Claustrophobic flyer

Old Apr 19, 13, 2:09 am
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 1,915
It will probably suprise you as to how many are really scared of flying up there. I came short at a rather young age in Kinchsa so I have had my statistical "crash" and I actually like flying but 2 years ago on a trip to Buenos Aires with my family left me rather shaken and I cannot to this day tell you why. In the days running up to the flight I was suddenly having strange feelings of panic I could not explain - The trip out was rather a nightmare because I couldn't say anything because my mom is also afraid of flying. She flies but she is not happy about it. i normally sleep on a long flight even in Eco but this flight was different I was awake until hours into the trip until I was too tired to stay awake. The return trip on the other hand was no biggie.

I have flown several long distance trips since with no problem at all!!!
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Old Apr 19, 13, 10:08 am
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good question you ask

You may want to avoid sitting in a bulkhead row where you have a wall in front of you. Sit further back so you have visual space. I like the interior visual spaciousness of aircraft like the B777 and the B757.
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Old Apr 25, 13, 4:00 am
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Location: Cape Town, South Africa
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I had no idea that other people felt the same, or worse, than I do! I used to fly with no problems whatsoever, but then for some reason started getting airsick. That led to anxiety about it, which led to general anxiety about being on the plane, which led to a kind of claustrophobia as well (a feeling that I have to be able to get up and move, and a fear that I'll freak out if I can't). I've never had to leave the plane - my problem mostly kicks in an hour or two into the flight (and I live down at the bottom of Africa, so it's always an 11 hour flight or more - and being in a state for that long is not fun). And because of the airsickness, I can't distract myself easily by watching a movie or reading, because that aggravates the nausea

I find it's slightly better to sit near the front of the plane (well, front of economy - business is incredibly expensive here). Not right up against the bulkhead, but a few rows back. Seeing rows and rows of people in front of me seems to make it feel more crowded and close.

But my doctor's given me new tranquilisers which seemed to help a bit the last time, and a friend passed on a new anti-nausea tablet which seemed to help as well, so there's hope. And as hard as it's been to read this thread - just reading about it causes that feeling of claustrophobia to creep up on me - it's given me hope, too, that if I do freak out it's not the end of the world; the flight attendants will cope; and the feeling will pass eventually. So thanks for sharing your stories.
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Old Jul 30, 13, 11:39 am
Join Date: Jul 2013
Posts: 1

HELP! I haven't flown in 7-8 years because of claustrophobia. When I travel I drive around the USA. Of course, this makes traveling to Europe or Asia rather difficult as they've not built any bridges between SE Asia and the States, nor to Europe. I've thought I'll just catch a ship to England or SE Asia but I know that's probably not going to happen. I have family in Singapore and my kids urge me to visit Viet Nam and Thailand.

I've tried Xanax 1mg and it puts me out on the plane. Then Godbless him, the dear captain comes on and announces "We'll have a slight delay here to de-ice the wings. It'll only be 10 minutes. ONLY 10 MINUTES??? And I was sound asleep until that announcement. 10 minutes on the ground with the doors shut and the plane immobile is an eternity in every breath. Then once I'm awake, I'm awake and panicking when the plane is sitting still on the tarmac.

And xanax seems to be too strong all at once so as to put me to sleep and then it has little or no effect when I'm awake. (Also Xanax has given me "sleep paralysis" which is another thread altogether. Imagine waking up in a deep sleep and you're wide awake but you can't move a muscle, can't even open your eyelids!) So I just haven't flown.

Recently tried Valium to take an MRI scan and was surpirsed that it made the experience much easier. I want to fly to Southeast Asia one of these years, and I'd also love to visit England, Italy and the US West Coast again (I live in Detroit).

Anyone with any news on this topic?

Last edited by Justheavenfun; Jul 30, 13 at 11:45 am
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Old Jul 31, 13, 2:42 am
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You could try clonazepam to ease the anxiety. Take one one or two mg tablet after boarding the plane. Whatever you do, don't take it and then drive to the airport. I've been using it for years and it has been very helpful. I'm still wondering if what you are experiencing is Social Affective Disorder. It would be worth an hour or two of your time to see a professional to determine the root cause. (My doc is now recommending Lunesta for sleep and they all recommend Ambien, but it has to impact on me personally). Good luck!! You really must see these places. Flying Business or First may also help as there is much less stimuli.

