Socializing flight anxiety

Mount Hood from UAL

Originally uploaded by moyalynne

… and other tales from “Web 2.0 meets the Enterprise”

Last weekend, I flew from San Francisco to Portland (and back again) with Leanne and Lucy for Leanne’s 20th high-school reunion. A pretty normal event (the flight — maybe not the reunion!) for most people. If you know me, you know it was a sheer panic attack for me (the flight — actually the reunion was ok!).

I know I know I know I Know I KNOW: “flying is safer than driving,” “you’ll have less luck crossing Market Street in San Francisco,” “these things can pretty much fly themselves,” and all that bit. I’ve been active on fear-of-flying message boards, gone for hypnosis, worn the rubber band, and done the whole gamut to try to analyze and overcome. In the end, for the present, at least, as little advanced notice as possible coupled with as many pills as I can safely take up until, at, and after the point of embarkation, are what keep me from running off the plane (which I hear they don’t like you to do). That, and trying to stay connected with every single person around me. Oh, and thanks for your hand, Leanne, you can have it back now (if I haven’t mangled it too much).

It was no different on the United flights this last weekend. Sweaty palms the night before turned to downright soggy Moya an hour or before the flight. Pills and my daughter and my wife kept me relatively sane, but of course, the whole thing — both flights — were perfectly beautiful and utterly uneventful (and the flight attendants were supportive) — and the views were nice, as I always find them to be. But one thing was a bit different, and maybe helped me feel a bit more, shall we say, grounded.

The difference this time was that I decided to “crowdsource” my flight anxiety, openly “coming out” about it via Twitter , and asking for help. What should happen but all these people — some I know well, some I don’t know at all — went out of their way to respond with kind words to me: @hambox, @calipidder, @panthea, @finnern, @residentgeek, @jyarmis, and of course @lwaldal. With their generosity, they formed a bridge for me between my isolating anxiety and tolerability.

Some people say that this anxiety reflects a wrestling with a lack of control — but for me, it seems that *being connected* is the key. In the past, I’ve gone up to meet the pilots. I’ve insisted on pre-boarding, and have to identify myself to whatever flight attendant I see when I get on the plane — sometimes they are sympathetic, sometimes they look a little freaked, like they’re wondering if I’m going to be “one of those.” Usually they offer alcohol gratis at one point during the flight. So the connection keeps me going. Perhaps the day I can stay connected online during the flight, it will be all the better.

Whether it’s lack of control or staying connected, it strikes me (of course) that there is a parable for “Web 2.0 and the Enterprise” here. People are saying lately that Web 2.0 for the Enterprise really needs to be about secure internal networks over which we can remain protected, determine permissions, and wield access control. I say the big disruption comes from breaking down, or at least in the attempts to break down, exactly those barriers. Call me crazy (by now you probably are), but once again I find that opening up is the key.

We’ve been playing around with a lot of Enterprise-Internal twitterclones lately and I often find myself confused about whether I should post — or am posting — “publicly” or not. Then there are the several different levels of “public” itself, and “follow” — within your whole company, or a hand-picked group? And the groups themselves: we’ve got people inside our company who don’t want to be talking to other teams much less to the whole company much less publicly. To me as a person, I find these levels of fragmentation confusing.

Of course — there are company-internal and group-internal secrets and plenty of good reason not to be open about everything all the time. And it’s often unwise or illegal to be open — and for good reason — and sometimes it’s just downright hard. But come on: if we’re honest, how much of what we’re closed about is really going to be a competitive secret? Like the good folks at Metaweb say regarding Freebase — is it really a competitive disadvantage if companies share their information about coffees (I think it was Colin Evans who said this at the Web 2.0 Expo)? Some of it is simply about being generous with information — and your person. So time and again I return to just how amazing it is when people *do* cast away these boundaries and access levels (for whatever reason) and truly “come out” in whatever way they want to, without having to think “Oh no — who’s going to see this? I better not say it then.”

