Claustrophobic flyer

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Old May 31, 09, 9:10 am
  #1  
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Claustrophobic flyer

Dear Forum members:

I joined Flyertalk approximately 2 weeks ago and I've been told to post my question on claustrophobia on this forum. I do not have any physical disabilities, but do suffer from claustrophobia which makes my flying predicament difficult.

I do fly and have done so for 25+ years. My flight experience is all on narrow body domestic and island flights. For example, I live in the northeast and fly a couple of times a year to Florida (2.5 to 3 hours). I have never been on a flight leg in excess of 3.5 to 4 hours and I need to travel to London this summer from JFK (6.5 to 7 hours). I am planning to fly either business or first class on the 777 morning flight as I've noticed my feelings of claustrophobia are much worse on a night flight. I believe the morning flight to London from the east coast is all in daylight.

I do a small dosage of Halcion to calm my nerves before I get on the plane. I'm usually the last one to board, I try to sit up front (as close to the door as possible), and I prefer an aisle seat. My triggers appear to be when they close the door (I try and preoccupy myself so as not to notice that), and when the aircraft is NOT moving..................for example, sitting at the gate, or on the runway waiting is a killer for me. My worst nightmare is to actually "survive" the 6.5 to 7 hour flight to London and then upon landing find out that we can disembark because there is another plane at our gate.
My other trigger is when the plane is hot..........the control and use of the overhead air vents is critical to my state of mind. I haven't been on a wide body in 20 years and I'm being told that the majority of the 777's and 763's do NOT have overhead controllable air vents, but rather vent air through the ceiling vents (but not within the direct control of the passengers).

I'm interested in hearing from any claustrophobic flyers who have some experience on longer flights (I'm candidly struggling with how I get through hour 4, 5,6, etc until we land). I'm also interested in hearing from any flight attendants who might be able to offer some advice.

Thank you very much and I apologize in advance if my post is not appropriate for this site.

Regards
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Old Jun 3, 09, 6:38 pm
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You seem to have thought through your anxiety triggers well. I would possibly suggest that you change your medication to something designed specifically for anxiety rather than a sleeping medication. I personally find that valium works as well, perhaps even better than some newer medications.

I had a terrible fear of flying, which I ultimately had to overcome because of work issues. I figured out my triggers, pre-medicated with valium and got on-board. It took me about three years, but I have not even had a valium in my possession for years. I can now fly without much fear.

It takes experience to reduce anxiety, and, for me, medication to reduce anxiety so that I could engage in logical evaluation of my environment.

I have not had extensive experience on transatlantic flights, but if it is any reassurance to you, I have never had a delayed take-off or a delay on the ground once we have landed. I have experienced delays before the plane boarded, but never once we were on the plane.

I am exceptionally sensitive to heat, and I have never been uncomfortably warm on any of those flights either.

I always take as many things as possible to keep me occupied. I save my favorite best-seller for the plane, as well as a DVD I really want to see. I accumulate my little collections of "goodies" that I reserve only for flying. The more I can keep my mind occupied on something other than the plane the better I am.

I also practice relaxation exercises, and I start to do them as soon as we board. Deep breathing sends oxygen to the cells in the body that may be deprived when you breath in shallow, panic-induced fashion. Lack of oxygen just stimulates the nerves contributing to your panic. I practice relaxation exercises every day to cope with anxiety. It is really the most effective tool I have to reduce anxiety.

I also visualize my success. I imagine what I will feel like when I complete the activity which makes me anxious.

Obviously one solution to this problem is to get professional help, but I believed I had the ability to conquer this problem myself. I suspect that you have that ability as well. If you do not feel somewhat confident that you can do it on your own, there is nothing wrong with getting professional advice on reducing anxiety.

Good luck!
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Old Jun 6, 09, 10:45 pm
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Halcion (triazolam) and Valium (diazepam) are both in the same category of medications ("benzodiazepines"). So although the former is more commonly used for sleep, and the latter for anxiety, they might work well for either purpose for a given individual.

It sounds like both of you have good techniques for dealing with both claustrophobia and fear of flying.