Last edited by maltasr; Jul 31, 13 at 2:43 am Reason: Added info
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Old Jan 20, 14, 12:15 am
Join Date: Oct 2010
Posts: 81
I am very glad to have come across this thread as I have been battling claustrophobia for years. While my main triggers are elevators, I experience a great level of anxiety in tunnels, crowds and lastly planes. What I have tried to do is work through it by exposure. I love to travel and I do not want to limit myself from experiencing some great locations due to a phobia. This applies to flying and taking elevators. So, at some points I'd say within the last ten years, I purposely expose myself to these experiences and just learn to deal with it.

When it comes to flying, my triggers are very similar (if not the same as) to what many posters have already mentioned. I feel this anxiety while waiting in the gate area as well. That wait time before boarding can be very stressful. I am of the type that once I have the mindset to deal with my claustrophobia, I need to do I right away or else I may have the feeling of wanting to back out. So, sitting in the airport waiting to board is nerve-racking to me.

The next feeling comes when I step onto the jetway. That's the moment it hits me that I am about to intentionally put myself into the most uncomfortable position I could ever think of. My heart is racing right now, just thinking about it. I have learned to practice breathing exercises throughout the entire process (from the jetway until takeoff) and this has helped, as well as putting the vent directly on me.

The next moment when I feel that panic start to creep in is seeing the jetway fill up with passengers. I do like to board early so I can do my breathing exercises and become accustomed to the environment.

The next moment, like others have said, is right before I know they are about to close the door. But the odd thing is once the door is closed and I see the jetway moving, I know we are about to push back and move within the next 5 minutes and I feel ok. Once we're moving and heading toward the runway, preparing for taxi, and finally taking off and in the air, I am fine.

The final moment for me (and this is probably the worst) is when we land. As soon as we hit the ground, I am ready to get off the plane. The taxi to the gate is the slowest ride ever and when we finally arrive at the gate, that moment when the seatbelt sign goes off and I hear the pilot cut the engine (at least I assume that's what it is) and everybody stands up is complete and utter torture until that door opens. What I have done on some recent flights is go to the bathroom during those few minutes b/c it allows me the ability to move around and not stare out the window at the jetway longingly. What happens if I time it correctly is that by the time I come out of the bathroom, the door is just being opened.

I always fly in the first bulkhead row. Contrary to other claustrophobes, it's easier for me to not have rows and rows of people in front of me and with B6, that first row is always extra legroom. I do prefer a window seat as opposed to an aisle. Again, contrary to others, the aisle seat makes me feel more trapped. I also thought I preferred sitting on the same side of the plane as the exit door and jetway however, as I mentioned before, the jetway is the most anxiety-producing trigger for me. So possibly on my next flight, I might opt to sit opposite the door/jetway so I can't look through the window and see it.

Sad to say, flying first class, while great and the extra room was wonderful, I still felt sheer panic when we landed and the jetway had yet to connect to the plane. This was probably my worst episode ever. The first time they were delayed in even unlocking the jetway and on the return leg, the jetway malfunctioned and we had to go to another gate.

On a last note, depending on my destination, time of day and just overall feeling, I often will opt for an Ambien. I take it as soon as I board the plane and oftentimes, am asleep before takeoff. Other times I indulge in 2 Long Island Iced teas in the airport prior to boarding but that purpose is defeated when the flight winds up being delayed. When I'm flying first class, I drink the entire flight-no Ambien. My last two flights, I tried to go completely cold turkey from everything. It worked for the most part but when I felt some slight anxiety, I took 2 Benadryl and that helped to calm me.

I've also found flying early morning flights (when it's less chaotic) is beneficial.

Not sure if I was much help (especially with my long post) but hopefully this thread will provide some useful info for myself and others alike. I have at least 2 trips planned this year, so I need to keep pushing on to hopefully get over this phobia eventually.
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Old Nov 1, 14, 11:49 am
Join Date: Apr 2005
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I am surprised that the majority of the recommendations on this thread are to take drugs. They must work! I for one probably would get more freaked out knowing that I'm medicated and about to be on a long flight than if I did nothing at all.

