2001: Experts say reluctance to fly will dissipate over time

By Jeff Barr

Over the next several months, Americans will deal with the realization that their world is more dangerous and unpredictable. One of the more tangible ramifications of this new uncertainty is an increased reluctance to fly.

The impact of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America was immediate to golf resorts throughout the country. Officials at many high-end golf locales reported cancellations and bookings slowdowns – a direct result of fear of flying.

So, who is most susceptible and how do you deal with this fear?

“First, you have to realize that this new concern people are feeling is indeed legitimate and understandable,” said Dr. Rachel Yehuda, professor of psychiatry and director of the post-traumatic stress program at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the Bronx Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New York. “There is nothing wrong about being more afraid to fly, given what happened on Sept. 11.”

There is a difference between fear of flying that was a pre-existing condition, and the feeling that might exist now, according to experts.

“Ordinarily, fear of flying is not about the plane, it is a control issue, a phobia, an anxiety disorder,” said Lisa Hauptner, psychotherapist at Four Winds Hospital in Katonah, N.Y., and director of SOAR (seminars on aeroanxiety relief). “But, terrorism is not a phobia. This is real stuff.

“It all depends on where you were with flying before Sept. 11. This affects everyone to some degree, regardless of whether you were afraid to fly before.”

Fear of flying should dissipate gradually with time, and air travelers can facilitate the process by concentrating on the steps being taken to make the skies more secure.

“People should follow the development of the security steps being taken,” Yehuda said. “Pay attention to the fact that there are air marshals on flights, that cockpits are being modified to focus more on security.

“Understanding of vulnerability is the first step toward being able to correct it. Yes, we now understand we are vulnerable when we fly. But, there are real corrections being made that will reassure people if they pay attention.”

Lack of precedent makes it difficult to predict how long it will take to get over the increased fear of flying, but sticking to the facts will help people feel more comfortable, according to Hauptner.

“This has never happened before, there is nothing you can really point to in history to get a feel for the time period necessary to feel more secure,” she said.

“It is very important, and also very difficult, for people to get away from their emotions, and look at the realities. Before Sept. 11, flying, statistically, was the safest form of travel. And, today, flying remains the safest form of travel. Those are the facts people should try to dwell on.”

Separating from emotion becomes more difficult with mass media providing constant exposure to the terrorist attacks.

“It’s personal for people when they watch these planes crashing into buildings over and over,” Hauptner said. “It makes it harder to remember how safe air travel is.”

Still, Americans – including American air travelers – will recover eventually. Experts say the shock, anger, grief and symptoms of traumatic stress are normal and will fade. A return to normalcy is essential and inevitable.

“If getting in a plane and flying to a golf resort is something you wanted to do before,” said Hauptner, “there’s no reason not to do it now.”







– For more on how to cope with the fear of flying, visit www.fearofflying.com

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