Saturday, April 29, 2006

Airplanes, United 93 and Phobias

Well, the movie, United 93, is now in theaters--I would love to see it but I can't. Why? I have a horrible fear of flying. Okay, I know this is stupid, but apparently I am in good company with this phobia--it seems that Isaac Asimov, David Bowie and even the Dalai Lama had a fear of flying. Wikipedia describes the causes of fear of flying:

There are many things that cause one to fear flying, including a fear of closed in spaces (claustrophobia), such as that of an airplane cabin; a fear of heights (acrophobia); a feeling of not being in control (since a passenger is not piloting the plane and can't get out at will); previous traumatizing experiences while in flight; fear of hijacking or terrorism; fear of deep venous thrombosis; fear of turbulence; etc. While most people who are afraid of flying but to whom flight is a convenient way to conduct necessary business manage their fears well enough that they are able to fly, they may spend considerable time and emotional energy thinking about the dangers that may befall them during flight.

Okay, throw me in with the group that is afraid because of a lack of control--I hate the fact that I don't know who is piloting the plane. The crazy thing is, I used to be a student pilot as a teenager. At 14, I went to work in a shoe store to pay for flying lessons. The most exciting part of my life at that point was tooling around looking at the Smoky Mountains with my instructor, Emilio, in a Cessna 150. I was never afraid. Once my grandmother visited from Iowa and watched me take a lesson. I heard her ask my mother why in the world she would let her kid take these "risky" flying lessons. My mom just shrugged and said, "That's what Helen does, she wants to fly airplanes." Just as an aside, I have to say looking back, I really admire my mom for her nonchalant attitude--it fostered my independence and taught me to ignore societal pressure from others to behave in any type of stereotypical manner. Okay, maybe today it has its drawbacks because I often ignore societal cues as to how to act, but hey, it works for me.

Anyway, back to my fear of flying, it seemed to develop over time. I used to fly often when I lived in NYC and it was easy to get a flight to Europe or the Caribbean but somewhere along the line, my feelings changed and I became more and more afraid. I hate to sound like a mom, but I think it was after my kid was born that the fear intensified and I thought of what would happen if the plane crashed and my daughter was left to grow up without a mother. I do force myself to fly, for example, after 911, I was scheduled to do a talk show in Manhattan and got myself on the plane. Luckily, I was sitting next to a retired pilot turned business man who spent the trip telling me how 911 had "inconvenienced" him while traveling on that day. He was so narcissistic that I figured if the plane was hijacked or had problems, he would just push someone aside and fly the plane just so he would not be inconvenienced by the change in plans. I made it to New York, despite my white knuckles, and flew back without any problems but my fear continues.

I am afraid that if I see United 93, my fear will intensify and I will not make it onto the next plane trip I need to take--but then again, perhaps I should engage in some implosion therapy and plunge myself into the film and a subsequent trip to Europe or Israel to squelch my fear.

Has anyone seen the film or planning to do so? If so, let me know your impressions.

Shrinkwrapped sees the movie and gives his analysis.


Blogger J said...

I had to chuckle at your control issue - I've taken a few people up who were very uncomfortable with flying in general, but just fine if there was a set of controls in front of them, even if they had no idea what to do with them.

Is acrophobia a cause of fear of flying? I thought it (acrophobia) required perspective between the observer and the ground.

I probably won't see "93" either, just because the issue is so depressing. But you might find that it reduces, rather than intensifies your own fears. You are much safer from the threat of hijacking today than you were then, now that passengers and crew know not to cooperate.

10:43 AM, April 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm afraid of flying, too. In fact, the last time I got on a plane about 3 years ago, I told my husband I wouldn't do it again without drugs. I don't do roller coasters, either, and for me a plane ride is just one really long roller coaster ride.

Anyway, we went to see United 93 last night. I felt that if Hollywood was going to make a movie that honored the heroes, it was my duty to go see it.

It is an exceptional film, and I am very, very glad I saw it.

11:04 AM, April 29, 2006  
Blogger Mercurior said...

i flew over 5000 miles on tuesday, and i have never had any fear at all, from england to america. as soon as the terrorists force you into changing your life to suit them.. then they have won.

11:50 AM, April 29, 2006  
Blogger DADvocate said...

