Last night I flew from Jersey to Southampton. It’s only a short 40 minute flight and I do it about 3 times a year. As we were coming into land, (and had in fact almost touched down), the pilot suddenly changed his mind and we flew back up into the night sky. Cue nervous glances and forced smiles all around as the pilot spoke to us over the tannoy system and said that there had been some “instability” over the runway and that we were going around to make a second approach.
We landed 15 minutes later, and I think every one of us was glad to touch down onto terra firma.
While I was waiting for my bag in the terminal, I was thinking about the flight and considering the safety and/or danger of flying, which is something that I had not really reflected on before. I fly at least 20-25 times a year, either short work related hops to Manchester, Newcastle and Jersey or our longer holiday flights to Europe or The Caribbean. I have honestly never really been concerned about the prospect of flying. I was on a flight back from Newcastle a few years ago which was exceedingly turbulent, but nothing has ever happened that has actually made me feel unsafe. Yet I have often seen big planes in the sky and thought ‘how does that stay up there?!’ Sadly, I was never much good at physics.
We have all heard the statistics, it’s safer to fly than to drive. You are more likely to die from a bee sting than you are to die in a plane crash and the Captain’s voice welcoming us on to the aircraft, is designed to calm us and reassure us that someone who knows what they are doing is in control. Unfortunately however, humans have amazing imaginations and it is too easy to sit and ruminate on ‘what if’ thoughts at 40,000 feet, when you’re life is so completely and utterly in someone else hands.
A friend of mind has been scared of flying all his life. He had never set foot on a plane, and had never had a holiday outside this country. Finally, when he decided that enough was enough and there were so many experiences he was missing out on, he took his courage in his hands and did a ‘Fear of Flying’ one day course, (priced around £250) at Gatwick. The course consisted of a presentation by a pilot, some facts and figures, questions and answer session, lunch…and then a short 40 minute flight. It worked! He has been to Helsinki and Berlin since and wishes he had done it years ago!
I asked him how his fear manifested, and he said even thinking about flying made him shaky and sweaty, feel sick, dizzy and disorientated and have heart palpitations. Exactly the same symptoms, funnily enough, that I experience when I’m faced with having to give blood!
Interestingly, the fears that we have around flying and air travel can be divided into two. Firstly, the fear that the plane will be affected by something externally, like a birdstrike, a bomb, lightening, engine fault, drones etc. Or secondly, the anxiety that comes when we envisage ourselves panicking, becoming hysterical and losing control (with the accompanying embarrassment). Both of these of course, are linked by a feeling of overwhelming powerlessness.
Plane crashes are remarkably rare, so when they do happen, they get all the headlines and the horrible graphic reporting and photographs. These are incredibly powerful images …but think about how many murders there are in the UK everyday, or car crashes. If every single one of those was reported in the same manner, we would too frightened to leave the house or drive anywhere. Incidentally, most people fear engine failure over any other potential mid flight problem, though the drone issues that we are hearing about affecting Gatwick and Heathrow recently is not going to help people experiencing flying anxieties.
You are certainly not alone if you are frightened to fly; Many celebrities wrestle with the same issue; Whoopi Goldberg, Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Anniston to name but a few. And I did have to smile at this quote from Billy Bob Thornton
“I’m not afraid of flying, I’m afraid of crashing”.
So for those of us that are really affected by this fear of flying, what can we do about it?
Psychologists believe that the best way to get rid of phobia type fears is controlled exposure. Yes, that is about facing your fear, which understandably isn’t very tempting, but statistically, it is the best way to overcome this type of phobia and has a very high success rate.
Consider a course similar to the one my friend attended. There are a lots around and can really change the way you think about flying in a very short space of time. And, after all, it’s the way that you are thinking abut flying that is holding you back.
Educate yourself about flying, read up on all the statistics, it will underline how safe it is and sow the seed in your mind that it really is the safest way to travel.
Try and distract yourself when you are actually flying. Make sure you have books to read, films to watch, work to do. Anything to keep your imagination from doing its thing.
Think about how important it is for you to be able to take up travelling opportunities and the wonderful experiences that will be open to you if you are able to fly.
One of the issues with flying is the waiting around in the airport, and the various ‘point of no return’ gates. It’s very common to get more anxious the longer you have to wait and this is called ‘Anticipation Anxiety’. To combat it, try to breathe deeply, play some calming music, or a anti phobia podcast on your headphones and move around while you are waiting. Don’t sit in one place.
Think about the airline staff that fly every day (this tip apparently helps my friend.) He makes himself remember that airline staff are not paid danger money, they don’t get special benefits for regular trips, and rarely experience problems when flying.
Aviophobia (the proper name for fear of flying) is something that can be overcome, and apparently in just one day, following my friends experience! Don’t let it stop you visiting the most beautiful places around the world. There are so many incredible countries, don’t be held back because the fear of the travelling is too much! And don’t forget friends and family who are also missing out, if you are not able to enjoy these wonderful holidays and weddings overseas. Grab your courage in both hands and resolve to do something about it this year. ❤️
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” – Helen Keller