I'm interested in what folks mental exercises are in lieu of drugs. I for one travel ~25-50K per year and have a long intl. flight once a year or so. I think that the recommendations of preparing by getting a business class or "plus" seat are good, but not always an option.

This is entirely a mental problem. Here are some of the things that help me. (I'm getting anxious writing this knowing that I'll be on a long flight tomorrow).
A) Focused breathing. I am not a doctor, but I think a common way of dealing with anxiety is by understanding that you can control that reaction, and one way to do it is through breathing. I take deep breaths in through the nose and out the mouth. This does help me.

B) Deal with reality. Realize that yes, you are in fact trapped. Also, realize that millions of people are trapped in planes every day and many of them don't care. In comparison to your daily life, a few hours trapped in a plane is really not that much time. Start a conversation with your neighbor, get some reading material, watch the movie, by the time you realize it, even on a super long haul, the flight will pass quickly. And it WILL pass. Much like the other flyertalker, the anxiety disappears when you start to descend and gets replaced with excitement. Excitement of a new place or of returning home. Focus on this feeling instead of the dread. Try to replace it. Try the meditative technique of placing the dread in a bubble outside your mind and letting if float away.

C) Distractions. As i said before, watch the movie, reading material, etc... But also having the ipod available with music you love works for me. It tunes everything out, all the other noises. Make nice with the flight attendant. Sometimes they can be happy to chat, and this personal connection can be helpful.

D) Destination. Think about your destination and what you will do there. Close your eyes and visualize it in your mind.

I'll try to think of more but would love to hear others' ideas! I'm feeling better already.

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Old Apr 14, 16, 3:04 pm
Join Date: Apr 2016
Posts: 2
Not Alone

This has been a great read for me. When I was in my teens and early 20's I flew all the time to the caribbean for scuba diving trips. Roughly two years ago I started to develop a fear of flying, and have not flown since.

For me it is the trapped, fight or flight scenario that really gets me worked up. I was supposed to fly this morning, but had my wife and daughters go on without me because I couldn't bring myself to get on the plane. I hung out at the airport for several hours afterward watching planes leave and seeing what appeared to be confidence on the face of everyone but me. Seeing this thread is a great help to me, in knowing that I am not alone. I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve, and I need to work to avoid that.

That said I have a flight tomorrow morning at 6:15am to go join my family in the Bahamas. It is two relatively short flights that are each about two hours in duration. The anticipation before hand is always the worst, but my last flight two years ago I had my music on and was able to be contained and mellow. So that is what condition I am going to try and duplicate.

Once the captain says we are making our initial approach into (insert location here) I feel a great feeling of relief and joy knowing that soon I will be back on the ground. Good luck to all fearful flyers, through repetition it will get better I am told.
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Old Apr 17, 16, 10:28 am
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Motown19, welcome, and thank you for posting. I'm glad to hear that reading about others' feelings and experiences has been helpful.
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Old Jul 18, 17, 12:22 pm
Join Date: Jul 2017
Posts: 2
My 2 cents

Thanks to the folks who are posting here with their experiences and suggestions. Most of the trouble spots and triggers mentioned above apply to me. I've had claustrophobia on and off for years but this last year or two on planes has become really tough.
Aisle seats near the front, check.
Some control over ventilation, check. I use a battery-operated, fairly powerful hand-held fan but sure appreciate overhead air too.
Avoiding stimulants ahead of time, check.
Breathing exercises and meditative music or other recorded material, check.
Cold bottle of water before boarding every flight, check.
Avoiding small planes like bombardiers, etc., check.
Notifying flight attendants ahead of time, I haven't been doing that, but I sure like the idea, glad to know from some other forums that the FA community is open to that. I have certainly had to engage them more than once by walking up to the galley when I was having trouble. Very grateful for their help.

