistics is almost impossible, the fact remains that the statistics hold up. Billions of customers board planes every year. They hold more people than cars, so of course if two planes crash, the death toll will be more than if two cars crash.

In terms of passenger-miles, plane travel is much safer than road travel. Planes are operated by rigorously trained professionals, whereas there is little regulation for drivers around the world, where drunk drivers kill tens of thousands each year. These averages do not change with the event of new crashes. From decade to decade since the 1970s, air travel has become safer and safer, whereas road travel has become more and more dangerous due to higher numbers of cars on the roads.

Pilots and doctors who have spoken about fear of flying talk about the fact that everybody thinks turbulence means the plane is in danger. It is not. Most of the time during a flight if a passenger is scared, even in severe turbulence, they simply do not understand what is going on and feel out of control. Turbulence is only dangerous if one is not belted to the seat.

Just because two airbuses have crashed does not mean that the specific type of airplane played the deciding role in the crash. If pilot error or weather was to blame, how can one blame the plane manufacturer? Airbus 310, 330, and 320, for example, have some of the best safety records in the industry. The fact that one Airbus has crashed does not make the next one suddenly much more likely to crash as well.

Everything in life carries some risk. If you wanted to kill yourself, stepping onto a commercial airliner would be a sure way to fail! If you really want to be scared of something, maybe choose lack of exercise and the resulting heart disease, which kills 500,000 people in the U.S. each year.

There are many books which are helpful to fear of flying, many focusing on recognition of thought processes, mistaken beliefs, obsessions, and any number of other conditions, all of which I have experienced myself and overcome. Bottom line is: just because we feel or believe something to be dangerous, does not mean that it actually is.

I apologize if my message seems cut-and-dry. I hope that everybody will find peace with their need to travel by air, and hopefully to learn to look forward to it as much as I do now. The sense of liberation is simply amazing.
 
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PlaneEnthusiast

New member
Syracusa,
After that flight I already took 2 other flights and were OK in terms of safety but since then I do not feel well during the travel. I cant do anything during a flight, all the time tensed, not able to even drink some water or listen to music. whenever the lights to buckle up are on or announcement is made about turbulence coming, my body starts shaking and I have breathing problems.

I think it is great we have this forum and we can share our doubts. At least we do not feel alone with this problem ;)

I do wish you all pleasant and safe flights!
You are certainly not alone, and realize that many people share similar fears. Realize one basic concept: turbulence is not a danger to flights. It is not a safety issue. Maintenance is a safety issue, not turbulence. If turbulence were dangerous, every single plane in existence would have crashed by now, because almost every flight experiences some. That is a normal part of atmospheric composition. My approach was to speak to some kind pilots who explained the physics of flight, normal atmospheric conditions, and the design parameters of airplanes, which are built to withstand incredible forces. Each plane goes through a design test phase of thousands and thousands of hours, across many months. Remember, just because you perceive turbulence to be scary, or a threat to your life, doesn't mean that it actually is! :)

Try the following exercise: the next time you are riding in a bus, try to be aware of all the bumps and shakes it goes through in normal operation on streets. A bus can shake and rattle quite a bit! However, notice that you never even think twice about it, even if these motions might be much more jarring, in fact, than most turbulence? Try to go through the bumps of the bus and visualize yourself on a plane. It's a step in desensitization towards turbulence, which is what freaks most people out. Turbulence, after all, doesn't bring down birds from flight, correct?

Second step: next flight you are on-- observe the turbulence. Imagine that you are in a bus, bumping along. Equate it to those motions. Not much different!

I have a story to relate: in the summer of 2006, I was crossing the Atlantic from Europe to the U.S. in a Boeing 767 The pilot told us at the start of the flight that we would be flying through the upper remnants of a hurricane. Ten minutes before we reached the region, he again told us and that turbulence is not dangerous. So, everybody prepared. During the half hour that the turbulence lasted, the plane was buffeted more than I have ever experienced. But, nobody seemed afraid, and certainly nobody screamed. I even heard some people making jokes to the effect of "oh wow, wasn't that a big jolt?!" Eventually, the turbulence passed, and the flight attendants distributed free champagne to everybody. I asked the main flight attendant on board (the purser) if he had ever experienced greater turbulence in his career. He told me: "nope!" And look, we were all fine, and laughing by the end. Sure it can be scary for people who don't expect the sudden motions, but again, turbulence is not dangerous to the modern airliner.