I watched the A&E TV movie on flight 93. I found it to be a grippingly compassionate story to the passengers and their families. I don't feel any need to watch the movie after seeing A&E's version.

As far as flying goes, I get a little anxious. I generally enjoy it but one flight I took to San Francisco with a stop over in Dallas raised that anxiety. When taking off from Dallas we could see a large burned out patch by the runway where an airliner had crashed, with 100% fatalities I believe, only a week or two before.

When landing in San Francisco we approached the runway from over the bay. The view is beautiful, cities, ships, boats, hills, the Pacific Ocean in the distance. Just before we touched down, I estimated 50 feet above the tarmack, the pilot gave power to the engines. Having once studied for my pilot's license, I immediately knew something was wrong. I braced for some sort of impact but it never came. We climbed and circled out over the ocean. Twenty minutes later the pilot finally announced over the PA that our nose wheel hadn't gone down and locked into position.

On the second approach the plane was entirely quiet. Everyone that had a rosary on the plane had it out and was praying. Yes, there were even a couple of nuns as well as Hispanics with rosaries. We landed without incident and applauded the pilot.

More than 15 years later, I can still feel the anxiety today just remembering that moment when I felt that surge of power when the pilot gassed the engines. As Lewis Grizzard once said (supposedly), "It's not the flying I mind, it's the crashing and burning."

12:19 PM, April 29, 2006  
Blogger Catholicgauze said...

I saw the movie and it was powerful. I felt all the emotions I felt on 9/11, everything from rage to sadness. Personally I recommend it as a reminder of what we face. Too many people have forgotten, do not care, or think it was some sort of government plot (just read the IMDB forum boards).

As for your plane fears, just remember a plane cannot be hijacked anymore because the passengers will fight back.

12:21 PM, April 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel basically the same way - I won't fly because I don't like being at the mercy of other people.

Maybe I'm fooling myself, but when I'm driving, I feel that if I drive alertly and carefully, I even have a good chance against the nutjob in the next car.

12:36 PM, April 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw United 93. Quite literally gut-wrenching.

My local multiplex showed the movie in their largest theater. At the end, it was silent except for half a dozen people crying. Not that there were many dry eyes in the house (mine included).

As far a flying goes, it doesn't bother me at all.

1:55 PM, April 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few people have commented on the lackof control one has in a plane. Does this same lack of control extend to a train, bus, subway, or cruise ship. Is it different? How? Why?

3:02 PM, April 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we look back at the history of airline hijackings, can we say that with Flight 93 the victims stood up and fought the bully?

3:04 PM, April 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I spent some time driving today on route 128 in Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. Now that’s scary... As for planes, I like flying; I prefer window seats, and I like to think about how the damned thing could crash—don’t ask me why, you’re the head mechanic.

If I’m being honest about seeing the movie, I’m afraid of crying, (which at least rhymes with flying). It’s just not too cool for a man to let go in public, so I’ll end up doing this I’m-not-crying-what-are-you-looking-at thing. It won’t be pretty—I mean there’s nothing more disconcerting than impotent rage. Still, I’m going to go see the movie; I’ll just pack up my angry and take it out on the next peace-in-our-time, Bush-lied-people-died fruit loop.

4:55 PM, April 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never flown in a plane, but would like to someday. I want to see this movie, but usually don't see movies until they are at a discount theater or on DVD. Speaking of fears, I am afraid of swallowing pills, even though according to this site:
because of the epiglottis, the vocal fold closure that covers the larynx or voice box, it is physically impossible to inhale a pill.

5:31 PM, April 29, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...


What a beautiful picture--it seems silly to be afraid with a view like that.

7:34 PM, April 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was never afraid of flying before 9/11, but my anxiety levels are getting uncomfortable now when I fly. However, I have something of an excuse -- I know what it sounds like and feels like when a plane hits a building.

And I won't be seeing the movie, it will just set off some more post-traumatic stress

9:45 PM, April 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr Helen,

I think you should only watch that movie if and when you feel you are ready for it.

There is no rush, it'll be available on DVD for years to come.

And for what it is worth, there is only one thing that could keep me from being afraid of flying; I would have to be the pilot.

10:13 PM, April 29, 2006  
Blogger newsbeat1 said...