So, on medications...
Caveat here is that I am a physician.
The benzodiazepine medications are extremely helpful when used for situational anxiety, at the right time, and at the right dose. My main thing is to really encourage people to have a conversation with their PCP about this, or psychiatrist if needed. For people who are on a lot of complicated meds including chronic pain meds, etc. the advice can be very different and honestly the benefit may not be as solid.
Personally I use Xanax from my PCP, taking it at least 30 minutes before the flight, despite the "rapid-onset" action of this drug. For each benzo, duration of action is longer but also the onset will be slower. The order goes Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam), Valium (diazepam), then Klonopin (clonazepam). For my flights mostly on the West Coast, Xanax is OK, though it does sometimes wear off before landing which sucks.
But my other important bit of advice here is to also ask your doctor about using propranolol (Inderal). It's the old "beta blocker" which has long been the most commonly used medication for stage fright, speakers anxiety, etc. It is not a sedative in the same sense as the benzodiazepines, it's simply blocks the adrenaline rush that contributes so much to the panic experience. It is used chronically as a blood pressure medicine but those who need it for this purpose are probably taking a longer acting medication instead like atenolol or metoprolol. Old-fashioned short acting propranolol is cheap and can be used in a variety of doses, obviously starting low (10 mg) first. People already on blood pressure meds or who tend to run really low BPs will need to be very cautious about low blood pressure with standing, dizziness, even fainting, so this is definitely one to talk with your doc about. All these problems can be worsened with alcohol, caution is certainly advised. Some people just use propranolol for situational anxiety, though, and they don't have to use the real sedatives (or alcohol), so they are more alert on arrival at their destination.
Hope this helps.
A big thanks to all the flight attendants out there who help us.
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Last edited by jrmbothell; Jul 18, 17 at 11:48 pm
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Old Dec 15, 17, 12:49 am
Join Date: Dec 2017
Posts: 1
Claustriphobic triggers in a plane

So glad I found this community. The first time I got claustrophobic is when my plane I was in got its aircon somehow non functioning. The techincal crew took 40 minutes to fix the ac, and while we all waited in our seats prior to take off for 40 minutes it was like hell. Doors were closed, unable to be opened, it was hot and airless... after that i always get this panic attack triggers whenever in a plane for too long, waiting for takeoff.

The after effects I got were:

1.panic triggers when waitiibg for take off after doors are closed (not everytime, but only when its too long like 30 mins to 1 hour waiting prior to take off.)
2.Long flights, usually the 7 hours+ flight
3.Sitting in the back of the car
4.Entering the Shinkansen in Japan in peak hours
5.Getting on the vaporetto in Venice, Italy at its last operating hours people would squeezee squeeze and force to get on as max as possible.
6.In a double decker bus when touring in Italy. Double decker bus has lower ceiling to floor height to compensate the extra people.
7.In a zoo where you enter a bus to get around and the animals would be right outside the bus. The door can only be opened by the driver or outside. Cant escape from inside for safety reasons
8.Got stuck in lift.....yeahh...this really sucks....

Just wanna share, if you got claustrophobia try to avoid these situations.

How managed my phobia up till now:

1.I always assume to wait 30 mins plus in a plane before take off. Expecting it to take off late makes my brain relax and expect to wait back, rather than panic

2.Not to drink coffee before take flight. This causes increased heart rate and will worsen the panic attack and that stomach cramps

Hope it helps
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Old Dec 15, 17, 9:35 am
Moderator: Women Travelers and Disability Travel
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Welcome, Reagan Honoris! Thanks for sharing what's worked for you.
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Old Feb 19, 18, 12:55 pm
Join Date: Feb 2018
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I am new to Flyer Talk.. I decide to join because I'm an extremely uneasy flier, and it seems that no one can relate when I ask, so I figured this would be a great start and place for me to be. Every flight I go on seems to get worse and worse. I get extremely panicked by the thought of "I'm stuck on here and cannot get off if I need to" I also think about there being no :"fresh air" and think of the feeling of the plane god forbid going down. I tried two .25mg of xanax a few times, but it did not work. I was also told by my doctor that I was taking it way too late.. I would take it when I would board the plane. I also believe that the pills I was taking were outdated. I leave in 3 weeks for my first flight in a long time and I'm fearing its going to be my worst flight. The thought literally keeps me up at night. I almost cancelled the entire trip 2 weeks ago but I promised myself I'd never let this fear get in the way of my living. My doctor prescribed me again, .25mg of xanax and advised me to take between 2 and 3. She told me to take it before the flight to see if it works for me. She also said to take it atleast an hour before departure. I feel like this fear has taken over so much. I missed out on 2 girls trips in the last year and fear that I'm going to freakout on this flight. I can't even be excited about vacation bc all I can think of is the flight. I have a wedding out of state in May that I don't even want to attend strictly because of the flight. If you have any advice, experience with xanax for flying or any help or comforting words, please let me know! I'm 23 years old and this fear actually saddens me. It make me feel so abnormal
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Old Feb 19, 18, 4:15 pm
Moderator: Women Travelers and Disability Travel
Join Date: Sep 2004
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Hello, k1395, welcome to FlyerTalk! I hope you find something useful here.

