For some conservatives, Christine Blasey Ford’s admission that she frequently travels by airplane despite a professed fear of flying raised questions about her trustworthiness. But one expert on fear of flying said that is not an uncommon practice.
The topic came up as Ford was being questioned by Rachel Mitchell, a prosecutor hired by Senate Republicans to question Ford.
Ford, who alleges that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were both in high school, had earlier sought to delay her testimony ostensibly due to her fear of flying. But she said Thursday that she ended up flying to Washington, D.C., to testify.
She said she had initially hoped the hearings could take place in California, but realized that it was an “unrealistic request.”
“I eventually was able to get up the gumption with the help of some friends and get on the plane,” said Ford. Kavanaugh denies Ford’s allegation against him, as well as those of several other women.
Mitchell then asked about Ford’s other travel history, including trips to far-flung destinations like Hawaii and Costa Rica. Ford said she did travel to such locations by plane, adding that “it’s easier for me to travel going that direction when it’s a vacation.”
It wasn’t long until those who continue to support Kavanaugh jumped on Ford’s testimony about her trips in an attempt to discredit her. Donald Trump Jr., the President’s son, said that “it does seem weird to me that someone could have a selective fear of flying.”
But flying on an airplane despite having flight anxiety is a common practice, according to Tom Bunn, a former airline captain who’s now a licensed therapist. Bunn, who works with those afraid to fly through a program called SOAR, said that one in three people have a fear of flying. Of that third, half are willing to fly, while half are not. Of the people who come to him for help, very few outright refuse to fly when doing so is clearly necessary, he says.
“Most of the people who contact me to get help with fear of flying still occasionally fly or have to fly for business,” Bunn tells TIME. “It’s only a minority of people who contact me who have quit flying completely.”
Fear of flying, Bunn says, often stems from a perceived lack of control.
“I would imagine she had a tough time on the flight,” he says. “The issue people have with flying is they can’t get out of the plane. They can’t escape.”
Bunn said traumatic episodes often serve as the root of a given person’s fear of flying, and can prevent them from getting on a plane. But when life events arise that necessitate flying — business trips, family reunions, vacations — some people are able to temporarily overcome their phobia through a variety of methods. For others, the panic induced by flying is too much to handle, and they avoid air travel at all costs.
“There are lots of techniques people use,” Bunn says. “Some people take Xanax, Ativan or something like that to fly. Some people feel they’re going to have a panic attack and if they bring someone with them that gives confidence to them — that can help also.”