Saw United 93. Not a peep from the audience from start to finish.No gratuitous violence.A lot of the movie was about behind the scenes at NORAD and air traffic control.Movie was about the heroism of the passengers on United 93.

It's important for people to see it because it's basically a vote in a poll for those who want to make sure 9/11 is not forgotten.There are those in the media pumping the "too soon" theme to discourage people form seeing it.By seeing it we are making a statement that we won't forget the murders of nearly 3000 on 9/11 nor the perpetrators.They read the news over the internet and are looking for our resolve to go wobbly.In fact those behind 9/11 had a PR initiative in the past week. So as a sign of respect for the victims of 9/11 and to show resolve against terrorists, people hould see United 93 IMHO.

8:02 AM, April 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Helen -- as a lifelong airport bum with 1700 hours in military aircraft and countless more as baggage on commercial airliners, my recommendation for overcoming your fear of flying is to take up sailplaning. Especially in the area where you live -- the scenery there, wafting slowly through the air in a sailplane, is breathtaking.

WRT United 93, I'll join several of the commenters in waiting for the DVD. I flew from Atlanta to London on 9/10 -- and 24 hours later, the world was a different place. I joined my British colleagues in keeping a stiff upper lip. It was only when Queen Elizabeth presided over a memorial ceremony at St. Paul's that the enormity of what happened sank in and the grieving started.

These monsters

8:52 AM, April 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you Newsbeat1.
I will see it to honor those heroes on flight 93.
Plus 10% of the profits go to the memorial.
It is disgusting how some of the media and some on the left are saying "too soon", or minimizing and even belittling what those brave patriots did on flight 93.
By watching this film, we can show that there is still a majority of Americans who haven't lost our resolve to vanquish
the evil of terrorism.
Before I watch it, I will look at myself, using insight, to shine the light of truth, because I don't want denial, delusion, displacement, repression or projection controlling my life.
Yeah, the truth can hurt,
and it can be scary, but insightful truth is healing, and we will grow from the experience.

8:54 AM, April 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as someone who has suffered over 30 years of terrorism. alot of the precautions only increase the terror and make more people nervous.

in one of the previous posts it says going over and over a traumatic event can keep the fear and the trauma alive. causing untold problems later.

(and before you say i dont know about terrorism i do, manchester bombing, warrington, lockerbie, many car bombs, people throwing petrol bombs at school kids and stones. all in ireland and the UK)

nearly got blown up twice. but something told me not to go. yes terrorism is BAD, but if it forces you to change who you are and what you do in life, then they have won.

1:22 PM, April 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hate to fly and have to do it all the time. I probably share your 'lack of control' feeling more than any other concern, though I occasionally find myself wondering what I'll do if the plane suddenly refuses to stay in the air for one reason or another.

As for United 93, I've read the story, fervently admire those people, and while I can't say I look forward to seeing it, I will. I consider my duty to do so. It's the least that I can do to honor their courage and strength.

My problem is that I live in Belgium for the moment and have a problem that others responding to your question my not have. It's not playing anywhere nearby and, given my location, it may not be anytime soon. I have seen zip, zero, nada in the way of advertising or anything else locally. Odd considering how often and how quickly other US films make it across the pond.

2:30 PM, April 30, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

Cdr g etc.

Yes, I would really like to see the film to show support for it--I have actually decided to just go down to my local theater (it is playing at several near me) and purchase a few tickets and give them away--this way, I won't have to see it, yet I can support it. Seems like a good compromise.

4:00 PM, April 30, 2006  
Blogger Freeman Hunt said...

Great movie. Great telling of a story about heroism and our nation waking up to a war we hadn't acknowledged.

My husband has a tremendous fear of flying and hasn't flown for years. His fear centers on the idea of prolonged falling. He had no problem watching this movie, probably because the plane was flying so close to the ground.

4:38 PM, April 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a great idea, Doctor Helen!
I realize that some people cannot see this film, for various reasons.
I only object to the people and MSM trying to tell others what they should be ready to see.
This from the same people who had no objections to Syriana, and a few other movies that make terrorists look like victims, and the US look like opressors. Syriana and Munich were actually lauded by most of the left.

5:36 PM, April 30, 2006  
Blogger RightGirl said...

