Friday, 8 March 2013

The fear of flying

A man afraid of flying
Fear (Photo: The Guardian)
Everyone has a fear. Some have many. Be it death or spiders there is always something that makes our skin crawl. Something that makes our pulse race and our hands sweat. For one in ten of us, that fear is flying.

Statistically speaking, 26 people on board every typical easyJet flight from Britain to Spain will suffer some form of Aerophobia. This fear can range from slight nerves to total hysterical breakdown at the sight of an aircraft, but what is so scary about something that millions of us do everyday?

When you break down the phobia you begin to realise that it isn't actually that simple of a fear, in fact it may even be a multitude of many fears. You're either scared of Spiders or you're not. Aerophobia is different. For some, the simple fear of crashing is too difficult to overcome; for others, the idea of not being in control is unbearable and there are plenty of people who simply hate being in a confined space.

Aviation has increasingly reduced the relative size of our planet throughout the decades, and small businesses have grown into global corporations as a result. Flying has become more accessible (and perhaps more necessary) to the masses and having a fear of it can represent a significant struggle for an individual. I once met a woman whose sole ambition was to fly to the states to visit family she hadn't seen for decades - she'll be on her third attempt to board an aircraft this year. Aerophobia can have a crippling impact on peoples lives and it can be a daily struggle despite common perceptions. I believe that everyone should be able to experience and enjoy the thrill of flying and the benefits it can bring.

There are many ways that sufferers can attempt to terminate their relationship with their fear of flying. Some are clearly more effective than others. One of my personal favourites is taking a 'fear of flying' course with an airline. Virgin have offered their version of the course 'Flying Without Fear' since 1997 and help around 3000 people a year overcome their fear. This course is a tailored group event in which Virgin staff, behavioral therapists and current Virgin Captains introduce themselves and brief the passengers for the day ahead. After various sessions on the ground featuring behaviour workshops, Flight crew Q&A sessions and regular coffee breaks the group head to an aircraft to take their short flight. The flight is a chance to 'update' your opinion on flying having taken the ground course and the average 'improvement rating' is said to be between 98% and 100%. The flight is fully narrated by a member of flight deck crew including all noises heard throughout the flight - a regular source of anxiety for some. Once safely back on 'terra firma' the group are fully de-briefed and leave (hopefully) fully fledged happy flyers. It is something like this that I would like to utilise the skills I've gained throughout my career doing.

I've long wanted to involve myself in fear of flying work and am thoroughly proud and privileged that I will be able to do so. My involvement on a personal level started with flying aboard airliners with my Dad. His fear has definitely subsided but I can still vividly remember being intrigued by his fear and questioning it's origins. Since the completion of my PPL I look forward to taking my involvement to the next level where I will take certain family and friends flying who are normally running to the bar before a flight. I find the realisation for another person that 'actually, there isn't anything to worry about at all' is wonderful and rewarding. I look forward to helping relieve the pressures that Aerophobia can bring to a person. I've often asked myself what 'good' a professional pilot can do at work. Among many answers I've managed to conjure up, curing someone who has a fear of flying is high on that list.

During my time as a voluntary information patron at Leeds Bradford Airport I was fortunate enough to speak to a nervous passenger and reassure them before boarding a flight. They shook my hand and breathed a sigh of relief as the left for their gate. I'm thrilled that even my knowledge now, that still has a long way to go, can help people and I look forward to the future. I of course understand that some people will simply never be able to overcome their fear. I also know that there are thousands out there whose fear can be beaten. I for one hope that I'll be playing a part in many of those victories against Aerophobia.

If you're scared of flying and are interested in the Virgin Flying without Fear course. Then see the website below.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Why Paul Valéry was right...

Dreams. Most of us have them in some shape or form. But what actually are dreams? The beauty of the English language is such that most words we utter have several meanings. 'Dream' is no exception. The Oxford English Dictionary offers two meanings.
  • "a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person’s mind during sleep."
  • "a cherished aspiration, ambition, or ideal."
This is all fair enough, both meanings are universally accepted; but are they completely different ideas? I have never been one for motivational quotes. I generally feel they have no place in society other than a conference room wall on the 42nd floor of the 'Shard' or on the stairwell of a Supermarket staff area. There has however always been one that has stuck in the back of my mind. Paul Valéry was best known for being a poet. The Frenchman died in 1945 but left behind an idea which has intrigued me since the first time I read it (Ironically on the wall of a boardroom).

