Not Afraid to Fly, But Know Someone Who Is?
Tricks to Help Your Favorite Fearful Flyer
By Captain Ron
you love to travel with the ones you love? If the idea of flying sends
your spouse or partner into a nose dive, you might be used to flying
solo. Or, if your beloved vetoes flying, you may experience family
trips to see the USA in your Chevrolet, second honeymoons in Minnesota
instead of Maui, and class reunions in Maine by train. Maybe your air travel for business or pleasure regularly
requires that you fly with a friend or colleague who turns into a
completely different person during the flight, making every trip an
uncomfortable chore. According to recent Gallup poll in USA Today, 27% of
those polled are somewhat
afraid to fly and 9% are very
afraid. For every fearful flyer, at least one other person feels the
impact of this fear.
don’t tell the whole story behind being the flying partner of a
fearful flyer. Let’s say
you manage to convince your fearful flyer to travel with you. Much to
your surprise, the rational person you know on the ground morphs into
an extreme flyer—extremely obnoxious, extremely anxious, extremely
looped on Xanax, or extremely drunk. Now imagine how many
relationships are jeopardized by fear of flying.
you’re tired of flying alone, enduring long car trips, or traveling
with an extreme flyer, first you have to understand the fearful
a Fearful Flyer Cares About: While many flyers grumble about
increased fares, fewer perks, and less leg room, the fearful flyer
doesn’t care about any of these. Although flying is undeniably the
safest and fastest way to get from point A to B, a fearful flyer
focuses only on bad things about flying—and it’s not the missing
peanuts. Under their flying phobia magnifying glass, rare airline
crashes balloon into every day occurrences, a reason they avoid air
travel altogether or only in emergencies. Many fearful flyers with
control issues cannot hand off the operation of the plane to an
unknown person, albeit a highly qualified pilot. And other fearful
flyers just hate the confined space of that long cylinder.
good news is that a flying phobia is one of the easiest to overcome.
Various simple forms of distraction can help to keep a fearful
flyer’s mind off repetitious “Oh my! I’m going to die!”
thinking. So next time, instead of flying alone, bring your partner
along and offer coaching support throughout the flight. Then, pack a
few of the following tricks into your carry-on bag so you can pull
them out to help a panicking partner.
Ask for VIP
treatment: Ask to preboard the flight because of your partner’s
flying phobia. Find out if it’s possible to meet the captain.
Fearful flyers report that meeting the captain is the single most
helpful thing they do that helps them to contain their fear.
Gaze deeply into
each other’s eyes: During takeoffs and landings—two things
fearful flyers hate most—stare into each other’s eyes as long as
you can. This focus will be hard to maintain for the entire flight,
but for a few minutes at the flight’s beginning and end, it will
work wonders. Who knows? It may do wonders for your relationship, too!
Act like a teenager
and crank it up! Teenagers
obsessed with their I-Pods thrive on loud audio stimulation that
effectively shuts out everything around them. This intense focus on an
audio stimulus is exactly what a fearful flyer needs. The area of the
brain that responds to audio stimulation is located very close to the
part of the brain where fearful memories are retained. To take
advantage of this automatic “shut out” device, buy your partner an
I-Pod or borrow one for the trip.
He or she must listen to an unfamiliar audio book or new music
at the highest volume bearable. The unfamiliarity of the music or text
occupies the mind while diverting thoughts of impending doom.
Pretend you’re a
kid in a candy store: Kids love sour candy—the punchier and more
pucker power the better. Pack your carry- on with packages of
intensely flavored candy: Sour Patch Kids, gummy worms, or Altoids.
Offer your seatmate a Tootsie Roll Pop a few minutes into the flight.
When all the candy is gone, have your partner chew on pieces of ice.
Crunchiness, like intense flavor, will help to distract another of
your partner’s senses from fear.
Coach your swimmer
across the English Channel: Early in the flight, ask
your partner to hold his or her breath while you time it. Then do it
again, but tell your partner to concentrate on certain areas of the
body when the brain says it’s time to breathe. For instance, focus
on trying to wiggle the toes individually. Tense and contract the
thighs. Clench and unclench the fists. The key to holding one’s
breath for longer periods each time lies in focusing on something
other than the desire to breathe. This game works with fearful fliers
for three reasons: It ticks away minutes of flight time; it distracts
the minds from fears and the idea that they must take a breath
and it physically calms the breather by slowing the heart rate.
Act like you’re
Oprah: Oprah doesn’t like flying over water, so she distracts
herself by playing games and talking to her boyfriend, Steadman. Oprah
also focuses on the purpose of her trip—whether it’s a charitable
mission or a vacation at her Hawaiian hideaway—and finds this
distracting, too. So encourage your partner to concentrate on the
positive aspects of the trip you’re taking together. Bring along a
handheld game or try a Sudoku book—something new that will occupy
your partner’s mind for awhile. For some fearful flyers,
concentrating on reading a book or magazine can be difficult, so bring
several selections to allow your partner to choose whatever provides
the most distraction.
Send Your Relationship Soaring Sky-High: Fearful flyers come in many
forms. Some load up on anti-anxiety medications or a cart full of
cocktails. Others feel extremely uncomfortable but don’t really know
why, so their personality changes: they may withdraw and become
unusually quiet or extra-sensitive, or behave downright aggressively
to ticket agents, flight attendants, and you. If you’ve ever
wondered why your true love undergoes some mysterious transformation
before or during a plane trip, consider that fear of flying may be the
problem. Likewise, if your partner doesn’t want to visit distant
in-laws, it may not be about his or her relationship with your
parents. The real issue
may be his or her relationship with flying.
the many pay-offs for you both when you help your favorite fearful
flyer overcome that fear. More pleasant and more frequent trips
together are just the beginning. Whether we can admit it or not, we
all want to feel safe, loved, and understood, and you can provide that
in the air for your fearful flyer. Then, on the ground you’ll reap
the rewards of an improved relationship—one based on mutual trust
Read other articles and learn more about
Captain Ron Nielsen.
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