Helen, the movie was perfect - everything it should be. There is very little to really be afraid of, although they do show the takeoff very clearly. Mostly though you may suffer motion sickness from the way-too-popular method of making camera angles jerky. Take a Gravol before you go - I wish I had.

I can't say I enjoyed it - it is not meant to be enjoyed. But it enraged me, and I think that's exactly what it was supposed to do.


7:29 PM, April 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I'm both claustrophobic and afraid of being out of control, I used to fly fairly regularly, didn't like it much, but on a week or two of vacation you can't get very far in a car!

I've gotten worse over the years though (hell now I don't even like riding in cars unless I'm driving) and haven't flown since they banned smoking and won't be ever flying again.

To the other anon., yes cruise ships would fit in the same category as planes, but not the other means, because you can get off those, even if it would be inconvenient if you did -- not that you'd have to, just the ability to do so is enough.

I was going to wait for the DVD of "United 93," but I think I'll slip in to a matinee showing this week so there'll be less people around if I get over emotional

9:25 PM, April 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Arachnaphobia was gawd awful especially living in San Antonio. However, a Psychology prof. took pity on me and gave me some systematic desensitisation and what do you know... It Worked!!! now all I'm afraid of are Tarantulas.. and I seldom see them, well, not in the last 20 years or so.

Implosion, SD, either one, both, Flying is such great fun!

10:16 PM, April 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


A friend of mine was scared of flying, which was a big problem for him becuase he has to travel from here in New Zealand to conferences around the world. I took him flying in a glider. You can see the photos he took on his first flight here. He subsequently started learning to fly, and got solo in the glider, and has since not had a problem with flying commercially.

I think your own flying lessons were the right idea and you should take it up again. I expect they may not let you fly solo in a powered aircraft with your heart history, but you could still fly gliders (which are much more fun anyway!).

If you ever get to NZ (difficult without flying :-( ) I'd certainly like to take you for a flight.

8:35 AM, May 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My bride and I will go, but we won't discuss it around our 12 year old daughter too much, as we don't want her to have any trepidations about flying. She of course knows what happened, and we live in a town which lost many people in the World Trade Center.

9:19 AM, May 01, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

Bruce Hoult,

Thanks for the photos and advice, gliders sound like a lot of fun. I am not sure about finishing my pilot's license--as you said, with a defibrillator, I am not sure I could (or should be) flying alone. I am not sure what would happen if I was shocked in mid-air and would not want to take the chance of harming others just to get over my fear. Gliders may be the way to go.

9:24 AM, May 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure you can get a medical certificate with the defib, but if you can, go ahead and finish the pilot license while the husband takes a pinch hitter course.

9:49 AM, May 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


As a flight instructor and aerobatic pilot, I don't have much to add to the other suggestions from pilots you've already recieved. The only thing I would add is that if one is afraid of something, we have a choice to either try to face that fear and conquer it or just let it go as something that's not really important to us. Either way, in the long run it's not very important to others, only you. Your choice...

2:45 PM, May 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As far as I'm concerned, plane, bus or train are all the same: Uncomfortable, not under your control and, in the cases of busses and planes, a bit scary. I've been scared during bus and plane trips, but I'll repel from a tower or cliff without fear. I think it is definately a control thing.

I will probably see Flight 93 when it comes out on DVD.
Theatres are also things which are uncomfortable and out of my control. I rarely go for that reason. For some reason they won't pause the film while I run to the bathroom, or rewind it when I miss a line because some jerk coughed or starts talking. Though, I will admit that the seats in the newer theatres are much improved.

3:19 PM, May 01, 2006  
Blogger TMink said...

Hmm, most of us are afraid of falling. There are those videos of barely mobile children being falling-fear-free and slightly post-mobile children fearing the visual cliff. I am surprised that the fear of falling, a basic fear, was not mentioned. Fear of turbulence would be fear of falling in my book.

Personally, fear of flying is a silly phobia. My phobia, fear of rats, now THERE is a worthwhile fear.



2:48 PM, May 02, 2006  
Blogger Larry Sheldon said...

And I have also done enough public speaking (max crowd 2k souls) to claim some expertise.

If you have done the prep work, checked everything out, and get ready to speak and do NOT have a great deal of anxiety, you should hang it up.

The anxiety is necessary to get everything on-line so that you can give the talk what the audience deserves.

8:29 PM, February 15, 2008  

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