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Bringing Sanity To The Open Skies

Sky anxiety

Dr. Elinor Garely, eTN  Dec 06, 2010

(eTN0 - It is time to travel home for the holidays, on a business trip, to watch the kids graduate from college, to get away from it all, to hide from a spouse, to get a new kidney, to get cavities filled, to have a nose reconstructed. Whatever the issue – the world is up and away and heading for the open skies, and coming along for the ride is travel angst.

In earlier times, core stressors were not transportation-based, but rather focused on the journey and the destination (i.e., enough money, correct visas/passport documentation, hotel accommodations, meeting the special someone). Today anxieties focus is on the airport and airline – a part of the supply chain that was a necessary evil, but surely not a giant obsession.

Current travel tensions start with the thought of where to go (is it safe), increase with the nightmare of getting to and through the airport (x-ray, body searches of children and adults), escalate as boarding time approaches (liquids allowed/not allowed), and peak as the airline sits on the tarmac waiting for the takeoff signal from the control tower. Even on take-off, anxieties do not abate for there is fear that the shoe bomber has made it onboard, or the elderly man in the front row is really a terrorist in disguise, and the couple trying to earn points in the sky high club are not having sex but mixing fluids that will explode, and we will crash.

Also worrisome are the germs on my food tray, poor air quality, the bed bugs nesting in my carry-on luggage, the extravagant amount of money I paid to be squished in the middle of two heavy-weight wrestlers, and the over-stimulated child pounding on the back of my seat. Governments are aggressively increasing traveler anxieties by installing death-ray equipment that is likely to cause cancer and traumatize us (and our children) with over-the-top body searches.

Need or Want
While some air travel may be discretionary (a winter holiday is not a basic need like air and water), it has become a necessity for professional athletes, coaches, celebrities, business executives, educators, children of divorced parents, and everyone else who wants to stay in touch with friends and family.

A Hilton Hotels Corp. study (1999) found that 37 percent of road warriors believe holiday travel negatively impacts their mood, with 20 percent finding it more stressful than going to the dentist or getting married. Two-fifths of the women (from 500 respondents) said that holiday travel negatively impacted on their mood, and 44 percent believed that holiday travel was more stressful than a business trip. In response to the stress, the women indicated that they consumed more food, with 61 percent eating more during holiday trips than during any other period. In addition, the women perceived holiday travel as a disruption in their daily routine.

In a Ruf Strategic Solution study conducted on behalf of Travel Guard NA, 51 percent of travelers surveyed indicated that luggage surcharges, limited flight schedules, potential flight delays, or cancellations were causing them to hesitate in booking holiday travel. Adding stress to the decision, 73 percent of the respondents indicated they were “preparing for the worst,” which included flight delays /cancellations (67 percent), missed flights/connections (26 percent), lost luggage (5 percent), and food poisoning (2 percent). To take some of the sting out of the potential mishaps, 68 percent were purchasing travel insurance, 33 percent were bringing an overnight bag as a carry-on, 17 percent were limiting luggage to carry-on, and 11 percent decided to avoid the entire experience by staying home.

Excedrin Headaches
Travel can be exhilarating and full of adrenalin-pumping adventure (skiing, snowboarding, scuba diving), but can also be wrenching as it places serious mental and physical demands on the most stable, core-centered travelers. During and immediately after the day of travel, travelers often suffer from a group of symptoms called “travel fatigue” (the effects of long-distance journeys with little change in the time zone), and/or “jet lag.” The problems are manifested as irritability, loss of motivation and motor skills, along with sensory deprivation.

Cabin Pressure
The flight cabin, particularly in economy class, is a cramped area that provides very limited opportunity for movement, and there are risks of cramping leading to deep vein thrombosis. The very dry cabin air with low humidity leads to general dehydration, with lips and eyes becoming sore and mouths dry. Even the challenge of what to do to pass the time can induce stress. Research indicates that sleeping or napping is not a good option for it will make it more difficult to pick up daily rhythms at the destination.

After the Flight: More Pressure
Landing, collecting the luggage, clearing customs, and reaching the final destination are all major-league pressure points. Added problems include lack of familiarity with the language, local customs, and currency. Symptoms include difficulty concentrating, clumsiness, decreased alertness, lethargy, and daytime sleepiness.

Head Trips
Wherever there are problems, we anxiously seek solutions. According to Travel Guards’ Vice President, Carol Mueller, travelers who have the good sense to acquire ”…a travel insurance plan can take comfort in the fact that help is available 24/7…” The insurance kicks in when there is a “…missed connection, canceled flight, or other travel-related mishaps.” The company provides a hot-line for stranded passengers, finding alternative transportation, hotel accommodations, and links to emergency services when accidents or illnesses occur.

Travelers requiring evacuation for medical reasons do not have to fret about upfront fees often required by hospitals and doctors’ working with tourists as the company pays the fees upfront – allowing the insured to focus on getting well. It is a known fact that this service (without insurance) can cost thousands of dollars, and payment is required immediately. Baggage loss, trip cancellation, and weather delays are part of the travel insurance package, and a good investment for every trip. Insurance fees are based on the cost of the trip and can add 6-7 percent to the holiday.

Tripit has read the tea leaves and developed an “insurance plan” that relieves some stressors (at US$4.00 per month). The TripItPro is personal travel assistance that is mindful of time, money, and other travel details providing instant alerts for flight delays, cancellations, and gate changes. It also consolidates flight information, shares travel plans, tracks flight refunds, and offers VIP services from the Hertz #1 Club and Regus Gold.

Upon destination arrival, becomes a tour guide, providing restaurant, bars, and retail information for major US cities. Type in current location, resource needed, and nearby options appear that provide distance, user rating, credit card information, and menu items (i.e., vegan-friendly).

A newly-indentified response to travel fatigue is “chronobiology” – the study of how living organisms respond to environmental time, the solar day, the lunar day, and yearly changes. Some scientists have determined that changes in diet, exercise, sleep patterns, plus the addition of light and melatonin can be programmed in advance to minimize the negative effects of prolonged air travel on the passenger.

Ayurveda remedies turn nightmares into day-dreams, if travelers plan in advance and pay close attention to a regular routine; eating meals on a planned schedule; sleeping at 10:00 pm; avoiding spicy foods, cayenne, pickles and vinegar; while stocking up on fruits, warm milk, cooked prunes, and figs at breakfast. Daily massages (body, scalp, head) boost circulation, while herbal teas improve balance and ginger prevents motion sickness. Consuming large amounts of warm water throughout the day replenishes moisture levels and cleanses the body.

Take the High Road
As the effort to fly becomes more stressful, governments, passenger organizations, destinations, and hotels are spending millions of dollars on public relations and advertising campaigns, encouraging travelers to forget the skies and hit the road, selecting destinations that are within a drive distance from home. With statistics indicating that it is more dangerous to drive than fly, this new marketing ploy may not be the right answer to sky-anxiety.

Sky High
The viable alternative may be the efforts currently being organized in cooperation with Ralph Nader who plans to meet with the White House powerful, and security agency influencers, trying to bring sanity back to American airports and travelers. Surely there is a way to keep travelers safe without suspecting that everyone scrambling for an airline seat is armed and dangerous. At the end of the day, it is the sharp eyes of airline personnel and passengers that have stopped terrorist attempts and not some billion dollar spy machine. It really is time to bring some friendliness and sanity to the open skies.

Sky anxiety
Carol Mueller, Vice President, Travel Guard

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