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less stressful airport/itinerary for fearful flier?

I'm trying to book a flight to Europe for next summer using my United frequent flier miles. I am a fearful flier (claustrophobic) and am trying to decide which airport/flight might be less stressful. I'm particularly worried about being stuck in a plane, waiting for a delayed take off. Does anyone have any advice? The choices that United is offering are either Chicago/OHare to Paris/CDG or Washington/Dulles to London/Heathrow. I prefer OHare/Paris but I've heard so many negative things about OHare. Many thanks.

Posted by
668 posts

This is just a one-time example, but my brother and sister-in-law were stuck on a United plane from O'Hare to Munich (they started in Seattle) for a couple of hours last year due to toilet issues. I've heard O'Hare is stressful, but I have also heard Heathrow is stressful, too.

A few things I would keep in mind (as a fearful flyer) are what type of airplane you would be in for each leg and the travel times for those legs. Is it a widebody or a single-aisle? Is it a newer model or older model? What is the safety record? (That makes me feel less anxious.) Also, I don't really like flying at night, so that's something I try to look out for.

Sorry no direct answer, just some things to think about!

Posted by
6898 posts

Adrienne, I'm curious, if you are a fearful flyer, how did you get all those FF points?

You do have another choice if your destination in Europe is Germany or nearby. United is a Star Alliance partner. One of their partners is Lufthansa (another is Swiss Air). United flew us from Sacramento to LAX on Skywest where we retreived our luggage (our choice) and walked over to the Tom Bradley International terminal and checked into Lufthansa. From LAX, Lufthansa has a 10.5hr. overnight flight on a 747 to Frankfurt. We then transferred to a Lufthansa flight to Florence. Great flights.

We are now planning an England trip and the choices are the same as yours - SMF to O'Hare to pick up a the 767 non-stop to London or SMF to Washington Dulles to pick up the 777 non-stop to London.

Posted by
9799 posts

If you're claustrophobic, then I'm guessing the longer you're "cooped up," the worse it is.

If so, then you might want to break your trip up to the shortest flights possible. SFO-IAD and the IAD-LHR.

If it's only the ground time that bothers you, then I'm afraid that's hard to predict. No one knows what the weather will be like the day you fly, if your plane might have a small techinical glitch, if the incoming flight was late, etc.

Since you're flying next summer, how about finding a "fear of flying" program and enrolling. Many of the airlines actually run them--that's if they still do with all the cutbacks. They're usually run by both a therapist and a pilot.

One other thing...make sure the plane is has two aisles--a 767 or 777.....(of course, this could change by next summer). The larger planes may make you feel less claustrophobic. And I would suggest getting a seat on the aisle in the center section. You won't feel as cramped or closed in. Plus if you need to get up and move around, it's easier.

Posted by
220 posts

Cate and Larry,
Thanks for all the info and advice. I know what you mean about flying at night. Both United flights are in the early evening so I'm trying to tell myself that the darkness outside will be a good cue to go to sleep. I'd be more than happy to sleep the flight away! Also, I cannot imagine being on a plane for more than 7 to 8 hours max so a 10 hour flight would be impossible at this time, altho'I've heard that Lufthansa is terrific as well.

The FF miles are from using a United/Chase credit card all these years. I've been keeping up on what the media has been reporting about how fewer FF seats will be available in the future. To make matters worse,several airlines have already increased the amount of miles needed to fly, which has motivated me to start planning next summer's trip before United follows suit. Already, with a 331 day advance, all the FF seats from Dulles to Rome (our first preference) are already gone! I had no idea that there was such a high demand for seats to Italy, either that or I'm not searching for FF seats properly. Grazie mille tutti!

Posted by
220 posts

Frank,
I'm beginning to think that since Dulles/Heathrow is the shorter flight, that I'd be able to tolerate it better. Thanks for confirming that.

I took a fear of flying course about three years ago, in preparation for a family reunion in Hawaii. The course was excellent and I'm considering taking it again. For anyone who might be interested, the three-weekend course cost about $500 plus the cost of a practice flight to Seattle with the whole group. Expensive but we all got on the plane! They did warn us, tho' that we needed to fly regularly at least once every three months, 6 months at the most, otherwise the fear returns. And it sure did.

Staying in the center aisle of a roomier plane makes a lot of sense. I'll be sure to secure an aisle seat on either a 767 or 777. Whew! I feel better already! Thanks everyone!

