Patty McLoughlin, 53, is a sales representative in the gift industry. She needs to travel to meetings at least twice a year. Based in Columbus, Ohio, she would regularly drive 12 hours just to avoid a flight. She hadn't flown in 16 years. "For pleasure, I could work around it," she says. "Not with business."
But when a West Coast meeting came up at a new job, she realized she had to conquer her fear. "It was difficult to drive to California," she says. It was impractical as well. She realized that her fear was getting in the way, and flying to meetings would help her make the most of her new job.
"If I wanted to grow within the company, I knew I'd have to overcome it," she says. And she did, with the help of a SOAR course.
There are people who buy plane tickets but are too scared to use them.
"We hear from people who want to go someplace special, and they can't go," says Alies Muskin, executive director of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. "They just don't do it."
Karina Slota of Maryland, 39, was supposed to be maid of honor at her sister's wedding in Bermuda 10 years ago. Her entire family traveled to the event, including her 80-year-old grandmother, who had flown over from Germany.
Slota boarded the flight from Maryland to Bermuda but didn't make it to takeoff. "If I stay on this plane, I am going to die," she thought.
While the plane was still at the gate, flight attendants had to open the plane door to let Slota off. She calls the experience humiliating.
"I was crying," she says. "I felt like I was being judged."
She missed the wedding, and for 10 years, she didn't fly. Finally, Slota took a course with SOAR. Although she still gets anxious ahead of a trip, she says she manages to stay calm on the flight itself. She uses the mental exercises she learned from the program's videos, such as focusing on her surroundings, to stay calm and now flies about once a year.
More treatment available
Some travelers are afraid to travel by plane without letting that fear interfere with their lives. They might grip their armrests tightly during takeoff, say a prayer before they board or take anti-anxiety medication. And when a flight gets bumpy, almost anyone can get scared, even frequent fliers.
"I really don't like turbulence," says Liz Borod Wright, editor of the travel blog Travelogged. But she doesn't let that stop her from traveling overseas. Driving isn't a realistic option when holiday plans include Europe. "I'm not going to let my fear of flying prevent me from flying."
Fear of flying "doesn't discriminate," says Josh Spitalnick, director of Research and Clinical Services at the Virtually Better clinic in Atlanta.
He says some of his clinic's clients became wary after unpleasant flights, sometimes involving severe turbulence. Others just anticipate a rocky ride.
"Through treatment, we teach people relaxation skills to better allow them to cope," Spitalnick says.
His clinic uses virtual reality technology to simulate a flight. It also uses data and statistics to teach nervous fliers that thousands of flights take off successfully every day.
A wide range of treatments are available for people with flying fears. So whether a person hasn't flown in decades or just gets anxious during turbulent flights, he or she should be able to find the right remedy.
"Over the last 30 years, there have been a lot of treatments that have been developed, and refined," Muskin says. "Thirty years ago, there were no treatments at all."
Every person's anxiety takes a different form, so their solutions do, too. "No two individuals are treated the same way," she says. With the range of remedies, people with flying phobias have a higher chance of curing their fears.
"People have a lot of success," she says. "We know that they can get better."
Conquering a fear of flying comes at a cost: Sessions can cost hundreds of dollars, and most patients need more than one. But for many, the cost of living with the phobia and missing important personal and professional obligations can be higher than the price of curing it.
For DiScala, the thrill of traveling helped him overcome his fear. "I almost think travel is a drug," he says. "I love to explore new places."