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Fear of Flying: There’s an App (or 5) for That

From lost luggage and illness to flying phobia, the most common travel nightmares can be soothed with technology. Smart applications and dedicated devices are here to help.

For some people, traveling offers the chance to splurge on magazines at the airport and watch silly TV shows for three house straight, but for others, air travel means clammy hands and white knuckles, queasy tummies and simmering anxiety. Rushing crowds, tense security and airplane turbulence leave some folks firmly rooted to the ground. Bleak news headlines don’t help, either.

Various technologies can diminish the disabling phobias that limit travel, according to Andreas Olsson, an associate professor in psychology and the director of the Karolinska Institute’s Emotion Lab in Sweden.

“In line with current research, most apps that are directing attention elsewhere might have at least a short-term effect on diminishing anxiety,” he said.

A search for “anxiety app” pulls up an overwhelming number of results, but one of the more highly rated ones is the free Breathe2Relax, created by the National Center for Telehealth and Technology. This interactive app helps users develop diaphragmatic breathing skills, decreasing the fight-or-flight response.

Martin Seif, a New York City-based psychologist who specializes in anxiety disorders, including the fear of flying, noted that there are generally three types of fearful fliers: those who haven’t flown in more than five years, those who only fly when they have to and travelers who are frightened but go all the time anyway.

The SOAR app was created by airline captain and licensed therapist Tom Bunn as a way to control flight anxiety, claustrophobia and panic. Available for iPhone, iPad and Android, the free download includes a G-force tool, turbulence forecasts and basic tips. More specific audio and video sets can be purchased in-app. Seif said SOAR coaches users through their anxiety.

Flight App VALK is another app offering therapeutic coaching. Created by a Netherlands-based foundation dedicated to treating the fear of flying using scientific research, it costs around $4 and works on both iPhone and Android operating systems. “Though I knew what turbulence was, being able to read an explanation over and over again helped put me at ease,” one Android reviewer wrote. “The whole app helped break things down for me.”

Speaking of anxiety, baggage claims often make travelers tense. Staring at the carousel and watching your luggage not emerge can cause serious stress. Luckily, personal devices that keep tabs on your luggage are finally emerging. FastTrack Company is currently working with airlines on an eTag and packable eTrack to protect bags from theft as well as track where they go. A limited release is scheduled for the end of the year.

If you’re traveling internationally, there’s another nagging fear: what if you need medical attention abroad and you don’t speak the language? The free mPassport app for Apple and Android from HTH Worldwide seeks to connect travelers with top English-speaking doctors, dentists and emergency services worldwide. Features include listings for local medicine equivalents, as well as directions to pharmacies and healthcare providers. If you’re really in a jam, the app’s audio tools can translate hundreds of medical words and phrases across common languages.

Decades ago Seif was scared to fly, but he overcame his fear through anxiety management and by sitting with pilots in a flight simulator at a local airport. “I think that’s a really good use of technology,” he said. “The active ingredient for overcoming fear is exposure.”


Images courtesy of Jason Williamson, Anne Worner and Alist.

A professional writer and editor, Alyssa Danigelis focuses on the intersection of technology with sustainability, business, media, arts and design. Her interest in technology has led her to cover self-healing power grids, 3D-printed food, wearable computers and robotic couture. Originally from Vermont, she’s a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and Columbia University’s School of Journalism. She lived in New York City for several years before falling in love with sunny Boulder, Colorado, where she currently resides. Her writing has appeared in publications that include MIT’s Technology Review, Natural Health, Fast Company, Inc. Magazine and Discovery News. Find her on Twitter at @adanigelis. She’s excited about sharing her passion for cool tech with iQ by Intel’s readers.

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