Fear of Flying

16 Sep

Letterbalm AirplaneDear LetterBalm: My husband is terrified of flying. He was on a plane that had to make an emergency landing years ago and has refused to set foot on one. He even gets nervous picking up people at the airport. Thank goodness his business never required him to fly. Now that we’re retired, his phobia is presenting problems. We can’t do any travel abroad – and he’s an avid architecture and history buff – and, unless we drive or take the train, we can’t visit our daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren who have recently moved across the country. I need to stage an intervention, I think. What to do?

–Can’t Flap My Wings

Fear of flying is among the most common forms of phobias – and one of the more difficult to isolate. It may have roots in acrophobia (fear of highs) or claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces) or a combination of both, and the fear of not being in control or unable to escape. All this produces a terrible anxiety, for which Ms. L.B. empathizes. Aerophobes Isaac Asimov, Aretha Franklin, Whoopie Goldberg and John Madden would understand. Will your husband agree to cognitive therapy that specifically addresses flying fears? Has he ruled out a discussion with his doctor about anti-anxiety medication? Regarding travel abroad, have you considered a trans-Atlantic crossing by boat? Or freighter travel which can allow you some freedom on land? Talk with your husband gently:

Orville, please can we talk about your anxiety towards flying? Now that Dana and Wilbur and the grandchildren have moved to California, I know you miss them very much. But unless we take the train, which I’m willing to do sometimes, we need to consider flying cross-country because we can’t drive or go by train there and back. It would be too taxing on both of us. But, dear, I do understand. I’ve researched two cognitive behavior professionals who specialize in flying phobias. And, I’d be happy to go with you, only if you say so, for a talk with Dr. Wright. He may be able to recommend an anti-anxiety medicine. In any case, let’s take small steps. I think we ought to consider going to Europe by boat and signing up for some freighter travel. It would be a shame for you to miss out on all the history and art the world offers.

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