For a plane that is too hot, especially sitting on the tarmac in the summer, I think an old-fashioned fan works well. I have one that folds up to a size only a little thicker and longer than a pen, but opens into a very functional fan. Also, the battery-powered mister fans are helpful. Turn the switch to "On" and point the fan at your face/neck, then squeeze the handle to get a mist spray too. Take it through the checkpoint empty, then fill the water bottle part on the other side. I got mine at a theme park on vacation, but they are frequently available in the "seasonal items" aisle of your local drug or department store.

I don't have a specific problem with claustrophobia, but the wide body jets just seem more spacious to me, the narrow body aircraft less so. And maybe it's just me, but I don't recall needing the personal vent on a wide body (or whether it's there or not) but I use it all the time on domestic narrow body aircraft.
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Old Aug 6, 09, 9:50 am
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The 777s are air-conditioned throughout, and it's more likely to be too cold than too hot on one. The design of the overhead storage also makes them feel much less enclosed. It felt a lot more like being on a train than a 737.

I'd also consider cognitive therapy to assist with these kinds of anxiety, it helps in around 30% of cases.
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Old Aug 6, 09, 10:52 am
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Another member of the club here...

I can't afford to fly premium class most of the time, and do manage to take night flights (with Ambien) but otherwise use many of the same tricks. TATL flights tend to be chilly (and even chillier if you're in an emergency exit row, which I usually am), so it's not typically an issue unless you're stuck on the ground.

If you are, here's what helps me:

1. Dress in such a way that you can strip down to just about nothing if absolutely necessary. It's knowing that I can do it that's the most help, frankly---I've never had to get down to my bra and panties on a plane. Non-binding clothing very helpful.

2. Have a bottle of water and a wet towel at your disposal. Using the wet towl for your forehead and neck will cool you immediately, particularly if you fan yourself.

3. Talk about it. You may or may not already have figured this out, but talking about your claustrophobia, either with the stranger sitting next to you, or with the FA, can immediately improve the situation. Not only does it distract you but it somehow makes it all seem much less like a big deal. I used to try and avoid thinking or talking about my triggers, but now find that doing so is very helpful.

4. Keep your bladder empty. Pee the very instant you think might need to, because if the seatbelt sign goes on five minutes later your bladder may contribute to your sense of entrapment.
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Old Aug 12, 09, 6:07 pm
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Welcome to Flyertalk, GeorgeS! Your question is very appropriate here, and I hope you get some useful information out of the replies.
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Old Aug 13, 09, 11:35 pm
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Originally Posted by GeorgeS View Post
when the aircraft is NOT moving..................for example, sitting at the gate, or on the runway waiting is a killer for me. My worst nightmare is to actually "survive" the 6.5 to 7 hour flight to London and then upon landing find out that we can disembark because there is another plane at our gate.
My other trigger is when the plane is hot..........

I'm interested in hearing from any claustrophobic flyers who have some experience on longer flights (I'm candidly struggling with how I get through hour 4, 5,6, etc until we land). I'm also interested in hearing from any flight attendants who might be able to offer some advice.
Wow. We have some of the same triggers, although my difficulty is more of an anxiety issue than claustrophobia.

Like you, being on the plane when it is not moving is the most difficult thing for me. Several years ago I had to be taken off an MD-80 in a wheelchair with an oxygen mask strapped to my face when being held off the gate at DFW was more than I can handle. Needless to say, it was a low point in my life, but I take comfort in the fact (and you should too) that should anything happen, AA will make sure you are okay.

I now prepare for the possibility of a ground delay by making sure that I have food and water with me. Like someone else suggested, I dress in layers so I can strip to a tank top if needed. I carry Valerian tablets with me at all times.

About a year ago we had to wait out a storm on the tarmac. It was difficult to get through, but as soon as the situation was clear, I immediately took one of the 2500 mg Valerian tablets. Then I took out my DVD player and started watching movie. It was probably 25 minutes until the tears stopped streaming down my face, 30 minutes until the feeling of "I can't stay on this plane anymore" subsided. Eventually, the anxiety passed and I was able to focus more and more on the movie.

I buy Valerian in Germany, but I know it is available here.