I do wish you safe and enjoyable flying!
 
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LLL

New member
What does heart disease have to do with a plane crash? Do you want me to justify flying b/c I'm a little overweight?
 

PlaneEnthusiast

New member
What does heart disease have to do with a plane crash? Do you want me to justify flying b/c I'm a little overweight?
Heart disease has nothing to do with flying. It's a comparison of relative perceived risks. Nobody is scared of heart disease before they get it, but many people are scared of flying before they fly. It's a simple sense of proportion, but I sense that my wish to help is really in vain. I apologize, and I shall now leave this forum.
 

carla

New member
Try the following exercise: the next time you are riding in a bus, try to be aware of all the bumps and shakes it goes through in normal operation on streets. A bus can shake and rattle quite a bit! However, notice that you never even think twice about it, even if these motions might be much more jarring, in fact, than most turbulence? Try to go through the bumps of the bus and visualize yourself on a plane. It's a step in desensitization towards turbulence, which is what freaks most people out. Turbulence, after all, doesn't bring down birds from flight, correct?

Second step: next flight you are on-- observe the turbulence. Imagine that you are in a bus, bumping along. Equate it to those motions. Not much different!
Thank you PlaneEnthusiast!! :)
I will definately try this approach asap. I also decided to share my fears with my frienda and colleagues and it seems almost everybody went through some really rough flight at least once in their life and some still have some fear of flying. I think this fear comes to you once you realize how fragile we are and how strong the nature forces can be.

Well, I don't give up although still holding a breath while counting the days till my next flight.
:)
 

astrodeb

New member
Getting home

Getting home

Hi Syracusa,

I, too, have some unreasonable fears related to flying due to a few inadvertent encounters with convective clouds over the years. However, you can hopefully take solace in the idea that flying (especially with Air France) may actually be safer now than before the accident in question. Some of the younger and/or macho pilots who have bulled their way through high altitude storm clouds in the past are now heeding the words of their old but not bold elders and more frequently diverting around nasty clouds. They are also brushing up on their skills with the on-board weather radar. I have this insight from reading a professional pilots' forum. As in the case with freeway accidents, a bad one tends to make everyone else on the road slow down for a while. You should also realize that the European, Transatlantic, and eastern seaboard USA weather is the most heavily analyzed in the world. Air France 447 faced the Intertropical Convergence Zone over the open ocean in a "black hole" with no radar coverage and radio communication. They had no weather information on-board except for a 4+ hour old satellite picture and a radio update which told them to expect storms over the ocean. Weather updates are much more regular and informative over the transatlantic route you are taking. Also, thunderstorms are much less common along most of your route. If you get bumps in mid-flight, it is more likely to be clear air turbulence or cirrus related which is pretty harmless (although you and your kids should stay seated and belted, especially when the signs are illuminated). Atlanta has its share of thunderstorms in the afternoons, so earlier is better. This summer has been really dry thus far, so you may get lucky and see no dark clouds. If not, there are many, many airports nearby where your pilots could divert if necessary. It's happened to me once in 40 years of flying mostly in the southeast US.

As for the statistics, you are doing yourself no favors by trying to rationalize your fears. The stats that make flying sound like motorcycle antics include general aviation (i.e., Alaskan hunters with a plane in their front yard, people who build planes from kits, etc.). Amazingly, these folks can still get life insurance policies, and the insurance companies are sticklers for the stats that matter. If you throw out the barnstorming crowd and the underpaid regional airlines, you've got a one in several million chance of dying in a crash. That's better than 99.9999% chance of coming out ok. Your chance of giving yourself a heart attack worrying about your flight is many orders of magnitude greater than actually getting injured on the flight. So, think of your kids and the joy of reaching terra firma in the US again and get on that plane.

