Megan Thomson Connor was “freaking out.” Her airplane flight from Seattle to New York City was taxiing down the runway, engines thrumming, when she hit the “emergency” button overhead. A flight attendant hustled over, and Megan was crying and shaking, her father’s consoling arm around her for naught.

“Do you want to get off, or not?” a flight attendant asked her, repeatedly.

She did, and her fellow passengers groaned as the plane returned to the gate.

Connor was mortified, calling it “one of the worst experiences of my life.”

Such dramatic “fear of flying” episodes don’t happen often, mostly because those with acute fear of flying never make it onto the airplane to begin with. One recent survey found that one in eight Americans will avoid commercial airplane travel, if at all possible.

But in San Francisco, a business called Fear of Flying Clinic has provided intensive therapy to familiarize anxious travelers with the airborne experience in hopes of avoid situations faced by Connor and her fellow passengers.

Founded in 1976 and based at San Francisco International Airport, Fear of Flying Clinic includes 24 hours of instruction spread over two weekends. It involves a licensed behavioral therapist to teach coping mechanisms, as well as lectures from airline pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and air traffic controllers. Participants also familiarize themselves with the cockpit, control tower and maintenance facility.

“We’re taking away the fear of the unknown,” said Fran Lawrence, a company spokeswoman.

The “final exam” involves a daytime flight from SFO to Seattle on a commercial flight, where participants have lunch and then fly back home.

“I’ve been here 14 years, and we’ve never had to leave behind anyone in Seattle or any place else,” Lawrence said. “They’ve all come back. We’ve had a few panic getting on the plane, and we have had people get off the plane (before the trip), but our success rate is 90 to 95 percent.”

Lawrence herself is a graduate of Fear of Flying Clinic.

“I used to think, ‘ If God wanted me to fly, he would’ve given me wings,'” she said. “But I realized that I was being irrational. I’ve flown all over now.”

For more information on Fear of Flying Clinic, call (650) 341-1595 or go to


Tags: education