We may be traveling again, but that doesn't mean that there still aren't plenty of concerned — even fearful — flyers out there.

Indeed, a survey conducted by marketing firm Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown on January 14 indicates that there were just as many jittery travelers on that date as there were on October 11, when YPB conducted a similar poll.

The terrorist attacks sparked two different kinds of fear related to air travel, according to Renee Lonner, clinical director of Robert T. Dorris & Associates Inc., a national consulting firm that delivers Employee Assistance Programs to many Fortune 500 companies.

“Of course, there are the obvious post-traumatic fears since September 11 — and brought back again by the shoe-bomber incident — that something terrorist-related will happen on your flight. But there are also the related concerns that if something were to happen to you, what will happen to your family? There's more awareness of getting your personal affairs in order, because there's a heightened sense of mortality.”

What Can Companies Do?

Employee Assistance Programs can go a long way toward helping business travelers and their families cope. EAPs are created by consulting firms to deliver on-site counseling to troubled employees. Some companies have brought together employees for group meetings to address the issue.

“A lot of what was needed was to give them a safe place to address their fears in a group, so they'd know they weren't the only ones scared, and for the individuals, simply someone to talk to about their fears who could help them cope,” says Lonner.

Companies are reaching out more than ever. “From what I've seen, they've become more aware of their employees' basic human needs. There's an increased sensitivity to their emotional issues. We've found that for the vast majority of employees, talking about it, getting it out in the open, helps a great deal to allay their fears.”

“One problem is that only a small percentage of people who have a genuine fear of flying ever ask for help,” says R. Reid Wilson, PhD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina and author of Achieving Comfortable Flight: Taking the Anxiety Out of Airline Travel. “They often think that either the problem is not with them but with the airline industry, or their fear is so deep-seated that they don't believe they'll get over it even with counseling.”

Information Helps

Companies are reviewing and strengthening their travel safety and security procedures and communicating these changes to employees — along with information about corporate travel expectations and the heightened security implemented by airports and airlines.

“You hate to say that there's a silver lining that's come out of the horrific events of September 11, but there is a definite change in the American psyche: We're infinitely more aware of travel safety and security issues,” says Dick Gaeta, president of Premier Incentives, a corporate incentive-travel firm based in Marblehead, Mass. “We're living now like Europeans and Middle-Eastern countries have lived for years. We have to keep doing business, and to do that we have to fly. Now we're learning that we have to be informed and prepared.”

Michael Seltzer, project director of Business Strategies for Sustainable Travel, a business research organization in New York, also has seen changes in corporate travel-management policies. For one, there's an intensified effort to keep track of employees who travel — that is, to know exactly where they'll be staying, what flights they're on, what their cellphone number is, when they'll be returning.

Call it common sense — but it wasn't being done before. For example, a September 23 Business Travel Coalition survey of 137 U.S. companies revealed that 11 percent of the companies were unable to identify flight numbers of their employees, 25 percent were unable to identify hotels where their employees were staying, and 84 percent were unable to secure cellphone numbers of traveling employees.

No amount of information is too much, says Dick Kisker, Premier's vice president and general manager. “We're trying to be even more operationally sound than we were as far as passing information on to participants about trip preparations — what they should take, what they shouldn't take, what to expect at the airport, how early to get there, that sort of thing.”

Offer Them Choices

Even a glitzy trip to an exotic destination can spur worry among participants. This has some companies planning alternative, closer-to-home trips as well.

“Restaurants Unlimited, one of my clients, asked me to plan an incentive trip to New Zealand,” says Louise Hall Reider, CITE, an independent planner in Bellevue, Wash. “But as a backup, just in case anything else were to happen that would make the New Zealand trip unattractive, they want me to plan shorter regional trips for their qualifiers.”

She has also had clients come up with detailed disaster plans and even buy supplemental insurance with emergency assistance services and disaster relief bundled into it — something less common before.

Premier's Gaeta has seen clients making the same moves.

“In mid-January, we had a major insurance company cancel a four-day trip to the Whistler Resort in British Columbia that was to happen in June,” he says. “Now they're doing two-day regional trips along the East Coast that are within driving time of their regional winners' homes.

“The feeling, at least for now, is that people want to stay close to home.”

CHILL OUT!

How to calm down before a flight

  • Contact the airport well ahead of time and ask questions about suggested time of arrival, security precautions, and steps for checking luggage.

  • Arrive at the airport well ahead of your flight time; expect delays.

  • Dress in comfortable clothing, and take a book or magazine with you to read on the plane or while in line.

  • Avoid caffeinated drinks and alcohol for several hours before the trip.

  • If you feel that your anxiety cannot be controlled with deep breathing and other general relaxation techniques, contact your doctor before the trip and discuss the possibility of medication.

  • Focus on the purpose and goal of the trip, and on the positive human connections that are a part of it.

  • If you feel immobilized by your fear and are unable to work through it, professional help is needed. Contact your employee assistance program for consultation and to discuss the possibility of a referral for ongoing treatment services.



Source: Robert T. Dorris & Associates Inc.

FOR MORE INFO

Business Enterprises for Sustainable Travel:
www.sustainabletravel.org

International Air Transport Association on Safety and Security:
www.iata.org/safe_travel.asp

National Business Travel Association:
www.nbta.org

U.S. Federal Aviation Administration Travel and Safety Tips:
www.faa.gov/apa/traveler.htm

U.S. Department of Transportation Safety Page:
www.dot.gov/safety.html