YOU CAN’T COME HERE! YOU FEAR FLYING!
Flying somewhere? Scared stiff? Despite your fear of flying, you can beat it and get to that pint at the end of the journey.
By Nicole Buckler
Leaving/returning to Ireland? But you can’t, due to your sweaty palms. Well there is help out there to get you on that flying metal beast. Read on and you WILL be able to touchdown at an Irish airport.
According to some statistics, 1 in 3 flyers are scared stupid by the thought of getting on a commercial airliner, including me. We are often told the stats…you are more likely to be killed by your own dog than you are to be killed in a plane crash. In fact, you are more likely to die in the car on the way to the airport, be stuck by lightening, eat peanut butter and choke on a greasy lump of it, or fatally fracture your skull when you fall out of bed. But if you have a fear of flying, you can be told stats over and over again, but we aviophobes don’t give a damn about your statistics. You can stick them in your ear hole. Flying is terrifying so SHUT UP. We are sticking to our fear of flying until the end of days. Aren’t we?
If you are mental about flying like me, you aren’t alone in your madness. Fear of flying is common. There are a lot of us who feel the same way. 1.5 billion people fly every year. If one third of this group of people are quaking it, our numbers are massive. And if you are female, you are twice as likely to be crying in fear than a male. After public speaking, a fear of flying is the second most common phobia in the United States, and porbably here in Ireland too. And it is also rather socially acceptable to have this fear because most people GET IT. Life happens and planes do crash (mostly, never). So it is okay, you are among friends in your choice of molten mental. It can be excruciatingly embarrassing to flip out on a plane, especially when people are quick to explain to you that your odds of being injured by toilet cleaner falling on your head are far greater than death by aircraft carnage. But those of you who have flipped out know the feeling: as you walk toward the plane, you feel like you are going to the gallows. You look at the steward’s faces, seeking the look of hidden panic. Then you try to run back from whence you came, and security come to escort you away from everyone in case you have a bomb, are a bomb, or have just eaten a bomb. Sigh. It’s lose-lose.
So what happens when you have to travel and you are being strangled by plane phobia? Lucky for me, and for you, there are several ways to battle plane phobia.
Is this the last plane you rode on?
Do A Course
There are some really, really good Fear-Of-Flying courses around. Most of them are run by the airlines themselves. They will explain why you have a fear of flying (your need to control something that worried you, your anxiety from other parts of your life is attaching to a fear of flying, you worry about having a panic attack mid-flight) and you will realise that pretty much, with the exception of a crash, you will be fine. Just google in your area and something will come up. In Ireland there are lots of options. This course here is getting rave reviews.
The good news about these courses is that they can explain all the stupid noises you hear to you, and explain what the plane is doing. So here’s a nugget for you: there is a small town called Dunshaughlin in Ireland. They don’t like the noise of the planes flying over them. So pilots decelerate over this town. This makes you feel like the engine has crapped out and you are about to plunge to the earth. But in fact, that’s not the case, the pilots are merely flying normally for that area. If you do a course, it is usually a pilot and a psychologist who work together to help you understand your fear of flying. They will explain why you decelerate over a small town that is sick of the stupid noise from even more stupid aircraft. They will explain that loud bang at the back of the plane which makes you think that the tailfin has fallen off (it hasn’t). They make you aware that over the Atlantic Ocean you are never more than 45 minutes from an airport. So even if both engines crap out, you still have up to 80 minutes of glide time, as long as your pilot’s feet aren’t on fire.
Theses course tend to be expensive, but they do tick a lot of boxes and send you on your way. Some courses last over several weeks, some are just two-day intensive courses. At the end of a course based in London, they take you up in a Boeing 757 and give you a spin about the English countryside to make sure that everyone is A-Okay. I can’t help thinking what a great news story it would make if a planeload of fearful flyers crashed into the River Thames. But of course that will never happen. Will it? Seriously, the courses are the best remedy I have seen so far. As long as I don’t have to fly to join them, they are GREAT!
