Monday, January 04, 2010

Fear of flying

Well, well! So it's 2010. I have been away for much of December, visiting family in South Africa, with no access to the Internet, which was very difficult. I hope you have had a wonderful festive season and that 2010 brings you all manner of good things.

One of the necessities of visiting family in far flung places is air travel. I hate flying. The merest hint of turbulence, and I become convinced that I am about to experience a plane crash first hand. The day before my return journey, my 'sensitive' stepfather regaled me with the story of a flight from Dubai to Durban that, he claimed, pretty much fell out of the sky. Charming. He was adamant that he was being helpful, because, as he pointed out, no-one actually died.

The thing is, I'm not scared of death. I just want the bit between being alive and being dead to be pain and terror free. So those people may have escaped death, but they all experienced something really scary. I don't do scary. I don't even go on fairground rides and I'm pretty much scared rigid on a ski-lift or cable car.

As luck would have it, the second - and by far the longest - leg of my return journey was pretty much turbulent all the way. After about an hour and a half of smooth flying, we encountered 'mild turbulence'. This lasted for about five hours. Then we had the joy of 'severe turbulence' the rest of the way to Paris.

I had been a nervous wreck during the mild bit. I lost the plot during the severe bit.

Several people near me were being sick. This was unfortunate, since Air France had neglected to provide us with barf bags. I managed not to be sick. I did not, however, manage to hold together any other shreds of my dignity. In my defence, there were several others who were moaning in fear, too!

I have been flying since I was a small child. From the age of 6, I flew with my 2 year old sister to visit our grandparents, and later to visit our father. We flew, if you can believe it, as unaccompanied minors, and there was no special provision for us the way there is these days. We were expected to sort ourselves out. I was the older child and therefore the target of my sister's expressions of fear and uncertainty. I have no doubt that this contributed to my current attitude towards flying.

On one of our flights, we were delayed on the runway in Johannesburg for an hour and a half before finally being cleared for take off. Because of the lateness of our eventual take off, I fell asleep. Unexpected turbulence threw me from my seat (we used to keep our seatbelts unbuckled in those days) and I woke up as I was making the express journey down the aisle. The pilot announced that the conditions made it too dangerous to land at our destination. Instead, we would fly to Port Elizabeth, where we would spend the night in a hotel, and be flown back the next day. My sister went ballistic. "My Mommy is waiting for me, down there! She will think I'm dead!" The cabin crew tried to assure her that her Mommy would be informed, but she was having none of it. We had no telephone at home and there was no other way to contact her Mommy. To this day, part of me believes that that brave pilot put that plane down in East London in order to shut my sister up!

Be all this as it may, I have decided that this is my year to overcome my fear of flying. So I have enrolled on an online programme. Another aspect of my lifelong, lifewide learning journey. I am fairly sure that fear will be diminished by knowledge and understanding. At least, this is what I hope. Thus far, they haven't told me anything I didn't already know, so we aren't winning, yet! Watch this space!


Capt Tom Bunn LCSW said...

Dear Karyn,

Courses by pilots are based the belief that phobia can be cured by knowing how safe flying is. Though course participants are helped intellectually, they are not helped emotionally. Safety statistics are not adequate to change feelings. Relaxation exercises offered are, according to research, completely ineffective. (see research)

Learning about flying is good, but it is not enough. To gain emotional control, please see the video at

It explains how these feelings develop and how they can be controlled automatically.

Neil WInton said...

The line "I just want the bit between being alive and being dead to be pain and terror free." reminded me of one of my favourite gags (as the kids in my class will tell you)…

When I die, I want to die in my sleep like my grandfather did… and not screaming in terror like the passengers in the bus he was driving...

Good luck with the plans!