NBA's Royce White Refuses to Fly, But Team Accommodates

Millions of Americans, including Ben Affleck, are afraid of flying.

ByABC News
October 5, 2012, 12:34 PM

Oct. 5, 2012— -- Pteromerhanophobia, It's a big word -- and an even bigger fear for millions of Americans.

Fear of flying can provoke symptoms as mild as a fluttering heart or so severe that some have a full-blown panic attack just thinking about being 35,000 feet up in the air.

Just this week, the NBA's Royce White said in an interview with ESPN that he had cut a deal with the Houston Rockets to use bus transportation for much of the season's travel schedule rather than fly with the team. He missed the team's media day on Monday.

The Rockets have even agreed to consider putting it in writing in Royce's contract because his fear of flying and accompanying anxiety is so crippling.

"What it's going to look like is every game that's drivable, I'm going to get a bus for myself," White told ESPN. "And I'm going to make that bus feel like home so that there's a level of consistency in a job where inconsistency is very apparent because of the schedule. I'm going to try and level that out and make sure that my stress levels stay low and that my rest is regular and that my meals are regular and that as much as I can, draw consistency from a very inconsistent schedule.

"People with mental illness, one of the most important things is that they have that consistency and routine," he said. "The girth of (my request) was, 'Can I travel by bus to close enough games?' "

White, like many others who fear flying, said he has generalized anxiety disorder, which can affect every aspect of his life. He has reported panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder tendencies, as well.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 8.7 percent of people, or about 19 million Americans, suffer from phobias. Fear of flying can be one of them.

Several studies, including one done by Boeing in 1980, have found that up to 40 percent of all Americans have some anxiety about flying, according to a New York Times interview with organizers a fear of flying conference sponsored by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

So-called "white-knuckle fliers" can have symptoms that range from breaking into a sweat, rapid heart rate and difficulty breathing.

Actor and director Ben Affleck told TV host Jay Leno in 2010 that he, too, struggles with fear of flying, although he continues to board a plane.

He explained that when he was 9, he was put on a flight to Washington, D.C., by himself and the plane was hit by lightning and the engine caught fire. Just the night before he had watched a show about child molesters which had "scared the lights out of me."

As the plane made its emergency landing, Affleck told Leno a man sitting next to him said, "You know, if we land, they'll put us in a hotel. Don't worry -- you can stay with me."

Some, like White, flat out refuse to fly. And others, particularly families, take precautions before they fly.

A 34-year-old Swedish mother and her 5-year-old son perished in the Air France flight that crashed over the Atlantic Ocean. Her husband and 3-year-old survived, precisely because they took a separate flight.

Crashing is not the most common fear, instead, it's being trapped or out of control -- or in a panic attack.

"Fear of flying can be paralyzing, but the good news is that there are really good treatments," said Una McCann, professor of psychiatry and director of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins Medical Center. "But the treatment is totally dependent on what the diagnosis is."

Some people have simple phobias, according to McCann. 'It might be snakes or the dark or flying or tunnels." But others have a more complex anxiety such as panic disorder.