In this month’s One-on-One blog, ExpertFlyer talks with Michael Salem, the author of “Brave Flyer – How to End Your Fear of Flying.”
For years, Michael Salem counted himself among the ranks of petrified flyers. Unable to get on a plane, Michael counted many a missed opportunity, both personal and professional, which led to his search for a solution that would end his fear of flying. His book is a culmination of research, self-exploration, experimentation and results. Michael not only overcame his fear of flying, he is now an expert in helping others through his unconventional proven methods. In this post, Michael shares his techniques to help fearful flyers overcome their phobia and join the friendly skies.
“From my research, I have learned that most fearful flyers are not overly concerned with the possibility of an airline accident. This is exactly why statistics that tell you how driving a car is more dangerous than being on a plane or how well planes are engineered, will do little to calm your fears.”
– Michael Salem, author of “Brave Flyer”
There are scores of experts and as many books touting remedies for fearful flyers. What’s different about your book?
I am certain there are great books in the market and I appreciate all of them, but unfortunately many of them address the fear of flying phobia from an airline safety point of view, and most of them are written by people who do not suffer from this fear to begin with. The Brave Flyer book addresses this matter from the fearful flyer point of view. It talks very little about airline safety statistics, and goes into the details of the fearful flyer state of mind. It is the first book that I am aware of that speaks directly to the victim’s actual concerns and fears, and written by someone who feared flying for many years and overcame that fear.
How did you go about conquering your own fear of flying – how long did it take and what was your biggest “aha” moment in the process?
It took me roughly four years to conquer it. I wish I had a Brave Flyer book in my hand at that time; I could have done it in a few short weeks, if not days. I conquered my fear of flying when the ‘aha’ moment finally happened. This is the moment I came to realize that fear of flying is not a stand-alone phobia; it was actually only a front-end to one or more fears hidden in its shadows. Think of fear of flying as a symptom of a disease, if you cough, in reality your cough medicine is healing what is causing the cough (allergy, lungs, etc.), and not the actual expulsion of the air out of your mouth. The same applies to fear of flying; it is only a name of a symptom, addressing it as a stand-alone will not resolve the issue, as the underlying root causes are still strong at work. Addressing the root cause (fear factors) behind it is the trick.
What are some misconceptions that contribute to people’s fear of flying?
There are many, but from my own research and the surveys I have conducted, some of the main ones that keep coming up include the misconception about the danger of routine air turbulence (air bumps). Many truly believe that turbulence could simply bring the plane down or even break it. This is far from the truth (Have you ever heard of a modern-era commercial airliner that crashed due to turbulence?). Another misconception is that the variations in the engine sound (mainly during take-offs and landings) and the ‘unknown’ sounds the plane makes is a sign of an engine failure or a malfunction in the plane’s structure. Again, these fear triggers are nothing but a routine part of the flight, where the captain increases or decreases the throttles (engine noise variations) to accommodate controlled procedures or surrounding traffic. And the ‘unknown’ sounds are normal sounds the plane makes while it’s adjusting its flaps or retracting its wheels. One final misconception I would like to mention is the idea that a failure in any system will bring a doom’s day outcome. As rare of an event as this is, still, all modern commercial airplanes have at least one backup to each of their main systems, sometimes even two.
Your book focuses on overcoming irrational emotion as opposed to citing a lot of safety statistics. Talk about the main fear factors and some tips that fearful flyers can use to get on (and stay on) a plane without having a nervous breakdown?
Think of the fear factors as the source of what is commonly called the fear of flying phobia. Remember, this phobia is not a stand-alone; it is simply the symptoms of other fears working in the shadow. These shadow fears are what I refer to as fear factors, the food supply source for the symptom, the phobia. There are many, but let me list three common ones, and some tips to overcome them:
- Fear of enclosed places (Claustrophobia): Unknowingly, the real problem for the fearful flyers is being stuck helpless, 30,000 thousand feet high in a confined space with no exits. To reduce this fear, you should reserve an aisle seat (illusion of open space), sitting in a front row seat or exit seat (more leg room), or if routes allow it, booking a flight that uses a larger aircraft (Airbus 380, 340, 330, or Boeing 747, 767, 777). With the availability of online booking, you can see which aircraft will be used for each flight, and pick your own seat. If you don’t have a fear of spending a lot of money, try business or first class for extra space.
- Loss of control: Many fearful flyers have a serious problem with the fact that they do not know, or even see, who is flying the plane. To reduce this fear, remember that the pilots are physically onboard with you (it’s not a remote control plane), and just like you, they have a vested interest in landing the plane safely. Remember that pilots always have a copilot watching over them, there is also an auto pilot that is making sure no one is making any errors. I would also strongly recommend waiting at the gate to spot the pilots before boarding your plane and talking to them about the flight and your fear. They are nice people, professionals, and very aware of this common fear. It’s a great comfort to talk to your pilot and associate a human with the flight you are boarding.
- Turbulence: The mother of all fears; the sad but true fact is that many fearful flyers spend the entire flight semi-breathless in anticipation of the next big bump (which usually never happens anyway). To help reduce this anxiety, you have to remember that most bumps are light to moderate; many captains with many years of flying experience have never encountered extreme turbulence. Also, keep in mind, that when the dreadful “Fasten Your Seat Belt” sign is turned on, its main purpose is to prevent you from moving around and accidently falling due to the plane’s abrupt shaking; the sign is not an indication of danger. In any case, the pilots try to get clearance to alter route or altitude to avoid turbulence all together, if possible. Their main reason in avoiding these bumps is not a flight safety issue, but rather to ensure passengers’ comfort – who needs a lot of bumps when you’re trying to get some shut-eye or read a good book?
Are there any new technologies or innovations in travel that would help people get over their fears of flying?
There has never been a better time for technology to be used to reduce fear of flying. For example, the FAA finally approved the use of electronic devices during takeoff and landing. These are the two phases of the flight people fear the most. Grab your MP3 player or iphone and listen to some music using a sound cancelling headset. You will never have to worry about hearing weird engine noises ,sound variations or any other sounds for that matter (including the kid screaming behind you). During the flight, use your smartphone or tablet to watch a captivating movie. This is an excellent way to make time go by faster. Same goes for games.
But I would also recommend downloading a phone/tablet app like Flightaware or Flight Radar24. These two Apps display (among other things) in real-time all the flights currently in the sky, giving you a comfort that you are not alone and thousands of flights will take off and land safely.
One app I would also like to recommend is the Turbulence Forecast. This App will display on the map what areas have potential of turbulent weather, and what spots on the map pilots have reported turbulence. Align your estimated (from/to) flight route and see if you should anticipate any bumps along the way, and roughly when. This allows you to expect them, and when they happen, you can tell yourself ‘Yeah, no worries, I knew this will happen around now…and if I knew about them with my little app, I am sure the pilot was expecting them as well.’
Can a phobic flyer ever become a relaxed air traveler?
Absolutely and positively, Yes! I am a living testimony, and many others that I worked with have conquered this fear. In fact, today, after many years suffering from this fear, I can’t wait until they open up the boarding gate, so I can leave the uncomfortable gate seats and jump into my plane seat to sit back, relax and start reading a book or take a nap.