Ad Info
   VC Notebook


Employees who fly often see stress, anxiety levels soar

Monday, August 23, 1999

By CAROL SMITH Mail Author

Road rage makes headlines. But ground travel isn't the only place where people's stress levels get out of control.

Air travel stress, including air rage, is growing as more people crowd through airports and as planes fly carrying maximum loads.

The problems are particularly acute during the peak summer travel months, making life especially miserable for business travelers.

Surprisingly, there's been little psychological research on the phenomenon of air travel stress.

But it's an area that intrigued Jonathan Bricker, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Washington.

Bricker, who helped put himself through college working at a travel agency, used to hear his clients tell him horror stories about the toll traveling took on their work and personal lives.

"Over 270 million people a year fly for business," he said, "And it's been increasing a few percentage points every year."

About 5,000 times a year, some traveler snaps and assaults a fellow passenger or crew member.

Bricker and UW psychology Professor Irwin Sarason wanted to figure out what factors contributed most to air travel stress in general, not just assaultive behavior.

Air travel stress affects employee health as well as performance, Bricker said.

According to an archival study of insurance records from 10,800 World Bank employees, for example, traveling employees were more likely to file claims for medical and mental disorders than non-traveling employees.

Claims by male traveling employees, for example, were 80 percent higher than for non-traveling male employees. Women who traveled filed 18 percent more claims than women who didn't.

Some people handle the ups and downs of air travel better than others, Bricker said. People who anticipate and prepare for how they will handle delays, for example, are less likely to get stressed out when they happen.

Risk factors for feeling stressed by air travel include anxiety and an anger-prone personality, he said.

Situational factors also increased stress. People who traveled to multiple locations were more likely to be stressed than those who always traveled to the same destination.

Bricker and Sarason studied 329 travelers, who took an average of 21 business trips a year.

The study found that personal and situational factors interact to produce air transit stress, Bricker said.

"Anxiety increases vulnerability to the perception of air travel stress," he said. "This vulnerability was stronger for women than for men."

Anxious women traveling to unfamiliar locations were particularly prone to stress.

Bricker said: "When they were going to a new destination, these women worried more, for example, about their personal safety and were concerned by such things as new procedures to get in and out of an airport, making a connecting flight or wondering whether their plane will be delayed. Going to a new place almost doubled the amount of stress for women."

For men, the factor that seemed to increase stress the most was the tendency to get angry.

Men who were anger-prone in addition to being anxious, were at high risk for experiencing travel stress, Bricker said.

There are ways to reduce stress while traveling, however.

Airlines, for example, can help by giving travelers information, he said. If people know why their plane is delayed, or what is happening to their connecting flights, they deal better with the anxiety of flight delays.

Airlines could also help travelers by providing information on ways to manage stress, Bricker said. He has drawn some interest from The Boeing Co. and several airlines about developing in-flight videos or presentations with stress reduction exercises.

Deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises done right in the airline seat can help people cope with stress, he said.

People can also learn what their trigger points are, and practice ways of dealing with them, Bricker said.

Late takeoffs and landings, missed connecting flights, lost baggage, waiting in lines and getting the wrong directions are just a few common travel experiences that trigger stress.

People can prepare themselves for stressful situations by bringing along work or relaxing reading material to cope with delays, he said.

If there's going to be a delay, passengers can reduce their anxiety by thinking about who they need to notify at the other end and by making alternative arrangements.

The key is for travelers to recognize when they're getting stressed, and take a minute to calm down, Bricker said.

"If you can be in control of your own stress, it's more pleasant for everyone," he said.

Carol Smith's column appears Mondays. Her e-mail address is



Amazon modifies feature on group purchases

U.S. keeps China-WTO report under wraps

Microworkz president says he'll step down

Longshore workers ratify contract

New rules aim to ease Internet name game

Boeing holds off on talk of longer week

A fanfare for Boeing's new jet

Kaiser, Steelworkers unable to resolve dispute

Tech Digest

Connections lead to deal supporting

Business Digest


Home | Search | Site Guide | About the P-I | Circulation | Contact Us | Job Openings

Send comments to
© 1999 Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
All rights reserved.