I am steeling myself for a trip to Rio next month. I get to run the convective gauntlet at night over the US southeast, Caribbean, Venezuelan highlands, and the Amazon in an old 767. Wish me (and my pilots!) luck...

Best wishes,
astrodeb
 

syracusa

New member
Hi Syracusa,

I, too, have some unreasonable fears related to flying due to a few inadvertent encounters with convective clouds over the years. However, you can hopefully take solace in the idea that flying (especially with Air France) may actually be safer now than before the accident in question. Some of the younger and/or macho pilots who have bulled their way through high altitude storm clouds in the past are now heeding the words of their old but not bold elders and more frequently diverting around nasty clouds. They are also brushing up on their skills with the on-board weather radar. I have this insight from reading a professional pilots' forum. As in the case with freeway accidents, a bad one tends to make everyone else on the road slow down for a while. You should also realize that the European, Transatlantic, and eastern seaboard USA weather is the most heavily analyzed in the world. Air France 447 faced the Intertropical Convergence Zone over the open ocean in a "black hole" with no radar coverage and radio communication. They had no weather information on-board except for a 4+ hour old satellite picture and a radio update which told them to expect storms over the ocean. Weather updates are much more regular and informative over the transatlantic route you are taking. Also, thunderstorms are much less common along most of your route. If you get bumps in mid-flight, it is more likely to be clear air turbulence or cirrus related which is pretty harmless (although you and your kids should stay seated and belted, especially when the signs are illuminated). Atlanta has its share of thunderstorms in the afternoons, so earlier is better. This summer has been really dry thus far, so you may get lucky and see no dark clouds. If not, there are many, many airports nearby where your pilots could divert if necessary. It's happened to me once in 40 years of flying mostly in the southeast US.

As for the statistics, you are doing yourself no favors by trying to rationalize your fears. The stats that make flying sound like motorcycle antics include general aviation (i.e., Alaskan hunters with a plane in their front yard, people who build planes from kits, etc.). Amazingly, these folks can still get life insurance policies, and the insurance companies are sticklers for the stats that matter. If you throw out the barnstorming crowd and the underpaid regional airlines, you've got a one in several million chance of dying in a crash. That's better than 99.9999% chance of coming out ok. Your chance of giving yourself a heart attack worrying about your flight is many orders of magnitude greater than actually getting injured on the flight. So, think of your kids and the joy of reaching terra firma in the US again and get on that plane.

I am steeling myself for a trip to Rio next month. I get to run the convective gauntlet at night over the US southeast, Caribbean, Venezuelan highlands, and the Amazon in an old 767. Wish me (and my pilots!) luck...

Best wishes,
astrodeb
Dear astrodeb,

This is one of the most soothing posts my hysterical, out-of-control brain has read in a while. It helped. Thank you so much and may you always have the best of flights and the best of luck in everything.
 

syracusa

New member
By the way, astrodeb, from what you read on pilots' sites... do you think that the AirFrance incident may have had at the very least something to do with the pilots being too bold?

Assuming those pitot tubes were broken/malfunctioning or what have you, could the outcome have been different if the pilots had avoided heavy clouds - even with the pitot tubes messed up?

Also, did I understand correctly that weather patterns between Europe and the US is more analyzed, more up-to-date at any moment of the flight, and monitored closer than it is on other routes? How come? Why this difference? Other than being a very popular route - lots of people flying from the New World to the Old World back and forth - why else would this be?

You also say:

<Air France 447 faced the Intertropical Convergence Zone over the open ocean in a "black hole" with no radar coverage and radio communication. They had no weather information on-board except for a 4+ hour old satellite picture and a radio update which told them to expect storms over the ocean. Weather updates are much more regular and informative over the transatlantic route you are taking.>

So no "black hole" such as the one you described exists on the US - Europe route? There is radar coverage and radio communication all the way through?
If so, definitely no pressing need to visit any lands in the ITCZ zone any time soon (meaning in this life).

Does it help that the flight will be during the day? We will continue to have daylight from the time the plane takes off to the time we land early afternoon Atlanta time. Yes, weather forecast for that day predicts scattered/isolated thunderstorms. I so wish it had been different!