Posted by
368 posts

As an ex-fearful flier I feel your pain. It took me lots and lots of reading, a couple of flying lessons in a small plane and about 10 commercial flights to get over my irrational fears about commercial aviation and turbulence.

I am still not able to sleep on a plane because I am so wired when flying, but I have realized that most of my issues were around control (typical male reason) and the fact that I was not able to see or hear what was going on in the cockpit. Once I learned enough to know about all the phases of a flight and how the systems work, etc. the whole concept of flying turned into something that I look forward to instead of fearing. I also like to listen to the radio communication between the various planes and ATC. It is comforting to know they are trying to get into smoother air when you are bouncing around up there.

I think these days I am more concerned about toilets not working on a trans-oceanic flight or sitting next to someone with a bad case of BO. :-)

Good luck and have fun on your trip!

Posted by
10344 posts

A method of curing fear of flying that I've personally used and recommend highly: Sky Divingespecially the old-fashioned way where you have to jump out by yourself, not strapped to an instructor. Sky diving is so truly frightening that you may not ever jump out of a perfectly good airplane again, but you won't be afraid of just sitting in one. Ummm, this method comes with no warranties, however.

Posted by
11450 posts

Guys, I don't think her fear is mainly of flying, its being stuck in plane on the ground,, claustrophobia,, which I personally totally understand. I think there should be a law that says if flight is more then 45 minutes delayed that they have to offer to let you off plane into a seating area,, I would go insane just sitting in a hot stuffy plane on the runaway for an hour or two, like airlines have been known to do,, and torture their clients. I still fly, but it is a fear of mine.

Posted by
1358 posts

There is no way to predict flight delays or getting stuck on a runway. All airports are subject to them. From what I read about Heathrow, it is the worlds worst for delays.

But that doesnt mean you will experience one. Read all the comments on this page written by travelers regarding flying. Also read the archives. You will see that opinions really vary greatly.

Posted by
220 posts

Well, it's inspiring to know that there are quite a few EX-fearful fliers among us. I've thought about taking flying lessons as well, as a way to de-mystify the ritual of preparing for airplane travel. And now I know that if that doesn't work, I can take it to the extreme and attempt sky diving. I suspect it would take only one jump to end all fears of just about everything.

Meanwhile, I'll probably do some research on Heathrow and some of the international carriers. I hear Air France and Virgin Atlantic are wonderful about ensuring that you're comfortable on a trans-Atlantic flight, altho' it would be a lot more practical and economical to redeem the United FF miles for this trip.
Again, many thanks to all.

Posted by
7908 posts

The farther north you fly, the shorter the hop across the ocean will be, as the airplane flies in an arc. So, you could do Seattle to Copenhagen and then down to Paris. I like Cincinnati airport too. I personally like non-stop flights. The faster the better. I am also a firm believer in the motto "when your time is up, it is up, so no since worrying about when that will be". Hope that isn't too weird to say something like that.

Posted by
9799 posts

There have been some terrific responses to this question. But there's one that no one has stated.....medication. Either sleeping pills or anti-anxiety meds or just plain old scotch. (But don't combine them.)

Posted by
800 posts

I've just signed on and seen all the responses but have to say, as an ex fearful flier myself - Xanax. That should work for any of the different reasons to be fearful as it is an anti-anxiety medication. PLEASE ask your doctor about it. It is much cheaper than the fear of flying courses (I did hypnosis/relaxation therapy without lasting effect). I really swear by it for everyone who has a true fear of flying and hopefully it will work as well for you as it did for me - I'm basically "cured" and have made several flights drug free. Of course it only took 10 years of flying WITH the drugs...

Posted by
220 posts

Thanks for the posts about meds. I've actually tried xanax and ativan as well and had a wierd reaction to both, particularly xanax. I guess everyone's chemistry is a bit different. I plan to bring a respectable supply of ativan with me on the trip. From my experience with it, it's best to take it BEFORE the panic and anxiety starts, otherwise you end up taking too strong a dose and feel very zombie when you reach your destination.

Even with the meds, however, I find that I'm still very uncomfortable during the plane ride. But maybe I'll just have to learn to accept that level of discomfort instead of wanting it to go away altogether. I must say, it's really impressive to hear that there's a possibility that eventually one wouldn't even need meds anymore.

I've done some checking and found that another option is flying from Dulles into Amsterdam, thereby avoiding Heathrow. Making some progress here, thanks to everyone's help. Grazie mille.