GeorgeS, know that you aren't alone with this struggle.

Oh! Forgot to add, the 777 is huge compared to the single aisle planes. Ceilings are high and they are far less cramped, even in Y. Being in J or F, you will have lots of space and lots of airflow, and will be very comfortable.

Last edited by MoonPet; Aug 13, 09 at 11:37 pm Reason: Forgot to add the last part
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Old Aug 13, 09, 11:46 pm
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Two more things I wanted to add:

1. At the time I was dating my boyfriend (now my husband ) he was living in Germany and I was in NY. So lots of TATL flights, either via LHR or the ORD/DFW FRA flights. So know that I've gotten through some long ones.

2. I do still take Zoloft, 25 mg daily, for the anxiety. I'm open about this because prior to starting the Zoloft some 10 years ago, panic attacks were taking over my life. I was going from a fairly independent young woman to someone who was nearly homebound. The meds helped get the biological causes under control although there are still triggers that I have to work through.

Sorry if I've rambled on. I just wanted to add the above so that you have a better picture of my experiences and situation.
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Old Aug 18, 09, 8:30 am
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Originally Posted by MoonPet View Post
Two more things I wanted to add:

1. At the time I was dating my boyfriend (now my husband ) he was living in Germany and I was in NY. So lots of TATL flights, either via LHR or the ORD/DFW FRA flights. So know that I've gotten through some long ones.

2. I do still take Zoloft, 25 mg daily, for the anxiety. I'm open about this because prior to starting the Zoloft some 10 years ago, panic attacks were taking over my life. I was going from a fairly independent young woman to someone who was nearly homebound. The meds helped get the biological causes under control although there are still triggers that I have to work through.

Sorry if I've rambled on. I just wanted to add the above so that you have a better picture of my experiences and situation.
When I have a long trip in the planning, I keep a container of Klonopin nearby and usually take one-half of one .50 mg.(yellow) tablet AFTER boarding. It is a powerful anti-anxiety medication and definitely should only be used with an MD's authorization. It always works for me but usually produces some long term drowsiness. So if you're headed for a meeting shortly after arrival, I'd avoid taking it. I've taken Zoloft and Ambien and found them to be unhelpful. By the way, you definitely do not want to drive when taking Klonopin.
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Old Sep 28, 09, 1:09 pm
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I am epileptic and it has been triggered a couple of times by claustrophobia on long haul flights, once I had a full freak out too and came round to find a couple of FA's had strapped me into a bussiness sleeper seat with the edges padded with blankets and pillows! Another time when I was put in the middle of a row between two big guys and the bloke in front reclined his seat straight away I just lept out of my seat screaming and ran for the door, that was a bit embarrassing really.

As most of my flying is for work now I get to fly up the front of the plane most of the time which is so much better but I still let the FA's know, just in case.

