Fear of flying versus love of travel…which wins??

Photo by Ross Parmly at Unsplash

For me love of travel will usually win…..although this can mean that getting somewhere can be a little traumatic to say the least!

I have a fear of flying – which is not unusual know!  But when you love travel as much as I do, it can kind of get in the way.

It’s not like flying is a mystery to me, my dad worked for an airline when I was a kid and I used to fly a lot back then.  I was around planes from an early age, we knew a lot of flight crew and when traveling we would inevitably spend a bit of time on the flight deck saying hello to the captain (in the ‘olden days’ when you could visit up front!).   I know roughly how aircraft work and I understand how an airport functions.

However, during my teens the flying became less frequent and the fear started to grow….

It started off as little panic attacks and then grew to full on terror!  I would still fly, but as a trip neared I would start to feel sick and terrified, until the day of travel, where I would spend the entire time at the airport convinced I was stepping towards my death!  It would make the whole experience of getting anywhere very difficult to say the least….which was a shame as these were supposed to be fun holidays!

Having said all that it didn’t stop me completely.  I did manage to travel around the world taking flight after flight for a whole year – a miracle!  Doing it more regularly seemed to lessen the terror slightly as familiarity set in instead, but I still didn’t enjoy it.

When I got home after my trip the plane trips were few and far between for a while and the fear started to build up again.

Then I met an Australian and we started travelling back to Australia quite frequently to see his family….. oh wow, 24 hours of sheer terror is not good for me… or the person I am travelling with!!

It became so bad that I would be dreading the travel a few weeks before we were due to leave. I would be in tears before we had even gotten to the airport and would spend the flights unable to sleep, listening out for the slightest sound which might mean we were about to plunge to our deaths!  I would feel sick, couldn’t eat much, couldn’t concentrate on movies, would keep one eye on the flight crew to make sure they were still smiling… that sort of thing, which I’m sure is familiar to you if you have this phobia.

I would also avoid all internal flights where possible if we were travelling in a country where I was not sure about the airlines. This often meant long bus or taxi rides between destinations – although to be honest this is the way that I would prefer to travel if I have the time….. but it’s not necessarily safer!  Often in the places that we traveled road travel could be far more dangerous than flying, with dodgy cars and buses, bad driving and treacherous roads….but in my head it was always the better option!

The fear grew and grew and I was so fed up of spending a lot of my time before and during the trips dreading the travel, it was exhausting and no fun at all.

Then one day I was browsing through the travelzoo website, doing what I always do and dreaming of the next trip (and trying not thinking about the actual travel!), when I saw Virgin Atlantic advertising their fear of flying course at a reduced price.   I had looked at these courses before but they were expensive and I just wasn’t sure about them.  But at a reduced price I could be persuaded…..!  I ummed and aaahed about it and after hesitating for quite a long time I finally took the plunge and booked onto a course at Birmingham airport.

Well to say I was nervous about it was an understatement!  It was a full day course which ended in an actual flight, with a bunch of people I didn’t know.  Thankfully, in the end I really didn’t need to be scared, the day was excellent and really informative too.  I learnt a lot about the aircraft and also that my fear paled into comparison with what other people were going through!

The best bit was listening to the pilots talk about the technicality of flying but also why they love it.  They talked with such enthusiasm about their experiences, why they love their job and also how often they fly, which I think was the key for me. Hearing how often they get on and off aircraft with no incident made me realise how many flights there are in the air at any one time!

I’m certainly not here to sell this course or any others (I probably wouldn’t have even gone on one if it hadn’t been at a reduced price!), but I would encourage anyone who has a severe fear of flying to check them out.  I definitely see it as a turning point for me in getting a handle on it.

Photo by Les Jay at Unsplash

The other factor was I also did a mindfulness course and it was brilliant.  That course wasn’t for this phobia, but it did teach me some great techniques that I can use in any situation where I start to feel anxious.  It also helped me to deal with the negative thought patterns that I would have about flying.

So, where am I now?  Am I cured?  Not quite.

But I am nowhere near as bad as I was.  I don’t fear the trip weeks in advance, I can almost enjoy my time at the airport (although I still get anxious about getting to the gate on time!), I can usually relax enough on the flight to eat the food and watch the movies.

BUT I still hate take-off and landing, I still have some flights where the fear kicks in again and I can’t quite control it.  However, these experiences happen far less often than they used to….much to my partner’s relief!

It helps me to think of the flight as part of the trip (particularly when it’s long haul!) rather than just a means of getting from A to B and I therefore want it to be as comfortable as possible.  Unfortunately this doesn’t mean I get to choose business (or even premium economy!) over economy, but I do pick airlines where I think I will be able to relax and enjoy the flight as much as is possible and that have a good reputation (I am still very picky about the airlines I fly with, that’s one habit I haven’t been able to break yet!).

We do usually choose the same airline when we fly to Australia.  The familiarity of having flown with them so many times helps me with the fear and because I know them so well (I even know what seats we should choose on what type of plane…..yes, we are talking geek central here!!) there are no surprises …. although this probably isn’t helping me to get over my fussiness of airlines either!

I still don’t really enjoy flying and my experiences are a bit up and down.  But at least I can usually try to treat them as part of a holiday now, rather than some awful event that is to be endured!

Now that’s progress!!


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