By Sharyn Alden
I was heading to Europe not long ago, and my plane was parked on the tarmac at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, waiting out a takeoff delay. I took the opportunity to make idle conversation with the passenger next to me, who was heading back home to Denmark after a trip to Milwaukee.
Yay, I thought. I’m sharing this tight space with a personable passenger willing to chat. Better yet, I’m not sitting next to a screaming baby. (Sorry, parents. I’ve been there, I empathize, but we’re hard-wired to not tune out those shrieks and shrills.)
I hadn’t noticed my rowmate’s shaky legs and the beads of perspiration rolling down his collar. But I noticed he had pulled out an electronic tablet and opened an app, VALK, which was coaching him using stress-reduction techniques. The app’s graphics were telling him to follow the ball and breathe out when the ball drops, and breathe in when the ball goes up.
Now I was thinking, This fellow is battling a fear of flying. This is going to be a nightmare for both of us.
I was wrong on the second point.
After he noticed I was looking at his app, he confided – bravely, I thought — that he was terrified of flying, but this app had made a tremendous difference on his outbound flight from Europe.
I was intrigued. I know people who are so afraid of flying they’ve dropped the whole idea. One friend, who years ago confessed she’s too afraid to get on a plane, regularly takes Amtrak from Colorado to California to visit her family, using up precious vacation days in the process.
Some of my flight-averse friends seek therapy before they fly, with mixed results. Others take anti-anxiety meds that sometimes leave them feeling groggy when they land.
If you’re a fearful flyer, it might be some solace to know that at least 40 percent of airline travelers suffer from a fear of flying. Their anxieties may be related to takeoff, landing, turbulence or unfamiliar sounds or sensations.
Some passengers mask their fears with distractions like listening to music, reading, or watching movies. Others may be so terrified they have trouble functioning. They may have vision problems, sweaty hands or onboard panic attacks.
If you’re wondering why these people just don’t give up flying, many people with flying anxiety travel for business or don’t want to give up seeing out-of-state family members. These folks don’t have the luxury of throwing in the towel.
For them, there’s help in the form of smartphone apps, including some with videos that walk you through techniques to conquer or relieve the fear of flying.
These apps can be used a few days or weeks before you fly, before you board or when you’re seated on the plane.
If you’re suffering from fear of flying, here are a few of the best apps to try:
- ANA Takeoff Mode: Free for iOS and Android devices. It uses distractions and deep gameplay options to take your mind off the flight. Another feature: It measures ambient sounds in your plane’s cabin to reassure you and tell you what’s going on when you take off and reach cruising level.
- VALK In-Flight Therapist: For iOS ($3.99) and Android ($4.88). Produced by the VALK Foundation, the world’s first fear-of-flying treatment center, it uses statistics like weather forecasts, flight safety facts and more to provide a holistic approach to fear of flying. It also has a “panic button” that provides a variety of stress-reduction strategies on demand. It doesn’t need an internet connection — which is why the passenger next to me on the European flight used it non-stop.
- SOAR: Free for iOS and Android. One of the first stress-reduction programs, SOAR has helped thousands of people since it was founded in 1980 by airline captain and licensed therapist Tom Bunn. The SOAR app has several extensive stress-relief programs available for purchase through the app; one, called Rapid Relief (priced from $199), includes 18 videos from the SOAR video course and promises help in 90 to 190 minutes. This option is geared to people who are traveling within 24 or 48 hours.
- Turbcast: For iOS ($1.99). Travelers can view complete flight plans before boarding and departing the plane. The idea is to give nervous flyers accurate information to help them deal with weather delays and in-flight turbulence.
- Flight Without Fear: For iOS ($4.99). The app was designed by airline Captain Miki Katz using audio relaxation techniques. This audio method can take the place of in-flight headsets.
Of course, one more thing that can ease fear of flying is overall peace of mind about your travels – and if that sounds like a testimonial for travel insurance, you’re right. Comprehensive travel insurance like that offered by Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection is an important way of reducing travel anxiety.
Throughout the nine-hour flight to Europe the passenger next to me spoke very little. He appeared to be engrossed in the app he was following or trying to sleep.
So when we stood up to claim our gear from the overhead compartments I had to ask.
“So how would you rate the flight?” I asked. “Oh, a piece of cake,” he said.
Funny how those diversion techniques work.
Sharyn Alden is a long-time travel writer with a media-relations business, Sharyn Alden Communications, Inc., based in Madison, Wis. Contact her at email@example.com.