04 November 2010

Airlines - (No) Fear of Flying

For most people, flying on commercial aircraft is a pretty ho-hum affair.  While present day flying isn’t very glamorous, and certainly the on-the-ground check-in security procedures now are sheer drudgery, a nonstop flight for distances of 500+ miles is still the best – and sometimes the only – way to go.

But not for everyone.

One out of eight Americans shuns commercial air travel according to the figure cited in the Bay Area’s “Fear of Flying Clinic”.

A good friend of mine, Robert Moran, told me that up until recently he was one of those “one out of eight”.  He traces his anxiousness about flying back to an incident as a 6-year old on his first flight.  There was a minor problem with the aircraft, but even before that he began taking up the fear evinced by his two grown-up traveling companions.

For many years as an adult, he avoided flying altogether which made for very lengthy car trips back to Mississippi where he grew up and where his family still lives.  (Robert and his wife live in northern California.)  Over the last few years, he embraced better flying through chemicals by getting a prescription for a mild sedative to batten down the fear factor, but the aftermath he experienced after reaching his destination wasn’t pretty: exhaustion and disrupted sleep patterns.

Funny thing was that the doctor who prescribed the flying meds had also been a nervous flier, but had benefitted from the program offered by the Fear of Flying Clinic (FOFC) at the San Francisco Airport.  He recommended it to Robert.

In June over two consecutive weekends, Robert went through one of their clinics and emerged much less fearful.  In his own words, “[T]hough by no means cured, I actually look forward to flying now and have many coping mechanisms that have put me on track to conquering this long-term problem”.

The therapists and airline professionals (pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, etc.) who conduct the clinics for the non-profit FOFC, take participants behind the scenes to see how planes fly and how the air traffic control system works.  In essence, they demonstrate that commercial air transport is indeed complex, but it is also routine, and very, very safe.  And those funny noises planes make at the start, end, and sometimes in the middle of a flight are normal.  It’s a cliché but true, that you face more danger on the drive to the airport than you do on the flight itself.

While not an obligatory part of the clinic, Robert and his other FOFC classmates had a graduation day-trip on Alaska Airlines to have lunch in Seattle.  Success!  (And rather decadent, if you ask me.)  Subsequently, Robert along with wife Karen and infant twin boys did another day-trip to San Diego to test his flight comfort level.  More success!

How much longer from now will it be, before Robert  contemplates the “mileage runs” that some frequent flyers do, to ensure elite status in an airline’s mileage program?

For further information about the programs operated by the Fear of Flying Clinic see their website.  Readers outside of northern California will find FOFC has a list of links to similar resources elsewhere in the United States and Canada.


  1. As the star of this blog post I wanted to add a big thank you to Greg for including this information. For many years I felt very alone with this fear. The Fear of Flying Clinic showed me that wad not true. I hope that those of you out there thinking the same as I did will consider attending the clinic. My world is opening very quickly after attending.

  2. As a fairly frequent, and VERY fearful, flyer, I'm awfully attached to my Lorazapam perscription ("take 1 30 minutes before flying") -- especially when I'm flying on sufficient miles to have booked first class for free booze.

    This post makes me wonder tho if maybe there's not a better way ... I'll look to see if there's Fear of Flying clinics near why I live. Thanks Greg (and Robert!)