Anne Seymour wasn't one to have real jitters about flying. Sure, heavy turbulence would catch her attention. And during a winter storm, she would briefly wonder whether the plane was properly de-iced.
But the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks changed this veteran frequent flier, who used to log 80,000 miles a year. Now Seymour flies about half as much as she once did. With war looming in Iraq, she concedes that her fears are beginning to overtake her. She even has developed what she calls a flight-fright ritual: no newspaper reading in the terminal, careful scrutiny of other passengers and a whispered prayer before takeoff. She also prefers an exit row.
"Today, getting on every flight is scary," says Seymour, director of Washington-based Justice Solutions, a national public safety and victims advocacy organization.
In the days before the terrorist attacks, the greatest fears of most business travelers were whether they would be able to nab a first-class upgrade and whether their flight would arrive on time. But now these sky warriors are coming under physical and emotional strain amid increased security in airports, the lead-up to war in Iraq, the occasional news of terrorist activity -- such as the attempted missile attack last November on a charter plane carrying Israeli tourists in Mombasa, Kenya -- and now the heightened terror alert.
Robert T. Williams, an Alexandria software developer, said he would develop migraines and heart palpitations each time he merely drove into an airport long-term parking lot. He now flies about once a month, far less often than his previous seven to nine trips a month. Williams has replaced in-person business meetings with conference calls, e-mails and webcasts.
"I still fly, it's just that I physically can't do it like I used to anymore," said Williams, 43. "If I can find another way to make that contact without flying, then I often do. And it saves money, so that's good."
Saving money on travel may be good for business, but it's the last thing airline executives want to hear. They fear that flight anxiety will cut dramatically into international and domestic travel once a war starts.
The industry expects a 15 percent drop in travel during the conflict. That could cost the airlines as much as $4 billion and lift the total loss for the year to as much as $11 billion, the industry's trade group, the Air Transport Association, said last week. The industry has lost more than $18 billion since 2001.
For those who were afraid to fly before Sept. 11, the latest rise in anxieties has given them reason to stay off planes altogether, and to give up even trying to overcome their fears. Many fear-of-flying programs report a drop-off in attendance since the terrorist attacks. The reason: Frightened fliers are simply saying to themselves, forget the counseling -- take the train.
But the message from counselors to those who must fly, or who still want to conquer their fears, is that many measures have been taken to improve security and decrease the chance of a terrorist hijacking. Cockpit doors have been reinforced, and armed sky marshals are on many U.S. flights.
Burton Rubin, director of the Roundhouse Square Psychiatric Center in Alexandria, said that nervous people who still manage to get aboard a flight shouldn't be classified as fearful. They're just nervous. When these people opt for other ways to travel or begin to conduct business through webcasts or conference calls, and not solely to save money, then their nervousness has grown into a fear.
Carol Cott Gross, who runs the Fly Without Fear program out of New York's La Guardia Airport, said a chief reason people do not like to fly is that they have to yield control to others during a flight. Often it's Type A personalities who hate flying because they're used to being in charge and they become anxious when they have to rely on flight attendants and the cockpit crew. For many of them, increased security only exacerbates their tension.
Gross recommends certain exercises for these people to regain the control they feel they've lost. She advises them to request the bulkhead or an aisle seat to gain more space. It also helps, she says, to be friendly to the security agents. Gross also recommends that travelers avoid the late news the night before a trip and drink plenty of water during the flight.
"Change your attitude. Thank the security people and by doing that, you're taking away the anger and anxiety," she said. "By complimenting them you're putting yourself in charge and your whole attitude will change."