Posted by
668 posts

I think the Dulles to Amsterdam idea is great. I know a lot of people recommend Xanax, but it didn't really work for me...I'll stick with an alcoholic drink or two. Not enough to be DRUNK, but just a little to take the edge off. I have one in the airport before the flight and when it wears off, I have another one on the plane.

Posted by
115 posts

I used to count to myself during take off, landing and any turbulance. I had 'magic numbers' for the different circumstances and when i reached that number I knew it was going to be ok. I still count when there is turbulance, but not for anything else.

However, if your concern is with claustrophobia, once you find which airline you are going with, you should be able to go onto their website and see a virtual insight to the cabin (I can with Cathay Pacific, whom I am flying with).

Also maybe have a look at www.seatguru.com so that you can see what the aircrafts are like with seat configurations and size on the flights that you are looking at.

Posted by
800 posts

Adrienne - since you are using points is there any possibility of paying for a ticket that you can use points to upgrade? I haven't flown United business/first class myself but have done this with Delta. I know it is not the same as getting a totally "free" ticket, but since there are many fees involved with FF tickets these days anyway, maybe you should check out the possibility.

For us it gave us more possible flight options than searching for one of the free tickets and, best of all of course - it feels wonderful! My husband has no fear of flying, claustrophobia, etc. but he is over 6 feet tall and feels SO uncomfortable during flights. Traveling in Delta Business class lets us stretch out on their (almost) flat beds & have lots of "room" around us. It has made his flights much more enjoyable as well. For us, it is worth the money to arrive in Europe feeling fairly rested, pretty relaxed. It might be something to look into doing.

Posted by
1356 posts

Since you have UA frequent flyer miles, remember that you are not limited to flying just UA. You can use the same miles and fly any combination of Star alliance carriers that go across the Atlantic including Lufthansa, Austrian, Lot (Polish), Scandanavian, UA, US Airways, Turkish, and Singapore and also some smaller European airlines such as Croatian, Adria, Air One etc. These other airlines are useful if you want to get someplace other than a main hub (e.g. Dubrovnik, Sofia, Vilnius, Venice, Naples, etc.)

The one advantage of an all UA ticket is that you can generally change the dates of the flight but not the routing after ticketing without incurring a change fee.

Posted by
11450 posts

Yup, forgot to mention, I take Ativan,, not for short flights, but anything over 5 hours... I find .5 mg works great for just taking edge off aniexty, but I will take 1 mg if I want to sleep.

Posted by
366 posts

Hi Adrienne:

I used to be a very fearful flyer for a number of reasons including losing a friend in a plane crash. However, I lost this fear when I had to take 5 flights in three days for business. By the end of the trip we were comparing the take off and landing skills of the various pilots.

But for you, have you thought of getting an Ipod or other device and downloading books, a movie or a relaxation tape? Take a direct flight from SFO to CDG. Get on the plan put in your ear buds, put on your eyeshade and listen. Two books should take care of the time. Or watch a movie you have downloaded.

If you need medication, I have found that benedryl works the best for me. It is available over the ocunter and if you need to wake up you are generally not too groggy and have the medical hangover.

Good luck

Posted by
9799 posts

Airlines play games when it comes to departure and arrival times.

If the plane leaves the gate at its scheduled time, but sits on the ground for an hour, it is considered to have left on time because they measure departure from the time it left a gate.

To arrive on time, the flight has to be wheels down (land) within 15 minutes of its scheduled arrival time to be considered on time. It has nothing to do as to when it parks at the gate.

If you want to see real flight times, there are a few sites that track both commercial and GA flights. (such as flightaware. com). They give you the ATC scheduled time for wheels up and wheels down and then the actual times once the plane has departed. ATC doesn't care what airlines time is. They only care about wheels up and wheels down.

Posted by
220 posts

Ciao tutti,
Grazie mille for all the wonderful advice and expertise on the many facets of airplane travel. Everyone's posts have really broadened my perspective on flying and now I can't help but appreciate just how much human energy goes into making a flight across the big pond possible.

I've gone ahead and booked two seats from Dulles to Amsterdam with United, using up every one of our air miles. I consider this quite a feat because many fearful flyers like myself can't even imagine making an airline reservation. So many thanks to you all for your kind and generous support.

We'll be sitting in the center row, aisle seat and I plan to bring my ipod fully loaded, Italian translations of Under The Tuscan Sun and Harry Potter (waaay challenging so they'll keep me focused on anything but the fact that I'm really flying!)and I'll remember to order a nice stiff drink if need be.

