January 01, 2002
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio January 2002 Current Issue
January 2002 On TravelPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

On Travel

By Sarah J.F. Braley


How to soothe air-travel anxiety&plus a look at carriers’ meal-service cutbacks

Courage to fly. Some people who traveled with impunity before last September now cringe at the thought of getting on a plane. “There are a number of ways a person can develop a fear of flying, and one of those ways is to witness or hear of a calamity,” says David Carbonell, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and director of the Anxiety Treatment Center in Chicago. “Most who develop this fear have flown for years without trouble.”

While many airline analysts say flying is no more dangerous now than ever, logic sometimes isn’t enough to overcome an attack of nerves. For all white-knuckle passengers, Carbonell offers the following advice (which does not include a visit to the airport bar).

Set yourself free.
When the boss says you’ll be flying next week, don’t think automatically, “It’s going to be a disaster.” Such a response only feeds anxiety. Instead, evaluate the situation thoroughly for all options. If you really believe it is unsafe to fly, express your concerns and ask for a reassignment. If you decide to get on the plane, be conscious that you have made the choice.

Admit it.
It is important to acknowledge and accept that flying makes you nervous. “Come to grips with the fact that you will feel the anxiety,” says Carbonell. You might even want to tell the crew that you are afraid. They can help.

Master the anxiety.
When we’re afraid, physical tension can be exacerbated by short and shallow breathing. At the airport and/or on the plane, do a round of deep-breathing exercises to relax. For instructions, visit the Web site of the Anxiety Treatment Center (

Give up the reins.
“Fearful people struggle for control of those things they can’t control,” says Carbonell. For instance, nervous flyers often will shush their neighbors during takeoff in order to make sure all goes well. It’s not their job, Carbonell says. “They should just show up and act like good passengers, making themselves as comfortable as possible.”

Don’t expect the worst.
In the months since the attacks, Carbonell has noticed a new element adding to clients’ anxieties: the need to be ready in case someone storms the cockpit. “Credible voices have said we all need to be deputized,” he says. “People feel they are on the front lines. The truth is, they are not.”

The kitchen is closed.
To combat financial losses due to the drop in passengers, many airlines have drastically curtailed or eliminated food service on board.

The lone holdout is Continental Airlines. As a spokesperson put it: “We provide meals when customers expect to eat,” which is customarily the case on all flights longer than two hours.

The following is a rundown of how often the other major carriers are handing out sandwiches or hot dishes.

  • American Airlines has stopped serving meals in the main cabin on most domestic flights and in first class on flights of two hours or less. Meals still are provided on transcontinental nonstops.
  • Delta Air Lines now offers food on domestic flights of more than 1,750 miles (about four hours), 700 miles (about two hours) for first class. Meals continue to be served on Delta Shuttles.
  • As for Northwest Airlines, food is being served in economy class only on flights between the carrier’s hubs (Detroit, Memphis and Minneapolis) and the West Coast. First-class passengers are fed on flights longer than two hours.
  • At United Airlines, no meal is served on flights of 1,635 miles (about three and a half hours) or less for economy, 758 miles (two hours) for first class. Exceptions: flights from Denver International Airport to the East Coast, which still offer food.
  • US Airways offers meals on its transatlantic, domestic transcontinental and long-haul Caribbean flights. Food is not being served on any shorter-range domestic and Caribbean flights; expect snacks instead.

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