Whenever a horrific tarmac delay makes the news—like the snowy seven-plus hours recently passed by JetBlue customers at Bradley International Airport near Hartford, Connecticut—most of us, I suspect, have a similar thought: What if I were on that flight? Would I lose my mind and temper? Or could I keep my cool?
Though several hours on an unmoving airplane sounds as awful as any inconvenience in modern America, Mike Tomaro, a Milwaukee-based clinical psychologist who specializes in aviation-related anxiety, offers a reasonable counterpoint. Anyone who has flown between the United States and Europe has spent at least seven hours on a plane.
Should any of us wind up in such a situation, he said, fool yourself.
“Make believe you’re on a flight to Europe and do what you would normally,” Tomaro said. “Relax, rest and get up to move your muscles once in a while.”
In other words, it’s only as bad as you make it.
For nearly 25 years, Tomaro has taught travelers to overcome fear of flying with a $250, four-session class at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport that culminates with a short regional flight. Fear of being stranded on the runway comes up in every class, he said.
But less anxious fliers also are entitled to dread the thought of being trapped on a runway. I’m a frequent flier both professionally and personally, and without question, dead time on a runway is my least favorite wrinkle in a flying process that’s already relatively unpleasant.
“People like aviation to do what it says it’s going to do,” Tomaro said. “By setting precise takeoff and landing times, they give scientific validity to their profession. If they don’t meet those times, they look like they don’t know what they’re doing.”
The best news Tomaro could offer is that he thinks such ungodly waits are about to become history in this country.
“I’d give it maybe one more event and then it will never happen again,” he said. “That’s the way the industry is. Whenever there’s a malfunction in the airplane, you usually never see it happen again.”
Be Tomaro’s five tips for managing a long tarmac delay—or avoiding them completely:
• Put your watch away. Tracking the minutes will only make you more anxious.
• Develop a “psychological survival list” and take it with you. For some people it’s an anti-anxiety pill. For others, it’s more reading material than necessary, a fully charged MP3 player and a couple of snacks.
• Control anxiety by relaxing muscles. “Concentrate on one major muscle group,” Tomaro said. “The rest of the body will follow.”
• Schedule flights at off-peak times. “The system can tolerate traffic flow at off times,” meaning less likelihood of backups.
• Watch the weather. If you plan to fly on a day expected to get heavy snow, consider postponing your flight.
©2011 the Chicago Tribune
Distributed by MCT Information Services.