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Experience with anxiety towards flying or motion sickness?

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Illini Pilot

Well-known member
Oct 7, 2002
Today I took someone up and was planning to fly from LOT up to 06C (schaumburg) to hit up pilot pete's for lunch in a 182RG. however, right after take off they started hyperventilating and pretty much had a panic attack. I asked them after getting out of the pattern if they were good to continue and they said yes, but pretty soon they also started feeling nauseous, so I turned around and landed. This was their first time in a small plane, and they had said that they had problems with motion sickness on airline flights. After landing they were embarrassed obviously and actually brought up maybe taking off again but I decided not to. Anyone ever have a friend do this? Any ways they over came the panic? Back on the ground they said that straight and level was fine, but pretty much any little bump, change in pitch or bank really bothered them. Any help?
When I did aerobatic training, I learned the most about how to deal with this. My instructor told me that in situations like these it is usually in their head - ie they are panicked - and that there was very little you could do as the pilot.

Very few people actually have motion-sickness. I'm sure a medical professional may or may not agree with this, however, what I got from it (aerobatic instruction and the advise about passengers/students) were three things -

1. always brief your passenger on what to expect. If they expect the worse, the better. I always told them it would be like driving along a gravel/bumpy road, may have a few bumps at low altitude, the higher we get the better the ride etc. ie this will get you to straight and level with the auto pilot.

2. never show them the sick bag - its only a catalyst that makes them chunder quicker - but have one handy just in case.

3. tell them, if they have admitted to you that they are uncomfortable in small planes, to eat crackers and bread. This will put their stomach-sloshing at ease, which, by the way, usually leads to people believing that they have motion sickness.

Hope this helps, it'll be difficult getting them into the plane again after a miserable/embarrassing first experience, good luck
NoPax said:
Hope this helps, it'll be difficult getting them into the plane again after a miserable/embarrassing first experience, good luck

Good ideas...thanks. However, they did tell me a bunch of times that they really wanted to go up again now that they knew what to expect. I'll definately have them take a dramamine before, and take them out and get up to altitude and let them get over their anxiety. I figured shooting under the Chicago Class B at 1700' on a sunny day with the chop starting to build probably wouldn't be the best time to "get their mind at ease".
Your buddy isn't alone, it's actually pretty common. Several years ago, I had a student who would get violently airsick. It took a long time for him to get to the point where we could even leave the pattern. In the beginning it was takeoff, fly the pattern and land, bail out of the airplane and barf his guts out, then try and do it again. It took this guy several months and a lot of extra effort on his part, but he overcame it and went on to get his PPL and did a very good job too.

Here's a tip - Go to any drugstore and buy some powered ginger capsules. They work wonders for most people and as far as the FAA is concerned, powered ginger is not a medication, it's a condiment! Hang in there, s/he will get over it, it might just take a bit of time.

Try doing some stalls, spins, steep-turns, etc. If they can't handle it, do it even more frequently and with greater intensity. I would also recommend laughing really loud as you execute these maneuvers. They will eventually overcome their issues and/or completely expel any partially digested food, and then you return to straight/level and you can both enjoy the remainder of the flight.
One of the students I am most proud of from back in my flight instructing days was a person like this. He actually came out for his first lesson and 20 minutes in we had to return. Same symptoms, thought I would never see the guy again. He scheduled another lesson for the next day and this one lasted 30 minutes. This lasted for about 2 weeks as his lessons would get longer and longer. He finished his private eventually and last I heard he had gotten his instrument rating.

I think if as a pilot you have a chance to help someone overcome a fear like this do it. Bring up a brown paper bag in case they start hyperventilating. Remind them to focus as far out on the horizon as possible. Keep the airflow in the cabin going as much as possible and be prepared to turn around. My guess is that after a couple of tries at the most you will finally get lunch.
Good suggestions guys! I would like to add a few things. Next time you take your friend out, go early in the morning or in the evening when it will be smooth. Whatever you do, do not let your friend go to the point where she vomits. Air-sickness is like alcohol, you build up a tolerance. Your average Extra 300 driver didn't go out and pull nine g's on her first flight, she started out with light aero and worked their way up. I'm digressing. The point is that each flight that your friend doesn't vomit, she takes a step forward. If she vomits, she takes a step back. You may have to cut some flights short, but in the long run you will be glad you did (actually in the short run you will be glad too). Also, the only way that you will know if your friend isn't feeling well is if you ask. Trust me, as someone who made a living as a flight instructor for a fair amount of time, a student (or in this case a passenger) is not likely to let you know how she feels until it's probebly too late. They may get annoyed by you constantly asking "How ya feeling? Are you feeling all right? Still feeling okay?...", but they are more likely to admit they are not feeling well if you ask. A lot of times a passenger will think that they will start feeling better. Trust me, they won't. If your passenger admits to not feeling well, start working your way back to the airport.

Good luck, I hope things work out for you and your friend.

i disappeared from flightinfo for a year or so. just too busy/lost interest. i left in the days of some TAB douchebags. i hated reading their posts, yet i always read their post for a good laugh.

anyway, now that i'm back - i'm glad to see someone has taken their place. way to go, douchebag.
Illini Pilot said:
Any help?
I wish I could help. I have seen this in friends and family alike. My wife learned to overcome it...how did she do it? I don't know, but she's ridden through some pretty rough stuff with me. One time she was able to keep pretty composed while a pilot puked for 10 minutes and he was sitting right next to her while he had his panic attack. We still give Roy crap over that leg from Chattanooga to MSN. :D

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