Belfast Telegraph

How I’ve tackled my morbid fear of flying

By Frances Burscough

They say you have more chance of being kicked to death by a donkey than perishing in a plane crash. The likelihood of it happening to you is about the same as being struck by lightening seven times, or being eaten alive by a great white shark. In short, the odds are about 11 million to one.

Yes, I know all the statistics; I’m aware of how safe flying is compared to any other form of transport; I’ve done the maths and read the all the propaganda.

And yet, whenever I’m in the departure lounge ready to board, I’d rather be tackling an angry donkey during an electrical storm over a shark tank than anywhere near a plane.  

My fear of flying crept up on me, but it wasn’t always there. When I first flew (to the obligatory Costa Brava when I was a teenager in the 70s) I found the whole experience thrilling.

But then I grew up, had kids of my own and everything changed. Along with a mother’s instinct for danger I developed a fascination for air disasters. Lockerbie and Kegworth coincided in quick succession and my irrational fear turned to abject dread. I read everything there was to read about every air crash anywhere. In fact it became a bit of an obsession.

Instead of loving the thrill, it made me sick to the stomach. It didn’t help that I’d moved to Belfast by then and the quickest way home to visit family was a white-knuckle ride via the Isle of Man on a tiny twin-prop ‘vomit comet’. By the time I’d done the journey there and back a couple of times I was a nervous wreck in need of sedation.

Now you may remember that earlier this year I was invited to Heathrow, to spend a day training as an air stewardess with British Airways, for an article in the newspaper. During that day I happened to mention to the organisers that being a flight attendant was the one job in the whole world I’d least like to do. Why? Because I hate flying that’s why.

No sooner had they heard about my abject fear than they had me signed up for another day-trip to London. This time it was to undergo BA’s special course entitled Flying With Confidence.

So once again I found myself on the red eye to Heathrow. As I disembarked the plane I was hopeful that I’d return that night a changed woman, as gung-ho about flying as any 10 ten-year-old. But they certainly had their work cut out. Here’s how they helped tackle my morbid dread and fear:

For a start, I discovered I wasn’t alone. It seems 25% of flyers experience some kind of fear. There were 100 delegates there that day, most of whom were far worse afflicted than me. Some had spent their entire lives completely land-locked. 

The course was presented by a team of different experts — including a pilot, a purser, an air-traffic controller, a stewardess and a psychologist. Between them they debunked a lot of myths about flying on a modern aeroplane and then the course culminated in an actual flight in which the captain talked us through every noise, nuance, movement and manoeuvre.

We were shown how a plane actually gets off the ground and how and why turbulence happens. We learnt about the international rules about air traffic and how unlikely — virtually impossible — it is for the strict boundaries between paths to be breached. And of course a litany of statistics ... including the shark one.

But the most important part of the course for me was the psychology of the specific fear and how to deal with it, both mentally and physically. That was a real epiphany moment for me and personally made the whole day worthwhile.

I can’t divulge much more than that without giving away their trade secrets, apart from concluding that I left there with renewed optimism and actually looking forward to the flight home.

The BA Flying with Confidence course takes place at Gatwick and Heathrow ... but if you’re too scared to even fly to London, it’s also now available down the road at Dublin Airport. Give it a go and you’ll soon see that the sky’s the limit. Go to Flyingwithconfidence.com for details – I dare you!

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