He said “the best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up” 

To truly understand what this actually meant I set about using myself as a case study to try and obtain some meaning behind the quote. 
I've always considered myself lucky. Throughout my entire academic career I have witnessed scores of people struggle with the idea of the future. Friends and colleagues. Hurtling down the steep gradient of education, heading towards graduation. GCSE's, A-Levels, Degrees fly by; still no answer. They rack their brains endlessly hoping for a solution to jump out at them. A lot of them still don't know what they 'want to be when they grow up'. I on the other hand have always wanted to fly. 

One could easily categorise this a 'dream'. It could also be considered an aspiration, a hope, an ambition or even if you're being cocky, an intention. I personally see it as a dream. It's not too out of reach, but still requires enough hard work and perhaps a bit of luck to achieve it. Dreams are out of this world and who really wants to say that all they achieved after their blood, sweat and tears was something dull? Something unworthy of their precious subconscious dream time.

So we've established that I have a dream. But is that enough? Is that what Valéry was hinting at? During the hours of darkness I have been a millionaire, a footballer, an airline pilot, a hero and god knows what else. I always told my girlfriend that I loved going to sleep because I enjoyed dreaming so much and its easy to see why. Everything is possible in the land of nod. What happens when the result of a harmless pastime becomes a real life target though? Something has to change.

I have always been expert at dreaming. I always thought that having a dream was enough. I was always a bit foolish and this was frequently pointed out to me. Of course in true stubborn, teenage style, I dismissed it as rubbish and carried on partying. The problem is I thought that 'I'm going to be a pilot' was enough. I thought it portrayed ambition and that when people heard me say it they'd be hugely impressed and accept the statement as gospel. That was until the next question; "So what are you doing to achieve it?" I hardly ever had an answer. Even throughout my University foundation year and subsequent resit (see 'Back On Track, My Two Years from July 2011) I was adamant that I was to end up a commercial pilot while in reality this was nothing other than a naive assumption based on no actions or evidence. Don't get me wrong, I never lacked the passion for Aviation. I've always loved flying, aircraft and the airlines. I just never really had the focus. Having said that after two attempts I passed and started my current course. Aviation Technology with Pilot studies.

This year I've progressed onto second year of my degree, I've completed my Private Pilots Licence, I've moved to Leeds with Hannah and found a voluntary position at Leeds Bradford Airport. The move wasn't received well and you can hardly blame them. The idea of a 50 mile daily commute left me branded a fool. Having said that, I still stand by it as a fundamental life changing decision. I am absolutely loving University, I travel on the 0637 train from Leeds to get there. I've been attending and I've been engaging. My PPL has allowed me to look into the future and plan the course towards my Airline career with confidence. The Voluntary Information Patron position at Leeds has allowed me to become involved in the day to day operation of an exciting regional airport. Having said all of that. Before the degree, the license and the job I had Hannah. The foundation on which all of this has been built on. Don't get me wrong my achievements were certainly not possible without the support of others like my parents (for which I'm eternally grateful), but Hannah has inspired me to improve myself as a person since the day I met her. Hannah is currently enjoying working for a Digital Marketing company here in Leeds. She was the first in her class by a few months to find a relevant job following graduation. This wasn't luck or favouritism. She did it by going out and finding placements while she was at University, improving her skills in her spare time, reading up on the industry and all while working and writing a dissertation for which she was awarded a %79 mark. Living with such a motivated person has certainly had an effect on me. Something which I'm very happy about and have taken full advantage of. 

Aviation has always been my biggest passion and with all that has gone on in recent years, I'm thrilled to be so heavily involved in the industry I adore. I now believe in myself and my abilities. For the first time in my life I can genuinely say I believe that I am going to become a Commercial Pilot. I look forward to the future now, I can taste it. The only way is up.

Its certainly clear that Valéry was correct. A dream is not enough in life. An ambition does not see you through. Something has to click in your mind. The best way to make your dream come true is definitely to wake up. I have.

I would like to thank Hannah my wonderful girlfriend as well as both of my brilliant parents Heather & Eddie for the support I've had throughout my endeavours and adventures into Aviation as well as the rest of my family and friends. I've been a complete toe rag at times but I've always had the people closest to me stood by my side spurring me on. I hope they can begin to enjoy my journey as much as I am and hope that they're still by my side when I finally get there.