"[Royce White] may have had a panic attack in a plane," said McCann, who has not treated him.
"He may not really be afraid of flying, but afraid of having a panic attack in a place where he had one before," she said. "There could be other places, too."
Others may suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), irrational thoughts that can also produce panic.
A person who is afraid of tunnels might think: "What if the car next to me hits me? Or what if I take the steering wheel and crash into a wall?" said McCann.
OCD can be treated with a combination of medications, often antidepressants, and exposure and response-prevention therapy. "What you do is try to assuage the fear," she said.
Panic disorder and simple phobias can be treated with medications and relaxation techniques, as well as cognitive behavior therapy.
People usually have a hierarchy of fears. Exposure over time without running away can help. Eventually the rapid heart and difficulty breathing go away, experts say. A reputable therapist will give the patient "homework" to face specific fears and situations.
Many who are afraid of flying take a drink or a drug like Xanax to calm down, but McCann said, "that's a form of avoidance." And running away, she said, "reinforces the idea that avoidance make things better."
And luckily, there are programs -- many sponsored by the airlines themselves -- that offer fear of flying programs.
Don't drink alcohol or take medications in flight, advise most anxiety experts.
"Just once in a blue moon, when you have an 18-hour flight, maybe," said McCann.