I'm thinking of starting a comprehensive list for fearful flyers of things to do before and during a flight. I'd like to incorporate all the great suggestions, websites, etc. that have been posted here, including bits of info from the fear of flying course that I took. I'll try and get it out within the next week. If anyone has any other ideas, thoughts, epiphanies, etc. on their experience with fear of flying or fearful flyers that could be included, we might end up with a terrific list that will hopefully be useful to many.
Best regards,
Adrienne

Posted by
643 posts

There is a good book called "The Fearless Flyer" that might be worth taking a look at. I'm not a happy flyer, but I can fly when I need to. I take one Xanax tablet which usually will get me through a flight, though on my last long flight, from Osaka, Japan to San Francisco, I had to take a second one halfway through the 9.5 hour flight. I have to kind of psych myself out before the flight at the airport.

Posted by
643 posts

Oops, I hit post before I was done with my thought. I try to sleep on the airplane, and Xanax does help with that. I find sleeping to be the only way to get through the flight. I am wired too, I don't like turbulence or sudden motion. If I can sleep off and on that helps. Also I never look at my watch or the time on the screen. I find that helps time go by faster. Good luck! We're flying to London from Seattle in 3 weeks on British Airways. I can't wait!

Posted by
220 posts

Thanks for the book suggestion and for describing the various ways you successfully manage your fear of flying. I know people who take a small dose of Ambien during those long hauls. When I checked out The Fearless Flyer on amazon.com, there was a reference to another book called The Backseat Flyer that sounded pretty good, too.

So that's two books that could serve as a resource for fearful fliers. Since everyone's brain is wired so differently, it seems that the key is to keep researching/practicing/sharing different strategies and eventually we're bound to find that certain ritual or activity that works for us.

I think it's just great that you're so game to get on that plane to London. Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
643 posts

Thanks! Looking back on all my airplane flights, I realize that they are just a small price to pay for such wonderful experiences! I wouldn't trade it for the world. Travel is a real gift.

Posted by
7908 posts

I used to be a little fearful of flying, nothing drastic, but just nervous. Until I met a pilot for Air France. I asked him how it felt, feeling responsible for holding all those lives in his hands. He said no, he never thought about that, that the most important thing was his own life! If he flies to keep himself safe everyone else is safe too. I don't know why, but ever since I heard this, I just kind of relaxed with the whole thing.

Posted by
9799 posts

When I learned to fly many, many years ago.....the first thing I was told was:

There are old pilots and there are bold pilots. But there's no such thing as an old, bold pilot.

Pilots want to get home safely to their families as much as you do. And if you ever found out how much training and experience a commercial pilot needs before he or she can take responsibility of an airliner, you'd probably lose a good chunk of your fear. And by the way, every six months, airline pilots must not only pass a physical, but must re-qualify on the type of aircraft they're flying.

Besides all that, in most cases, today's larger, modern aircraft can take-off, fly to their destinations, and land....by themselves.

Posted by
13 posts

Yo Adrienne: All of the above suggestions are great. Also consider flying on a larger plane. A 747 or the new A380 Airbus would be good examples. And since going west to east, you can sleep overnight, it would lower the stress. Being a long-time flyer, I take the opportunity to get up and walk the aisle every once in a while. The New A380 is a double decker so you can get up and sit in the lounge, have a drink, strike up a conversation with a fellow passenger. I believe Lufthansa and British Airways will fly the A380 starting next year. Both as well as Virgin fly the 747. Check it out. Another possibility is the suggestion to break up the flight from the west coast to the east coast and then from the east coast to Europe. Good Luck.

Posted by
220 posts

I guess it's easy to over-think something like flying because it's so illogical(we humans aren't built to fly). So it's just great to hear everyone's perspective on taking flight. There may not be any remaining old bold pilots but I bet there are many of us who hope to become old bold fliers. :) Old bold, I like that.

Now that I think of it, whenever I've visited with the pilots before take-off, they never seemed to carry a burden of responsibility about the flight. In fact, they've always been downright cheerful and excited to be piloting an airplane.

My plan is to fly from the West coast to Dulles and stay in Washington, D.C. for two nights. I've decided to look for a small, homey, more intimate hotel, perhaps a bed and breakfast to ease the stress of travelling/flying. Then we take off on the 7hr 43min flight to Amsterdam in the late afternoon. I'm going to look for that lounge!

My husband just got back from Rome and he said that the flight attendants take really good care of you on those long trans-Atlantic flights. It's a tremedous relief to hear that.

Grazie mille, tutti!