Hypnosis is said to work in many situations, such as overcoming habit disorders like smoking, anxiety, eating behaviours or problem drinking. It is even claimed that a patient can be hypnotised out of chronic pain. Desperate for a solution for my aviophobia, and willing to try anything, I went to a hypnotist. In fact I tried two. I think there are two kinds of people in this world: those who can be hypnotised, and those who can’t. I think I’m in the “can’t” category. I think I was distracted by the fact that the hypnotist made me sit on a plastic garden chair in a closet with only a purple light bulb as illumination. So obviously, it didn’t work for me. This doesn’t mean that it won’t work for others; it just didn’t work for me. After I left I didn’t feel any different about flying, except that now it was going to cost me more considering that I needed to factor in the cost of the hypnotist into the ticket. And I had to go home and wash all of his purple crazy off me. But there are other people it has worked for, so don’t lose faith that you are in the “can’t” category.
Preparation Before the Flight
Many things can trigger a fear of flying, such as experiences of severe turbulence or an aborted landing. A drawback for Aviophobes is the way aircraft accident footage is showed repeatedly and persistently for weeks on end on the box. There are perhaps only three people on earth who did not view the Concorde crash footage over and over again from many different angles. It’s like TV stations are taunting us and saying, “We only need to show you this footage 3 more times and you will never set foot in an airport again.” So the way to prepare if you don’t want to melt into a pool of gibberish in the aisle is to stay away from anything on TV which will make you mental. Don’t Watch Air Crash Investigates/Mayday/Air Emergency or anything of its ilk. This will undo any hard work that you have done in overcoming your fear. On the day before the journey, don’t watch anything stressful and do not watch the Day After Tomorrow, where Jake Gyllenhaal gets thrown about the cabin like a ragdoll. Also don’t draft “goodbye” texts to loved ones the night before. It will put you in a state of mind where you will think you need to keep an eye out for that one last opening where you can text your family goodbye. Stop doing that. Stop it. Put that phone away and no you cannot sneakily leave it on normal mode. PUT IT AWAY. Stay calm, and watch a comedy before you leave for the airport. Didn’t I tell you to put that phone away?
Get the App
Virgin Atlantic has recently announced its highly acclaimed Flying Without Fear course is now available as an app for the iPhone and iPod touch. The Flying Without Fear app contains a personal introduction by Sir Richard Branson, a video-based in-flight explanation from start to finish of a flight, frequently-asked questions, relaxation exercises and fear therapy, a fear attack button for emergencies with breathing exercises and quick tips, and a My Program section where each user can rate their personal fears and add future flights to prepare them for their next trip. As a bonus, the user is offered 2,000 points when joining Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club. In fact being Virgin, they tried it on a celebrity with an overblown fear of flying – Whoopi Goldberg. The actress had not flown for a decade but a business commitment in London meant she had to step on a plane once again. After going through the course, Whoopi Goldberg said, “The program works, I was a sceptic. I hadn’t flown in 13 years but after doing their program, I understood that while my fear was real, there were many things I didn’t know or had misinformation about, which they were able to clear up. So what happened? I now fly.”
The Flying Without Fear app is available for $4.99 from the App Store on iPhone and iPod touch.
Buy the Book
This book ‘Overcome Your Fear of Flying’ is an example of how the printed word can get fearful flyers through the process. You can read it on the plane, to distract you from when the oxygen masks come down. And the good news is there are lots of books on the market for fear of flying. Get onto Amazon and fire up your kindle.
I myself went to see a doctor about my aviophobia. It was his belief that I needed to get a few good and calm flights behind me before I could start to fly with confidence again. He gave me a prescription for ten tablets of Diazepam, formerly called Valium. These did work to calm me the hell down. I wasn’t trying to scratch the nearest window out with my own fingernails to escape. However only take what you need and leave the rest at home. Hysteria does a lot to facilitate bad judgement. You don’t want to be THAT inflight-idiot who overdoses and makes everyone suffer an unscheduled landing in the hood somewhere. And DON’T DRINK ALCOHOL, it doesn’t calm you down, it makes you a cannonball of uncertainty. Believe me I know. I just ended jabbering like an idiotic little child and crying for my mum at the back of the plane like some crazy randomer. Booze and panic are the world’s best guarantee of a bad reaction to a situation. You WILL embarrass yourself, that is a given, if you drink booze.
