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Scare In The Air: A Fearful Flyer Confesses

C.R. writes:

I’m going to disclose something I have been ashamed of for many years: I am a fearful flyer.

Yes, I’ve flown around the world but if it’s at all possible, I’d drive for hours (even days) to avoid flying. I’d probably even walk.

In the past few years, I’ve learned that a surprising number of my (female) friends are afraid of flying. I have one friend who took her kids on a cross-country trip by car, spent two days at their destination, and came home.

I have another who took a cruise to and from a Caribbean island (usually people fly one way.) I have a friend who flies frequently on business and who doses herself with anything her doctor’ll prescribe even though in “real-life” she won’t take so much as an aspirin. (Nothing really works, she tells me). I have another who missed her honeymoon.

I myself have done/experienced similar things. Several years ago I didn’t go to an out-of-state interview for an incredibly exciting position because it was August and I had read that August and February are the least-safe months in which to fly. (I didn’t get the job. I guess if you don’t show up for the interview, that’s what happens.)

I’ve white-knuckled it to Hawaii, Europe, cross-country, Latin America and the Caribbean. I once got off a plane at a stop over and took a bus home (admittedly that was a couple of decades ago, and was the occasion of my first, sudden attack of “scare in the air.”)

And I’ll come squeaky-clean: I’ve tried everything to conquer my fear. Hypnosis. Desensitization. EMDR. Talk therapy. You name it, like my girlfriends, I’ve tried it.

Perhaps I’m most uncomfortable with this aspect of my failure to overcome my fear: the fact that I am a person of deep spiritual faith who believes with all my heart that God determines what occurs in our lives. Therefore, I believe nothing happens to anyone without the Creator’s ultimate intent, not a twelve-hour delay or a turbulent flight or a shortage of those little bags of peanuts. Or other misadventures, too horrible to contemplate.

I gave up trying to get rid of my phobia and just kind of lived with it.

Then, recently, I was looking up some info on an old blog post and came across a comment by Capt. Tom Bunn, a licensed social worker. I was intrigued by his comment and the word Capt. in his signature, so I clicked on the link.

And I think I found something that seems to be helping with my fear of flying.

Richard and I emailed Tom asking him if we could interview him for Therapy Soup and write about his program, and when we confided that I am a fearful flyer, he suggested I try his program so we could better understand it. Full disclosure: He allowed me to try it for no charge.

So, I’m trying it. And I have to tell all of you, I have renewed hope that I can overcome this crippling fear.

I want to document my experiences with Captain Tom’s SOAR program over the course of a few blog posts because I’ve seen, after completing only a small portion of the course, a noticeable improvement in my fear levels (they used to be pretty high even when thinking about flying or driving by an airport or even looking at a photo of a plane like the one in this blog post.) In fact, I’m looking forward (looking forward!), to flying late this coming fall when I hope to make a surprise visit to a family member, schedule permitting and demonstrate to myself that I maybe am no longer afraid.

The full-length SOAR program consists of 40 short video segments (available for download on computers or mobile devices), a private consultation with Tom, and 8 “take-me-along” files you can take with you when you travel.* There are also forums, emails and other goodies.

So far, I’ve done 14 of the videos. Most are ten minutes or less. They contain an interesting mixture of anxiety-relieving techniques (most of which are completely new to me and which I am faithfully practicing). They explain how the mind and emotions seem to process experiences.  Also, what I have found to be very useful, the videos offer extremely accessible descriptions of the physics and mechanics of flying, weather, and other information that isn’t generally a part of therapy. I actually found myself really enjoying this part. (It was interesting to learn about the jet-stream, how this affects your flight, and so on.)

What’s so useful is that Tom really is a captain; he was not only a Pan-Am commercial pilot but also a captain in the air force. He flew the first supersonic jet fighter, the F-100, too as well as driven racing cars. His airline and air force career combined with his clinical skills makes for an intuitive understanding of the various ways in which flying phobia manifests.

I’m going to blog more about my experience of the SOAR course and share my impressions with you, what worked for me, what didn’t, and will plot my progress (at this point, I can say, I am really progressing). I’m also going to give you some insights direct from Tom.

I’m really excited about this!

Photo by Fleur Suijten

*We do not sell any products and are in no way affiliated with or get any payments from any of the programs or books we occasionally review on Therapy Soup. Some authors others send us material for review. If we feel something we come across can possibly help PsychCentral (and Therapy Soup) readers, we blog about it.

Scare In The Air: A Fearful Flyer Confesses

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2012). Scare In The Air: A Fearful Flyer Confesses. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Aug 2012
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