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Fear of flying? An experts says these tips can help


It's Memorial Day weekend, and the Transportation Security Administration says it expects to screen over 18 million passengers this week. If you're one of those passengers, you might be especially aware of some recent aviation incidents.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Officials in Japan now investigating the fiery collision between a packed passenger jet and a Japanese coast guard aircraft at...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Alaska Airlines flight made an emergency landing at Portland's International Airport tonight. According to local news reports, a large window section of the aircraft blew out while the flight was in midair.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: The planes were just seconds from disaster. A Jet Blue flight gaining speed and taking off for Boston, just as a Southwest plane was cleared to cross in front of it.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Severe turbulence on a Singapore airlines flight killed one passenger and injured dozens more.

SIMON: In fact, 20 people from that Singapore airlines flight ended up in intensive care earlier this week. Many passengers still remain hospitalized, some with spinal injuries. But flying still remains one of the safest methods of transportation. In fact, the last fatal U.S. airline crash was 15 years ago, as Anthony Brickhouse, professor of aerospace safety at Embry‑Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, told NPR back in March.


ANTHONY BRICKHOUSE: Once you step onboard your flight, the riskiest part of the trip is over. The most risky part of the trip is literally driving to the airport.

SIMON: But the Cleveland Clinic says that aerophobia, the fear of flying, affects over 25 million American adults. Jonathan Bricker, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, says some people are already more sensitive to danger.

JONATHAN BRICKER: And when they see media coverage of an incident like the door plug, it's dramatic. And it's captivating of our imaginations. And for certain people who are sensitive to developing anxiety disorders, it could be triggering for them.

SIMON: And seeing all those incidents can distort our sense of just how safe it is to get on a plane.

BRICKER: Those are going to be the focus of newsworthy incidents. What's not going to be the focus is on the fact that 100,000 airplanes are flying and landing every single day around the world.

SIMON: Professor Bricker says there is an effective treatment.


BRICKER: Exposure, which is a type of behavior therapy, is extremely effective for all phobias, including fear of flying. But 80% of people respond to treatment. What that involves is a gradual increase in exposing yourself to situations that lead up to and are including flying on a plane.

SIMON: He says another way to help someone who has a fear of flying is to remind them how avoiding air travel might make their life less fulfilling.


BRICKER: By not being able to see people that they love or go to special places, that it's getting in the way of living a life where they feel they have freedom of choosing how to see the world and connect with people.

SIMON: And Jonathan Bricker says the best advice might be not giving any advice at all to people who might be anxious.


BRICKER: Because they're probably getting advice from a lot of other people, and that can just feel like pressure. I think the best message you can give is that you love them, and there is good help for them to be able to overcome their fear of flying.

SIMON: They can fly to interesting places. They can make new friends, and they can be with those who love them. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.