Thank you again!
 
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astrodeb

New member
Re: flights

Re: flights

I'm glad you found my post helpful. I do think that pilot miscalculation figured into the AF 447 accident. A plane about 1/2 hour behind 447 had trouble seeing the clouds until they were very close due to the lack of lightning (a peculiar characteristic of building thunderclouds in the ITCZ over water). They had to adjust the gain on their radar repeatedly to see the high altitude cloud tops properly. At high altitude, these tropical cumulonimbi can be dry, making them look wimpy to the radar. With the experienced captain on 447 most likely in his rest period, the plane out of radio contact with air traffic control making the copilots shy about changing course, and out of date weather information on board, the situation was ripe for an inadvertent blunder into a cumulonimbus. Unfortunately, rather than skimming the top of a buildup for the "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" many flyers have experienced without (physical!) harm, they likely plowed mid-level into a 53,000 ft high storm. The pitot icing is probably just a symptom of the real problem - flying into, rather than around, a bad thunderstorm. Airplanes safely navigate around active CB cells all the time, but it takes skill and proper use of the on-board radar. It's also much safer during the daytime when you can see the clouds easily (and not be sleepy in the middle of the night!). There were several other planes which maneuvered through the ITCZ within an hour of the AF accident. All made it with up to 100 mile diversions around the most active areas. They did experience moderate turbulence, but nothing extraordinary. Unfortunately, the last GPS position received from AF 447 shows it right in the thick of the action. "Bold" young pilots who "normalized the deviance" of flying too close to bad weather might indeed be the culprits in this case. Of course, no one really wants to place blame with those who perished. Unfortunately, we may never know for sure, but I know many pilots are taking to heart the notion to avoid CB by a wider margin this summer.

The US and Europe have many weather satellites hovering overhead in geosynchronous orbit due to their space programs. Since the airways between the US and Europe are so busy, the weather monitoring is excellent, and pilots frequently exchange information on "the ride" at various altitudes. Traveling from Paris to Atlanta, you will likely be not much more than an hour from an airport (Dublin, Reykjavik, Kangerlussuaq in Greenland, Gander, St. John's in Newfoundland) at any time. A few transatlantic planes each week land at one of these far-flung fields, usually for minor technical issues or sick passengers. The biggest actual gap is probably between Greenland and Canada (1.5 hr or so). On those day crossings you can often seen icebergs below in the strait and the spectacularly beautiful glaciers of Greenland. Being so far north, the jet streams often make for a bumpy, but clear, ride. Summer is frequently better than winter. On the other hand, Brazil - Senegal is crossing the worst of the ITCZ from a developing country to a third world one where ATC attentiveness is not at a premium (note how long it took to find out that AF 447 was missing...). The only reason that the Atlantic ITCZ is being watched by satellites at all is due to hurricane monitoring, NASA research on tropical rainfall, and the need to forecast for flights to places like Brazil. The rate of airliner crossings is trivial compared to the transatlantic jetways. Incidently, one of my most memorable turbulence encounters happened in the Pacific ITCZ on the way to Australia. Again, forecast was many hours old by the time we reached the area from Los Angeles. Scary as hell for me, but my daughter and husband didn't even wake up...

As for forecasts for your flight, you won't really know until a couple of days beforehand how the weather will be in Atlanta. Long range forecasts in the summer always say afternoon showers are expected. Isolated (10%) is better than scattered (30%), but both are < 50% chance of bothering your flight. Likely enough, you will see the clouds and perhaps get bumped around a little on approach. However, Atlanta is one of the busiest airports in the world, so they are excellent at guiding planes in and out through the clouds and showers.

Best wishes and safe flights!
Astrodeb
 

syracusa

New member
Many, many thanks for taking the time to write all these details. You sounds so knowledgeable! Thank you again.
 

LLL

New member
Scary stuff. What's so interesting is that I'll never deal with this since I drive or take AMTRAK.
 

tfaw

Lifetime Elite
Tomorrow is August 4th - we all know your flight will go well

Tomorrow is August 4th - we all know your flight will go well

Enjoy the ride, we will all be with you!
 
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