Resources for Coping with Travel Traumas
Airplanes are a crucial tool for travel.

To commemorate the ten-year anniversary of 9/11/01, FTF editors chose to reprint this open letter sent originally to FTF families on September 24, 2001. Sadly, its advice is still relevant to many.

Dear Family Travelers,

Like all of you, Family Travel Forum and its members have been deeply affected by the events of September 11th, 2001. We offer our condolences to those of you who have lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks sustained by New York City, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, and want to share our concerns for the safety of traveling families during the coming months.

Still unsure of what awful means will be required to halt terrorism in our world, we know now that being away from home–whether by plane, boat, train or automobile–will never be the same again. Yet, as families draw closer together to celebrate the upcoming holidays, moving across America and the world will remain a necessity for most of us.

Family Travel Forum has been struggling to weather the economic downturn that had already diminished travel opportunities for many families. In the aftermath of this recent tragedy, it is apparent that many will reject the notion of travel altogether. However, during this very trying time, we have been comforted by an astonishing outpouring of grief from families around the world, reminding us it is our friends and neighbors and fellow passengers on Earth who have always motivated our travels. So we must continue to travel, to meet them on their own soil, to learn from them, and to teach them about us.

“I am not getting on a plane ever again,” Libby Tholmaf, age 17 of Florida, told a CNN reporter the day after terrorists used four commercial aircraft as weapons. Your children, many of them frequent flyers, may be feeling the same way.

How can we, as parents and trusted adults in their lives, help our children overcome their fears?

The first and most important step for adults in the wake of disaster, according to Professor Jean Baker of the Michigan State University’s Dept. of Counseling, is “to take care of your own thoughts and feelings.”

Are you, as caregivers, prepared to fly again?

Here are the facts; you’ll have to be the judge: Several safety measures have been implemented on U.S. airlines; most will be familiar to those who have traveled in Europe. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Air Marshals, armed and trained for deployment on anti-hijacking missions, will be flying anonymously on select domestic flights.

The FAA website maintains a list of all North American airports and air carriers which have certified they can meet the strengthened FAA security standards. In addition, the FAA is looking at every aspect of domestic airport security now for possible improvements.

Regardless of further security measures implemented, air travel is likely to be more time-consuming and more stressful than ever before. However, statistically, flying remains safer than travel by automobile.

Many of the coping strategies offered in the attack’s aftermath will be useful tools in exploring your family’s interest in travel again, whether by air, land or sea. Parents are urged to talk with children about their feelings and listen to their concerns.

Dr. Robert Needlman notes, “If you notice your child looking sad, ask if she is thinking about the plane crashes… and let her know that you have been thinking about the same thing.” Just as adults react differently to stress, children may express no reaction, or strong emotions of anger or fear, which should be acknowledged and accepted.

“Talking to children about terrorism can be particularly problematic since providing them with safety guidelines to protect themselves from terrorism is difficult,” note the experts at FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Security consultant Mayer Nudell’s list of critical travel safety tips should be mandatory reading for anyone in your family who is traveling away from home.

Trauma specialists suggest parents help children, particularly older ones, maintain perspective on the situation. Advises Laura Jana, M.D., F.A.A.P. “Reassure your child that almost all planes and buildings are still completely safe. These bad events only happened in a very few, specific places.”

“I think it’s important to say a terrible thing happened, but life is going to go on and we’re going to do what we can do to keep you safe and to keep the family safe, and do those sorts of things that keep the family together,” adds Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell, head of the International Critical Stress Foundation. “Children need reassurances that the world will continue to function, there will be a tomorrow. That there will be a world for them.”

Because the world, however changed, is still there for our children, most of us will choose to travel again.

Family Travel Forum remains grateful for your support and for the many kind thoughts sent our way during this difficult time. We will endeavor to provide our families the resources they need to explore the world and will devote the next print issue to Exploring America. Please feel free to contact our office with your questions.

We will continue to post safety updates, travel news, and global destination features on the FTF website. We also urge you to take advantage of a professional travel agent or family travel specialist (several are listed at the Family Travel Counselors page), both to help smooth your travel plans, and to keep you up to date with the latest travel and security information, much of it available via agent-only subscription services.

Let us hope together that our skies will soon seem friendly again and that we will emerge from this dark period better informed and better prepared to cope with our new world.

The FTF Family

Resources for Families in Need at 9/11/2011

The ten-year anniversary commemorations may be as stressful for some families as the original tragedy. Here are online resources, many with phone support, to help you cope.

• International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

• National Center for Children Exposed to Violence (NCCEV) at Yale University.

• The American Psychological Association

• American Association of Pediatrics

• American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

• American Psychiatric Association


This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.