Before that I always called the airline soon after booking my ticket, and again a couple of days before flying to tell them I was going to be a tricky passenger and it was in their best interests to put me in a seat with a bit of space around it.
I also have some medication from my nurologist which is an anti-spasmodic but acts pretty much like a tranquillizer and hence makes me a bit zombie like.
Having the help and support of the staff on the plane does make a huge difference, only rarely have I come across FA's that dont understand how traumatising claustrophobia can be, the vast majority seem to know exactly when a big smile and a bar of choccy can make things so much easier to deal with. Once a wonderful guy was sitting opposite me in the crew jumpseat making silly faces as we waited for take off, turning my nerves into a fit of giggles. Another thing that has helped is letting me board last to reduce the time sitting on the plane while everone else gets on, also it means that I am still busy faffing with my stuff when they close the doors.
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Old Mar 21, 13, 3:41 pm
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GeorgeS - I know you posed this in 2009; but I wanted to share; because I too am suddenly experiencing the same things you are/were. The only difference is I've flown all over already. I've done 3 flights of 14 hours each (LAX to Taipei-2x and Houston to Tokyo), 11 hour flight (Montreal to Rome), several 7 hour and countless 3+ hour flights. I've suddenly developed a huge fear of flying. Specifically, when we're parked at the gate. There is that minute when they are about to the close the doors and I hear " please prepare the cabin for departue" where I have to decide if I can do this or not. Usually, once in the air, the anxiety subdues a little and when the captain says "we're now beginning our descent into xyz..." I feel no anxiety whatsoever....just pure excitement that I made it without a panic attack. But just like you, sitting on the tarmac or at the gate is pure hell. I once got stuck on the tarmac for 2+ hours in San Fran and then had to sit on the tarmac again in San Antonio for another 2+ hours on the same flight because the weather in my final destination was too bad. This last Monday, I was supposed to fly to Montreal from Houston for work. My first flight was at 6:15 am and I was so nervous (even after .75 mg of xanax) that I changed to the 10:15 am flight through Chicago first, because it broke the flights into 2 hour sections. When the second flight approached, I was less stressed as result of the change (or maybe the xanax kicking in) and I boarded the plane, put on my belt and once everyone else boarded, the pure panic took over and I just couldn't do it. I felt so trapped in a this tight little spot. I was paranoid about losing my breathe. I left the plan and went home. Which in retrospect was the worst idea because I know I just reinforced my fear even further. My biggest fear is having a massive panic attack mid-flight. What would I do? What would the FAs do? And even further, by the time I had boarded the second plane I was on my 4th xanax (each one .25 mg) and it wasn't doing anything to me. Now I'm afraid of two things as a result. The first previously mentioned, the second that when I reach for my xanax, it won't calm me down. That was always my safety blanket. If things get bad enough, I'll just tranquilize myself to finish the flight. I'm going to see a neurologists next week and hope to find some results. My normal family practice doctor recommended I go to 50 mg of zoloft daily to help. I don't know if this is going to help; but I have the same flight you just took JFK-HTR in two months and I'm already dreading it like crazy. He also upped my Xanax to .50 mg tablets. Fortunately, my girlfriend will be flying with me and she's a nurse; but it's a very small consolation in the mind of a panic attack victim.

All this being said, I've flown business first in the past on the 777 and it's a true luxury. Knowing that worst case scenario, I can lie my seat flat and pass out is a safety blanket, just like having my xanax on me. I'm sure you found the 777 to be smoother, more open and a great flying experience. Plus the fact that you're constantly greeted by a FA with food or drink, etc is really calming. (Versus economy where you're breathing luggage.)

If you've worked to get over your fears, let me know what works as I'm all ears at this point and ready and definitely willing to beat this thing and get back to the traveller I used to be.
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Old Mar 21, 13, 4:14 pm
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I am another who has flown all over the world . During a stressful period in my life(my father was dying and my husband and I were living 2000 miles apart) I became claustrophobic.
It seems like we are all dealing with many of the same triggers-
Door closing
Sitting on Tarmac
Heat
Loud or large people surrounding us

I have found a small dose of Xanax before leaving for the airport ( my doctor said you can even put it under your tongue for faster absorption)
Using earphones with pleasant music or sound as soon as I get on the plane.
I have tried boarding last but find if I can board early and " calm down" or even doze off is best. I try for an aisle seat as close to the front as possible.
Lately I am dozing before we even take off. Once in the air it is smooth sailing.

It is incredible how many people are trying to deal with this.
One time when they had to bring the plane back to the jetway so that I could get off the plane I remember the FA saying I was the third one that week for her!

Flight attendants can be very helpful in trying to calm you but you would be amazed how many other travelers will talk to you to keep your mind off of what is happening around you.
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Old Apr 18, 13, 10:40 am
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Same issue!

I too have flown over 1M+ miles and just 2 months ago had to get off a flight just before they closed the doors. Never had the intense feelings of entrapment and confinement be so overwhelming. Always not enjoyed being in tunnels or elevators, but never to the point of being panic-ridden like that flight experience.

Since then, I forced myself to get on two, hour-long flights with the help of some Xanax. Almost didn't board, however. Once on board, I was just fine...it is now being in the waiting lounge/gate area and all the associated anticipatory anxiety that is really doing a number on me.

I have a Transatlantic, 10-hour flight coming up in the summer that I am really re-thinking. I do not want my children to see and 'episodes' for fear it will affect them too. I am not sure what to do about that planned vacation.