That “fear-to-the-wind” moment is what happened to me last weekend, and you can ridicule my anxiety if you want, but I asked for and found a new place for the connection I needed, and furthermore, in the process know a little bit more about those environments in which I thrive best.

Opening up – I don’t care whether it’s to your colleague or to a total stranger or to the passenger next to you – that is the fight-or-flight, and that is the key.

4 thoughts on “Socializing flight anxiety

  1. It is really unfortunate that you got such poor and unprofessional help for fear of flying. I am both an airline captain and a licensed therapist who has been specializing in this for 28 years. I originally was part of the program a Pan Am, but set up my own program because that program – like all others – only helped people with very mind difficulties when flying.

    There is a great deal of misunderstanding about the cause of fear of flying. I the cause is not understood, the cure will not happen.

    It is not caused by a bad flight; most people on a bad flight don’t develop fear of flying. Difficulty with flying is caused by insufficient ability to regulate feelings when facing uncertainty.

    Research since the advent of the functional MRI just eight years ago has helps us understand how the brain works. We now recognize that the ability to regulate feelings is learned and that the part of the brain that does this regulation requires stimulation of the right kind during the first two years of life. The right kind of stimulation requires a caregiver who is empathically attuned to the infant and responds to the infants signals, rather than simply providing for the infant according to an agenda set by the caregiver.

    If the child is afraid, the caregiver needs to tune into the child’s fear in a way the child really knows the caregiver feels the same way. Thus the child knows he or she is not alone.

    Then, the magic happens; the caregiver then lets the child know that — though the child’s fear is 100% shared — the adult has an additional point of view, which is that it is not the end of the world; it will work out alright.

    Many of us, obviously, didn’t get such optimal early development. Thus, when facing uncertainty, we control our anxiety by being in control of the situation, or by having a way to out of it.

    That works fairly well on the ground — except for annoying those who regard us as control freaks. But when flying, there is uncertainty, of course. And, not being in control and not having a way out, there is no way to regulate the feelings.

    Therapists try to help with CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), but anxiety can develop so rapidly that CBT techniques cannot keep up with the anxiety build-up.

    Hypnosis is pretty “hit or miss”. If it helps on one flight, it can fail to help on another flight.

    Medications are not to be recommended — according to the World Health Organization — because when sedated, the passenger doesn’t move around enough to protect against DVT, Deep Vein Thrombosis. If a DVT clot forms, it is a serious and potentially life-threatening problem.

    Also, use of medications — according to research — is only helpful in very mild cases of fear of flying. In more severe cases, medications make the flight worse!

    I have tried to give a good understanding of the cause and cure of fear of flying in a video at

    Also, at

  2. wow — capt bunn — thanks for the visit and the post.
    it’s great that i can not only find help, but that help can find me, when i do learn to open up.
    i already subscribe to your newsletter; i get it every week. i’ve yet to book a call with you. maybe next time!
    (i do want to say i have gotten some great help in the past – most notably from barb on fofc; she’s a wonder.)
    your research is intriguing: the part about needing to feel the connection definitely resonates with me. it’s a scary idea though too for those of us who are parents and wondering if we’re providing ‘just the right things’ for our children.
    luckily (unluckily?) i tend to be hyper-attentive (and vigilant) — and also medication doesn’t really dull me at all… but you’re right: i do want to GET OUT.
    thanks again for responding — maybe i’ll talk to you on the phone soon next time.

  3. i am so happy that you were able to have a pleasant flight. your flickr photos show that you were able to enjoy some moments in the air and the airport. fear of flying is a real disability, and i am glad your feeling connected (along with legal Rx and a drink or two) are helping. way to go!

  4. This is such an apt description of corporate/personal secrecy/openness and socialmedia/connection. Years ago, in 1995, when I was coming out of the closet for the second time, I met one of my best friends on a social media web site – back then they were called online forums or bulletin boards. Some of my favorite people give me the best support online or via email or sms — globalizing friendships and work relationships in a way that letters and phone calls and faxes can’t.

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