Have you considered alternatives to medicating? There are fearful flyer programs specifically to address what you are experiencing. Here is a list from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Fear of Flying Resources.

Edited to add: I notice that you have crossposted in the TravelBuzz and Delta Skymiles forums. As crossposting is not permitted, and you've gotten good responses in your second TravelBuzz posting, I suggest that you continue to look for responses there.

Last edited by Katja; Feb 19, 18 at 4:23 pm
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Old Apr 16, 18, 9:16 am
Join Date: Apr 2018
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Some tips

Glad to see so many other claustro flyers, but also feel bad for you all too. My own personal claustrophobia is people based. Being wedged in with other people is my key trigger, although small spaces are not great either. So being on a plane is a complete trigger for me. Strangely the door being closed doesn't trigger my claustro but having people stood up in the aisle, whilst boarding does.

Here's my survival guide for long haul flights, with claustro:

What Works

Aisle Seat
At least with an aisle you can look down the aisle, whilst having an attack, which makes it look like there's more room than there actually is. You can also over flow the side of your seat into the aisle a bit to give yourself more room.

The Nintendo Switch + Noise cancelling head phones are an absolute must. Even under a very bad attack, putting Mario on (which is about exploring a world) seems to trick my brain into believing there is more space. Similarly Zelda, with it's sprawling open world, is a good way of making me believe I have more space than I think. In fact, if distracted, I can deal with relatively severe claustrophobic situations because my brain doesn't get the chance to start the anxiety.

Space by the Galley
Often this is deserted and whilst it is quite small it can sometimes be enough of a change to make me feel that I have more room than possible. Although sometimes this can have the reverse effect and cause me to be more clausrtophonic if there are people hanging out there drinking / talking

Business Class
It costs a lot more but the extra space is worth it. However some business class has a screen relatively close to your face, which triggers my claustro. There is also a trend within business class to put you into a small, personal, booth which is worse for my claustro. Whilst I can see a lot of people like it, I hate it as I feel more enclosed.

Listening to music
This seems to stop my brain from wiring itself into a claustro state.

What Doesn't

I've only tried using Valium and because it dulls you, ironically, it makes me feel even more claustro. It's absolutely horrible, vile, stuff and makes me far worse. I've informed my wife, doesn't matter what happens, I am never to be given Valium or other similar meds.

Night Mask / Eye Cover
I find this makes things much worse. Because I can't see anymore I find that I feel even more enclosed. Closing my eyes generally replays whatever caused the claustro attack to start too (say I was having a claustro dream) so is very bad.

Walking around
Absolute worse is the toilet - this is highly enclosed and liking throwing petrol on the fire
Galley, if it has people in, can also cause massive problems for me.

Recent Attack

Recently on a long haul flight I woke up and had an attack. I got up and walked towards the galley. There was a flight attendant dosing in a chair and when he saw me he stood up and came towards me. This actually made things worse because now I had somebody in my personal space. He took me to an area in the Galley where they had snacks, I smiled politely, even though I was mentally collapsing and on fire. In the galley there was an older guy (50s?) talking to an air hostess. He was drinking a beer and it was obvious neither of them were moving any time soon. I really started to panic that the airline would realise my condition and maybe ban me from further flights which would cause massive issues for my business. I then walked around and found a seat, right at the front of the row, near the closed curtain. There was a sliver of curtain open and I could sit down and look through the sliver in the curtain. This allowed me to see more space than was obvious. I then put on my Nintendo Switch and around 30mins later the attack was gone and I was back to normal.
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