Afraid to fly

Originally Published: December 17, 1999 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: July 23, 2012
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Dear Alice,

I know this isn't the regular type of question you answer but I don't know who else to ask. I am a senior in high school in California. I have been selected to be my high school and Central Valley representative in Paris, France. I will be in the Millennium Parade for Paris, France as a Drum Major. I will be traveling alone from sunny San Francisco to Paris; the problem is the "travel" part. I am afraid of flying, since I hear of all the recent planes crashing and being bombed, etc., and I will be on a plane for 9 - 12 hours directly — there is no stop. Since I am so far from home and alone with hundreds of other people (reps from other states, etc.), I am afraid. Is there any way I can relieve my thoughts and fears or forget about it so I can travel with peace of mind?

Air bug

Dear Air bug,

It is true that the much-talked-about plane crashes of the last few years can make even the most relaxed of flyers reach for their barf bags — and it certainly doesn't help that nowadays, when there's a new air disaster, video of it and all of the past crashes re-run as often as Brady Bunch episodes. Maybe a break on reading the news could be your first pre-trip anxiety reducer. Real reassurance may be in the stats that say you are more likely to die in a car, or when walking across the Champs d'Elysée, than you are to perish in an airplane. The U.S. Department of Transportation still ranks auto accidents as the leading cause of death in the United States.

Over the next couple of weeks, diverting your attention from the actual traveling part of your journey could also calm your nerves. How about reading up on the unparalleled sights and sounds of Paris? Take out those guidebooks and maps and plan your fantasy trip, even if plans have already been made for you. You said you were going it "alone." Can the organizers of your week abroad hook you up with any of the hundreds of other reps who will be along for the ride before you leave sunny California? It sounds as though there should be at least a few others from the group who will be leaving from your area on the same flight. The excitement of getting to know one or two of the fellow France-bound in advance of, and during, the trip might allow you to leave some of your flying cares behind.

Then there are the in-flight "tricks:" bring plenty of music and reading material on board to keep your mind off the flight itself. Watch the movies, make conversation with those around you, or try to sleep through as many of the twelve hours as possible. There is even relaxation music that can cool your jets — even ones designed to reduce one's fear of flying. There's also a book, From Takeoff To Landing, by Ed Sternstein and Todd Gold, which explains the purpose and workings of everything from a plane's window shades to its wing flaps. It can help you to understand how you get up, stay up, and come down in the first place, so that you might feel more in control up there. You can also pick the brains of the flight attendants — they're not just around to fetch you drinks and a blanket.

If you think frequent flying's in your future, there are workshops and counselors with the goal of helping passengers fly "right" — some can be found on the Anxieties.com web site. Also know that no matter how many courses, flying hours, or tranquilizers are taken, many flyers can never completely leave their angst at the gate.

Congratulations on playing your way to such a prix formidable. Try not to let your fear rob you of the excitement of your achievements and their rewards. It's no doubt that the good and bad stress of your selection, and merely going on a trip, are fueling your travel worries. Your challenge is to pack some strategies to quell the personal turbulence.

Bon voyage!

Alice