First, Admit Your Fear

By Scott Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 30, 2007

Q. Do you have any suggestions or advice on overcoming the fear of flying?

J. Danielson, Reston

A. First off, it seems congratulations are in order. How's that? You, dear Reston, have publicly admitted your fear (okay, really publicly in this case), which turns out to be one of the three most important components of conquering aviophobia. "Don't keep it a secret, because it's secrets that kill us," cautions Ron Nielsen, a.k.a. Captain Ron, whose Web site,, offers scads of pertinent information as well as multiple methods of addressing this problem. Nielsen, a former commercial pilot, says he and his company have helped thousands of people get over the fear of flying since 1987.

"The things people are most afraid of are takeoff and turbulence," he says, which is why educating yourself about the mechanics of flying -- No. 2 on the list of Nielsen's suggestions -- is so critical. Learn how planes are built, for instance, and how their construction helps jets bob like corks when flying through a storm.

And once you've learned all that, forget it. Sort of. "Learn how to distract yourself," Nielsen says, the final element of his tripartite approach. Breathing exercises will help, as will listening to certain audio stimulation CDs (Nielsen's is called "Flight Harmonizer," part of a kit that costs $24.95), "because the audio part of the brain is co-located with the amygdala."

Yes, it all comes back to the amygdala, as per usual, that part of our brain involved in fear conditioning. As Nielsen puts it, everyone feels that familiar stomach-dropping sensation during clear-air turbulence, but it's how our brains interpret that sensation that makes all the difference. He believes strongly that breaking unhealthy associations, which may be due to a traumatic incident in one's distant past, is key to triumphing over your fear.

FearlessFlight, based in Phoenix, is just one resource on the Internet, where you'll find video seminars, books, CDs and DVDs on the subject. For help of a less media-centric nature, check out the Center for Travel Anxiety (301-469-8542, in Bethesda. It offers in-house individual assessments, as well as private and group classes.

I'm an architecture buff, especially when it comes to art deco. I've heard there is a festival devoted to this style in Miami. Is it worth visiting?

Karina Jensen, Arlington

We've never understood this, but the promise of 70-degree weather in January isn't enough to persuade some travelers to join the flock of snowbirds on their annual migration south. If your family is plagued by one of these unfortunate souls, then the 31st annual Art Deco Festival might well be your best chance to finesse a conversion.

For three days (Jan. 18-20), the town turns at least part of its attention away from the beauties haunting the beaches in favor of the pastel beauties adjacent to them: Miami's abundance of art deco buildings from the '30s and '40s. Sponsored by the Miami Design Preservation League, the festival features tours, lectures, concerts, films and more, all centered on this year's theme: art deco's relationship to the Broadway musical. Expect to make the acquaintance of eyebrow dormers, porthole windows and Doris Eaton, the sole surviving Ziegfeld girl. Information: 305-672-2014,


Ray Olson of Washington makes a good point about walking to the summit of Sydney Harbor Bridge (Dec. 9). "While the bridge walk is exciting and offers a great aerial view of Sydney Harbor, note that no cameras are allowed: You won't be able to snap your own memento of the trip to the top."

Also, Jack Mulligan of Falls Church writes to suggest another way to travel to San Miguel de Allende (Dec. 16). "The fastest and most hassle-free way of getting there is to fly to Leon, Mexico, and then take a van from the airport directly to your hotel or residence in San Miguel. . . . The trip is only an hour and a half instead of the approximately five hours from Mexico City."

Send queries by e-mail ( or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and town.

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