Q. What can parents do during the holiday travel season to help children nervous about flying?
A. Find out what they are afraid of, advises former Boeing engineer Todd Curtis, creator of Airsafe.com, which examines air travel safety. Heights? Enclosed space? Painful ear popping? “It might be some part of the process that has nothing to do with the fear of crashing,” he says.
If it’s physical safety, Capt. Tom Bunn, a former Long Beach resident and pilot for Pan Am and United, offers the following advice. Bunn earned a degree in social work and counsels people through Fearofflying.com:
- Explain to children younger than 15 that there hasn’t been a fatality on a major U.S. airline since before they were born.
- Prepare them for what they’ll experience. The plane will taxi and accelerate, like a car merging onto the Long Island Expressway, for instance. Takeoff might feel like going up in an elevator.
- Describe sounds the plane makes. They might hear wing flaps brought up before takeoff, which sounds like a blender. “The landing gear goes clunk into place,” Bunn says.
- Explain that turbulence is bumpiness in the air and isn’t dangerous. Book seats over the wing and forward for least movement.
- Visit an airport before the trip to watch planes take off and land. “It doesn’t have to be Kennedy or LaGuardia,” Bunn says. “They can see it happening again and again and keep working.”
- At the gate, ask permission to board early to meet the pilot. “When you meet the person who is in charge, it makes a big difference,” Bunn says.
- Bring toys or watch movies. Talk about how much fun is waiting at the destination. Don’t express your anxiety, because your child will pick up on it.
Every Wednesday at 9 p.m., Bunn offers a free chat on his Fearofflying.com website. He will also talk to a child afraid to fly; reach him at 800-332-7359.