Thousands of people are so frightened of flying they simply refuse to get on a plane, preventing themselves from enjoying holidays, big family events and reunions with farflung friends and family. Even if persuaded to get into their plane seat, they’ll spend the flight tearful, tense, anxious and even having full-blown panic attacks.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
You’re not alone
Fear of flying affects 1 in 10 of us, although some studies suggest the numbers are even higher, according to the national charity Anxiety UK. Recognising that your fear is shared by thousands of others, rather than suffering in silence, is the first step to overcoming your anxiety.
You can beat your aerophobia - in just one day
Tim Lloyd had to face his fear when he discovered his office Christmas party would be in Paris - and flights were already booked. Keen to beat the phobia he’d developed after a turbulent flight during a thunderstorm, he went on to a Fear of Flying one day course run by British Airways.
“There were three distinct parts to the day,” he says. “First a pilot ran through all the technicals like weather, the controls, air safety. Then a psychologist explained why we have fears and how to control them and finally, we were taken on a 45-minute flight from Heathrow down the south coast and back. The pilot’s running commentary demystified all the uncertainty and any remaining anxiety.”
Tim flew to Paris no problem and five years later was given a birthday present of an introductory flight lesson at Biggin Hill. He loved it so much he decided to get his pilot’s licence. Now this former flying phobic works on the very same BA supported initiative for anxious flyers that he first went on.
“There are 100 to 150 people on each Flying with Confidence course and we run 15 a year throughout the country,” he says. “That’s already massively reassuring for people to realise they’re not alone. We have a 98% success rate. We have people from all walks of life of every age and background.
“The key thing is you don’t have to suffer in silence, dreading the next flight or avoiding it all together.”
Facing your fears - turbulence and claustrophobia
People who fear flying usually fall into two camps: those who fear airplanes and external factors such as turbulence, bad weather or a fault on the plane and those who already suffer from panic attacks and claustrophobia and fear they will lose control of their emotions during a flight.
“On the Fear of Flying course we explain what causes turbulence and why it’s a simple side effect of flying, just weather and not something to be feared,” says Tim. “People who suffer from claustrophobia realise they can control their breathing and get up and walk around. We work on breathing and relaxing exercises, controlling the adrenaline ‘flight or fight’ rush and slowing their breathing rate.”
What worked for us
“I got over my fear by reading so much about flying that I could logic myself out of terror. Pilot training blogs, aeronautic instructions, whatever I could find. I think what helped was finding out how many safety procedures are in place and realising how flying actually works - that a plane won’t plummet to earth because of thermals. The more science I read, the better I felt about it. Part of my fear was a total lack of understanding as to how the plane stayed up. I now try to think of it as travelling along air-roads, so when there’s a bump, it’s not dangerous, just as a bump in an earthbound road isn’t going to crash the car.” Flic
“I beat my fear of flying with kundalini meditation, believe it or not. I had such a phobia that if I saw a plane in the sky I’d run screaming and sobbing into the house. I happened to have a work colleague who practised this type of meditation and he said he could help. I thought it was nuts but did it. I sat with my eyes shut for an hour while he breathed oddly (I know, I know), muttered God-knows-what... and then suddenly, BOOM! I had the most amazing spiritual experience where it felt as if the top of my head was opening like a flower (I know, I know, even I can’t believe I’m saying this stuff)) and that was it. I never felt the phobia again. Three months later I flew to Costa Rica and I’ve flown all over the world ever since without even a merest sniff of fear. God knows how it worked but work it did.” Cath
“The thing that worked best was flying with my daughters and not wanting them to realise I was freaking out. I’m still not a fan of flying, but neither am I scared.” Ali
“My sister who becomes hysterical at the sight of a plane on the ground, discovered that being booked into first class by her son, all the way to Denver and back was a good cure.” Barbara
″I was never scared of flying but the 9/11 images triggered something: a couple of weeks after that I got on a flight to Mexico and had a panic attack, something I’d never experienced before. I tried three sessions of CBT which didn’t work for me. These days I tough it out with a mix of self-medication (yes please, steward, I WILL have another small bottle of wine, thanks for asking), headphones and films, all of which is a pain in the arse on long haul and gives me jetlag but at least I get there.” Sarah
“I had three hypnotherapy sessions so I was able to fly to New York for my honeymoon last year. My phobia had got so bad I would start to cry at takeoff, convinced I was about to die. The last time I’d flown I had to breathe into a paper bag. The hypnotherapist I saw had been recommended by two friends and cost £60 for an hour session. He put me into a relaxed state and told me a story describing how I was walking through a garden on a lovely summer’s day. Each session he added a few more details. I couldn’t see how it would work - but it did. I felt very calm and relaxed, even doing internal flights to Chicago and Las Vegas and I’ve since flown to Majorca too.” Ruth
“I was quite a nervous flyer. My way of tackling it was to devour aviation books and learn about the mechanics of flight, and take a gliding course. I also used to use a form of aversion therapy in flight by reading accounts of air disasters. It really worked! I was so engrossed in these, that I would forget I was actually on a plane myself.” Lucy
“I was a travel writer with an increasing fear of flying. Not a good combo. I saw a hypnotherapist, who was brilliant.” Fiona