How a Former Pilot Captain Helps People Afraid of Flying Take to the Skies

An estimated 25 million adults in the U.S. are scared to fly, but former airline pilot Captain Ron Nielsen says there are steps people can take to make their time flying less stressful.

According to AAA, 4.5 million Americans are flying this Thanksgiving holiday, up 8% from last year. And a lot of those travelers may have jitters before they board.

Fear of flying, or aerophobia, is one of the most common phobias out there; an estimated 25 million adults in the U.S. are scared to fly. Symptoms can range from extreme anxiety, dizziness and nausea. Tiffany Schmermund, 36, knows how significant the fear of flying can be. She’s so scared to fly, she’s only done it twice in her life.

Experts say the best way to overcome the fear of flying is to address it head-on. It’s called exposure therapy and so Inside Edition accompanied Tiffany on a flight from Florida to Texas with the goal of meeting an expert who could help her overcome her fear.

“I want to get off, already,” she tells Inside Edition almost immediately.

The two-hour, 45-minute flight from Jacksonville to Dallas is terrifying for Tiffany.

"I really didn't want to have a window seat,” she says.

She grabs hold of the seat and covers her eyes for most of the trip.

“I wish they would just land the damn thing,” she says. "The plane (is) shaking and it (was) just feeling like either the plane was going to fall apart, or we were going to crash."

Once on the ground, we introduced Tiffany to Captain Ron Nielsen, a former airline pilot who now helps fearful fliers overcome their anxiety.

“So, the first exercise is about breathing,” he says. “And what this is designed to do is to help control your breathing and lower your anxiety."

He instructs her to breath into a bag, saying, “It makes you focus on your breathing.”

"Something else I do is the numbers game,” he continues, giving Tiffany a number and then telling her to add three to whatever he says. They played the game for a few rounds, Tiffany focused on doing the math Nielsen asks for.

Next up, Nielsen instructs Tiffany to write with the opposite hand.

"It takes you out of your comfort zone and away from the fear,” he says.

On the flight back to Florida, Tiffany puts her new tips to the test. And though the flight’s landing was a little rough, she ultimately says Nielsen’s tips were a huge help and that she can’t wait to travel with her kids.

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