I have started to investigate different therapies and protocols....everything from NLP, Hypnosis, CBT, EFT, etc, etc. Not sure what will do the trick, however...I know that just trying to keep busy on a flight or in the gate area is a fragile strategy and not a long-term cure.

I will say eliminating caffeine and de-stressing (at work) has been helpful. Just not sure if it is the total solution.

Am all ears for others' suggestions.
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Old Apr 18, 13, 1:57 pm
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Question Claustrophobia or SAD?

Originally Posted by texnormaker View Post
I too have flown over 1M+ miles and just 2 months ago had to get off a flight just before they closed the doors. Never had the intense feelings of entrapment and confinement be so overwhelming. Always not enjoyed being in tunnels or elevators, but never to the point of being panic-ridden like that flight experience.

Since then, I forced myself to get on two, hour-long flights with the help of some Xanax. Almost didn't board, however. Once on board, I was just fine...it is now being in the waiting lounge/gate area and all the associated anticipatory anxiety that is really doing a number on me.

I have a Transatlantic, 10-hour flight coming up in the summer that I am really re-thinking. I do not want my children to see and 'episodes' for fear it will affect them too. I am not sure what to do about that planned vacation.

I have started to investigate different therapies and protocols....everything from NLP, Hypnosis, CBT, EFT, etc, etc. Not sure what will do the trick, however...I know that just trying to keep busy on a flight or in the gate area is a fragile strategy and not a long-term cure.

I will say eliminating caffeine and de-stressing (at work) has been helpful. Just not sure if it is the total solution.

Am all ears for others' suggestions.
I'm wondering if what you may be experiencing may be SAD (Social Affective Disorder) rather than claustrophobia? If this continues to be a problem, I'd see a professional and seek his/her advice. There are numerous psychotropic medications readily available to treat both disorders. I've experienced the same problems at times, but with the medicinal help I no longer experience the feeling of panic you've described. Good luck!

Last edited by maltasr; Apr 18, 13 at 2:04 pm Reason: Additional information included
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Old Apr 18, 13, 4:46 pm
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Fellow Claustrophobe

Originally Posted by GeorgeS View Post
Dear Forum members:

I joined Flyertalk approximately 2 weeks ago and I've been told to post my question on claustrophobia on this forum. I do not have any physical disabilities, but do suffer from claustrophobia which makes my flying predicament difficult.

I do fly and have done so for 25+ years. My flight experience is all on narrow body domestic and island flights. For example, I live in the northeast and fly a couple of times a year to Florida (2.5 to 3 hours). I have never been on a flight leg in excess of 3.5 to 4 hours and I need to travel to London this summer from JFK (6.5 to 7 hours). I am planning to fly either business or first class on the 777 morning flight as I've noticed my feelings of claustrophobia are much worse on a night flight. I believe the morning flight to London from the east coast is all in daylight.

I do a small dosage of Halcion to calm my nerves before I get on the plane. I'm usually the last one to board, I try to sit up front (as close to the door as possible), and I prefer an aisle seat. My triggers appear to be when they close the door (I try and preoccupy myself so as not to notice that), and when the aircraft is NOT moving..................for example, sitting at the gate, or on the runway waiting is a killer for me. My worst nightmare is to actually "survive" the 6.5 to 7 hour flight to London and then upon landing find out that we can disembark because there is another plane at our gate.
My other trigger is when the plane is hot..........the control and use of the overhead air vents is critical to my state of mind. I haven't been on a wide body in 20 years and I'm being told that the majority of the 777's and 763's do NOT have overhead controllable air vents, but rather vent air through the ceiling vents (but not within the direct control of the passengers).

I'm interested in hearing from any claustrophobic flyers who have some experience on longer flights (I'm candidly struggling with how I get through hour 4, 5,6, etc until we land). I'm also interested in hearing from any flight attendants who might be able to offer some advice.

Thank you very much and I apologize in advance if my post is not appropriate for this site.

Regards
GeorgeS....just wondering how your trip went and lessons learned. Have you conquered your fear(s)? Using meds -- if so, which ones have been most effective? Thanks!
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