Passengers Conquer Fear Of Flying At Air Hollywood Film Studio By Imitating In-Air Experiences

Airplane
Earlier this month, a JetBlue airliner returned to Long Beach Airport less than 15 minutes after taking off due to engine problems. Passengers recorded the event. YouTube/Screenshot

From Malaysia Airline’s two crashes and a smoky JetBlue emergency landing two weeks ago to hitting turbulence overseas, getting on a plane for some people might as well be a contract signing away their lives — a recent uptick in plane accidents doesn’t make it any easier to feel comfortable, either. Though these are legitimate reasons to be scared of flying, the chances of dying in a crash are actually one in 11 million, more than being killed by lightning, taking a bath, or simply taking a walk outside. Hoping to debunk that fear is Air Hollywood, a studio normally used for filming aviation scenes.

The Pacoima studio in north Los Angeles started holding its so-called FearlessFlight classes earlier this year after its owner Talaat Captan experienced his own emergency landing in Anchorage, Ala., during a turbulent storm, the Los Angeles Times reported. With a range of airport sets, wide-body jets, props, and a turbulence generator, people with a fear of flying get the full experience without leaving the ground. The two-day class also includes sessions in which “passengers” hear real-life stories of fearful flyers, safety practices, and steps they can take to reduce anxiety.

The classes are headed by former airline pilot Ron Nielsen, who talks passengers through every aspect of the flight, including sounds like those of a plane taxiing out for takeoff or the reasons why turbulence feels so bumpy. “You’re not alone,” he told a class on a recent weekend, according to the LA Times. “We’re going to demystify fear of flying. There are no drugs, there are no secret pills. All you do is you give yourself one moment of peace without that pink elephant jumping out at you.”

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that about 6.5 percent of the population has a fear of flying, which is sometimes called aviophobia, according to ABC News. Contrary to popular belief, the phobia doesn’t only entail a fear of crashing, but also fear of the enclosed space in a plane and the embarrassment of being escorted off a plane after a panic attack, among other personal qualms.

The goal of the program is not only to ease passengers’ anxieties, but to calm them to the point that they don’t need drugs to get on a plane. To do this, Nielsen has them regulate their breathing through tiny straws (to prevent hyperventilating) and draw pictures of themselves with a list of their flying fears. At the end of the class, they take a short flight from Burbank airport to a nearby city, where they dine at the terminal, rest, and then fly back for graduation. On Air Hollywood’s website, it says that the classes have “restored confidence to thousands of passengers who are now flying again.”

Jan Johns, who was one of those passengers, told the LA Times that her flight from Burbank was one of the first she’s had in over 10 years where she didn’t feel her usual fear-of-flying symptoms. “I wouldn’t say I’m cured, but I feel like I have an awareness of my fear,” she said. “There is power in a group of people that come together and help each other heal.” 

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