This week I took to the skies again, no not as an astronaut but as a regular passenger on a flight to London. Now for people who have had the misfortune to fly with me in the past, they will know I was not a good flyer. In fact I was a terrible flyer. I’m not really sure where it started but my family like to trace it back to my love of the Airplane films. Hilarious but not exactly what a young impressionable mind should be watching. I was also quite late to flying having flown once when I was 15 but not again until I was in my ~20s.
I viewed flying as some kind of dark art, unnatural even. Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it but humans – no way. We are not designed for that! And yes I did do physics at school. And yes I could tell people all about the ‘forces’ that allegedly holds planes in the air (really….?Do they….?)
So what was my problem? The reality was I had a fear of flying and it made me miserable. It wouldn’t however stop me from going places as the thought of giving into it was worse than the fear itself. However on a flight back from St Lucia I took a panic attack. What made it worse was the fact that I didn’t know it was a panic attack. All I knew was that I thought I was going to die. On a plane. Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. I stopped flying anywhere for a long time after that.
I did eventually manage to build myself up to fly for no more than an hour but even then I would be consumed with anxiety for a week or so leading up to it.
This went on for ~10 years until I decided I had had enough. There was a significant birthday and anniversary coming up and we wanted to go to Disney in Florida. A whole 9 hour flight!
I was determined we would go and having booked it the year before I had already started working myself into a bit of a state over it. Just how much gin would I need to drink to keep me awake and vigilant but also quietly buzzed and calm? It turns out there is no balancing this equation so I booked onto Virgin Atlantic’s ‘Flying without fear’ course instead.
So one windy day (it’s important to check the weather forecast a week in advance if flying) in March 2015 I took the train (taking no chances) to Birmingham Airport.
Yes, I was taking back control!
The course itself was brilliant! The perfect balance of serious but fun although every single thought I had ever about flying was suddenly exposed. It turns out I was not the only one who could will a plane to take off and stay in the air just by thought alone. I knew the cabin crew would alert their co workers to danger by using a secret bing bong system. I also knew that cabin crew serving drinks would always signal turbulence and that this was their distraction tool. Oh yes, I was proper crazy! However I was not alone.
The course debunked all of my idiotic ideas and gave me the confidence to get on a specially charted flight out of Birmingham the same day. What a flight it turned out to be. The weather had worsened so by the time we were making our final approach to land it was raining ice, very windy and to top it off we were struck by lightening (on the wing where I happened to have a window seat!). The plane 2 mins behind us also had to do a ‘go around’ as it was deemed to windy to land.
As I got back on the bus after dealing with a medical incident with one of the other passengers the adrenaline had started to kick in. I had flown in terrible weather in a plane that had been struck by lightning but still landed safely. I felt amazing! I could do anything.
Nearly two years later the adrenaline has worn off but the feeling of possibility has not. I flew to Disney and had the most incredible holiday with my family. I have flown several times since and now actually look forward to it.
They say ‘feel the fear but do it anyway’ I disagree. Feel the fear, understand it and then smash it into smithereens as you fly off into a world of possibility…..