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.

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