She's a veteran reality television star, not to mention an author, entrepreneur, wife and mother. Kendra Wilkinson's life in the limelight demands that she travel by plane about five times a month. She can handle fame, but flying terrifies her.
"I cannot stand it," she says.
When she flies, Wilkinson, whose reality show, "Kendra on Top," debuted this month on WE tv, turns to her fellow passengers to help her cope.
"Every time I fly, I grab on to the person next to me," she says. "People pray with me." The airline staff members she encounters are especially empathetic. "The flight attendants give me ice packs."
Millions share Wilkinson's anxiety, and the fear can be debilitating. Many turn to professional therapy. Others try to resolve their fears themselves; some have more success than others.
Experts caution that it's hard to pin down a precise number of people who suffer from a fear of flying, without a recent comprehensive survey. Also, many are reluctant to share details of their phobia -- or how disruptive it can be.
Wilkinson, who rose to fame as one of Hugh Hefner's girlfriends on the reality show "The Girls Next Door," turns to the cocktail cart to calm her nerves. "I do try to have a glass of wine. Wine helps me cool down a little bit," she says. "Or two glasses of wine."
Pinot grigio aside, she also tries to picture calming images.
"I try my hardest to close my eyes and picture my son," she says. "I think of my happiest moments."
Wilkinson, who hasn't received formal treatment, aspires to fly with her 2½-year-old son without scaring him with her unconcealed fear.
Reason doesn't always conquer fear
John DiScala was terrified to fly. From his late teens until his early 20s, he rarely left his home in Connecticut. Now, he visits more than 20 countries a year -- by plane -- and runs the travel blog JohnnyJet.com.
But his runway toward recovery was a long one.
His terror set in when he was 17. Waiting with his parents to board a flight from New York, bound for Australia, he had an anxiety attack at the airport.
"I felt this tingling all over my body," he says. "I felt like I was not in control."
The year before, his doctor had diagnosed him with asthma. He had also suggested that the cabin pressure on the flight could give him respiratory problems.
"It kept running through my head what the doctor said," DiScala remembers: " 'You will have trouble breathing.' "
He missed that trip to Perth, where he would have visited his sisters -- and didn't travel again for more than three years.
"I was basically afraid to leave the house," he says. "I was full of fear."
This unchecked terror arises despite statistics that show how safe flying is. Less than 1 percent of total transportation fatalities in the U.S. were the result of air accidents in the most recent figures from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
But numbers don't necessarily calm nerves. And a fear of air travel isn't always rational.
"It doesn't have to do with how safe flying is," says Tom Bunn, the president and founder of the SOAR program. He counsels fearful fliers with a mix of one-on-one therapy and education about how airplanes work.
He says his clients, who hail from a wide range of backgrounds and professions, try to talk themselves out of their fear but fail.
"Oftentimes, they struggle tremendously on their own to fix it, and find they can't," he says. Many turn to therapy when their fear starts to disrupt their lives as well as their livelihoods.
Phobia interferes with work