If you asked me what my biggest pleasure in life is I’d have to say going on exotic holidays.
If you asked me what my biggest fear in life is I’d without a doubt say flying.
Unfortunately the two go hand in hand which makes things pretty tricky for someone like me who has a fear of flying. In the days leading up to a holiday I’m both excitedly packing my suitcase and nervously anticipating the journey ahead.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I developed a fear of flying. As a child I loved it. Yet the thrill of flying turned to fear as I entered my mid 20’s. I grew increasingly aware of the distance between the tin can I was flying in and the ground below.
Flying fills me with dread and anxiety. I white-knuckle grip the armrest, or the unfortunate person sitting next to me, for the majority of the flight, my palms growing clammier as we gain altitude. I look around at everyone else on the plane who seem to be taking it all in their stride, calmly browsing the in-flight entertainment or taking the opportunity to grab forty winks, and I feel alone, and a little bit silly as tears roll down my cheeks. However, research suggests I’m not alone as approx 25% of people are afraid of flying.
The late musician David Bowie opted for boats and trains after a stormy flight from Cyprus in the early 1970’s. He started flying again in the 1980’s, but stopped again after suffering a heart attack and following the birth of his daughter Lexi. Actress Kate Winslet, meanwhile, reportedly travels in a different plane than her husband, to ensure they don’t both die in a crash and leave their kids without parents. Whoopi Goldberg turned to Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Without Fear course to help her overcome her fear of flying.
Even though statistically flying is one of the safest modes of transport (there is a one in 11 million chance of dying in a plane crash, but one in 5,000 in a car), I don’t have a similar fear when I’m driving. I feel safe in my car because I’m in control. However, when I’m in a plane it’s all up to strangers I’ve never met. The loss of control freaks me out and leads me to question who it is who has my life in their hands. I mean, who are these pilots? Did they get enough sleep the night before? Are they sane? Are they experienced enough to know what to do in an emergency?
I recently flew to Dubai and decided that I needed to take some form of action to try and overcome my fear of flying. I’d already tried medication in the past, prescribed by the doctor, but it didn’t help a bit. I downloaded a book called Flying with Confidence which was written by an ex British airways pilot and read it from front to back in just two days. It explained the theory behind turbulence, and that whilst it can be uncomfortable to experience, it isn’t actually dangerous. It talked you through take offs and landings, and what different engine noises you should expect to hear during your flight. A lot of what was written made sense to me and as we headed off to Gatwick airport ready to take our flight I felt prepared and the calmest I have done in years. But nature decided it was going to test my fear to it’s limits.
Storm Doris decided to rear her ugly head the morning of our flight. As we approached the airport I saw a plane coming in to land, rocking back and forth in the 94 mph winds and I immediately felt sick. The next few hours in the airport passed in a blur, instead of giving my credit card a bashing in the duty free shops I sat and watched the departure boards, secretly praying our flight might be cancelled due to the winds. But alas my prayers went unanswered and we headed off to the gate and boarded the plane.
We sat on the tarmac for over an hour, struggling to get a slot for take off, all the while my anxiety was rising. Finally the engines roared and we started to taxi down the runway. You could feel the plane swaying from left to right, struggling with the sheer force of the winds. As the wheels lifted up we were airborne but what came next was the most frightening take off I’ve ever experienced. As we were bouncing and rocking through the air I had a panic attack. My chest tightened, I couldn’t breathe and an irrational fear came over me that the pilots were losing control of the plane. I gripped my Mum’s arm so tight that I left nail marks in her skin. For ten long minutes I sobbed and sobbed throughout the turbulence, struggling to get a grip of myself. Eventually the cabin crew took their belts off and one of them came rushing over to me, having witnessed my meltdown from her seat. She gave me water and stayed with me until my breathing calmed explaining that the pilots were fully trained to deal with such windy conditions. The rest of the flight was relatively smooth, but that didn’t stop me staying rooted to my seat for the seven hour flight, not even getting up to go to the toilet. It was an experience I won’t forget in a hurry and one that hasn’t helped my fear.
I can’t say if I’ll ever get over my fear of flying but I’m willing to try everything so I’ll soon to be booking onto a fear of flying course. However, at 33 years of age, I’ve reached a point where I finally recognize that to really live and enjoy life, you need to let go of your grip on it sometimes.