Interact with the Pilots
It sounds strange, but sitting in the cockpit and talking to the pilots is an amazing relief pill. When a passenger is in a cattle class seat, with no vision of the outside world, imaginations can run wild. Knowing what is happening in the cockpit, and seeing how relaxed pilots are while turbulence visits goes a long way towards sanity. I had the privilege of sitting in the jumpseat (the seat behind the two pilots) for a flight and a landing into Melbourne on Qantas, and it was FANTASTIC! It felt as though the pilots were parking a car, it was that easy. They have a laminated checklist that sits on the “dashboard” and they run through it to the word, then they effortlessly land the plane, steer it to the terminal, then turn off the engine. Obviously now the whole world has changed because of some extremist plane-bombing idiots, so cockpit visits at cruising altitude are no longer allowed. BUT many airlines will accept visits to the cockpit pre-flight. Believe me it works like a charm, at least in the short term. It is a good example to yourself that you are the only one panicking. You are a bit of an idiot, aren’t you?
It has been said that panicking about flying and doing math all start in the same part of the brain. However here is the good news – maths is a higher task, and your brain will prioritise it. Reading on a flight will do nothing to calm you down. I know, I have ripped books apart in anxiety and rubbed my own hair with them in panic. However doing maths will halt the anxiety process because your brain can’t do both. Get yourself a little maths app on your phone or go old school and bring along a maths fun book and a pen. Go on, what is the square root of 64…
Completely Avoid Flying
In this day and age, it is possible to completely avoid plane time. You just have to have a lot of money, and a hell of a lot of time. For example, you can get to anywhere in Europe from America using just high speed boats and trains. It takes about 40 times as long, and it costs about 4 times as much as flying, but you will get to your destination. Another solution is to use the Shipping Networks, which may take your tourist junk from LA to Ireland, but you can also book passenger tickets on these massive slow vessels. It’s not that expensive, but you may have to book well in advance, sometimes up to 6 months prior to leaving. Because the ships are hauling cargo, you get to stop at some funky places along the way like the Suez Canal, Hamburg, and Singapore to name a few. This is a great budget solution to not being able to afford a cruise. Fares are charged per day, plus port charges and deviation insurance (to cover the cost to the ship should it have to deviate to land a passenger who becomes ill or injured during the voyage). Part voyages are possible and are charged according to the number of days spent on board. And you may get asked that eternal question, “What shall we do with the drunken sailor?” Please don’t throw him overboard.
You may never lose your fear of flying. But you can manage it. I am seriously so much better. It has taken ten years, a course in both flying and in Valium, and some good math apps, and I am nearly there. YOU CAN DO IT. You can overcome it, it is possible and you WON’T DIE in a plane crash. I promise. And visiting Ireland is so worth it. So go on, get your sweaty palms on and get over here. We are waiting for you with a fresh pint.
While cruising at 40,000 feet, the airplane shuddered and Mr. Benson looked out the window. “Good lord!” he screamed, “One of the engines just blew up!” Other passengers left their seats and came running over. Suddenly the aircraft was rocked by a second blast as yet another engine exploded on the other side. The passengers were in a panic now, and even the stewardesses couldn’t maintain order. Just then, standing tall and smiling confidently, the pilot strode from the cockpit and assured everyone that there was nothing to worry about. His words and his demeanour made most of the passengers feel better, and they sat down as the pilot calmly walked to the door of the aircraft. There, he grabbed several packages from under the seats and began handing them to the flight attendants. Each crew member attached the package to their backs.
“Say,” spoke up an alert passenger, “Aren’t those parachutes?”
The pilot said they were.
The passenger went on, “But I thought you said there was nothing to worry about?”
“There isn’t,” replied the pilot as a third engine exploded. “We’re going to get help.”
“It’s not about the odds of dying. It’s about the way you die. I’ve always said that I’m not dying with tourists.” Actor Billy Bob Thornton
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