Fear of Flying


I bet you thought this post might be some sort of reflection on success and how it can change you, how sometimes we seek mediocrity because we aren’t brave enough to shine our light on the world or something like that 🙂

But it’s not. It actually is about flying. Because I really don’t like doing it. Yet I love to travel and visit friends and family all around the world, so I see it as something I have to put up with to get to all the wonderful places I want to see.

I’ve flown a lot, starting with a family trip when I was two to the Canary Islands. Apparently the plane before ours crashed on the runway and was still there when our plane landed, causing panic for family back in England who, for a brief time, thought the crashed plane was ours. Maybe this was a sign that, for me, flying would never be an entirely smooth journey.

The longest flight I’ve been on is fourteen straight hours from Melbourne to Dubai. Even the pilot sighed when he made his announcement at the start of the flight. The smallest plane I’ve been on is a four seater, with my father at the controls and my mother sitting next to him, me sitting in the back looking out the tiny window and wondering at the fact that a thin skin of metal was all that stood between me and eternity. I’ve flown business class a few times, including one time when I received the mythical free upgrade, and apparently I’ve flown first class once, though it was back in the eighties before they had all the reclining beds and doodads they have now, so I have no memory of it whatsoever, sadly. I do remember flying when there was a bar in economy class, a flight attendant standing there serving drinks to three businessmen who stayed there most of the flight, suit flaps spilling over the edges of the red leatherette stools. I also remember when you could smoke on planes – the smoking section was at the back with a haze hanging over it, and if you were seated just a row or two up from them, as my brother and I were on one flight, you left the plane feeling and smelling as though you’d just smoked a pack with them.

Me in the back of the four-seater plane - note the slightly panicked expression.

Me in the back of the four-seater plane – note the slightly panicked expression.

I’ve been on a flight where the pilot has pulled up just short of the runway, shooting back into the sky as passengers squealed, then coming on the intercom to apologise because he couldn’t see the runway due to a sea mist. When we did land, it was hard and fast and he shouted ‘Yeehah!’ I kid you not. On another flight we circled for a while above Sydney Airport, several other planes visible through our windows doing the same. Smoke from bushfires was obscuring the pilots’ view of the airport and there was talk of diverting to Canberra. Then the pilot came on. ‘We’re going to give it a try,’ he said, hardly reassuring words. So down we went, the cabin filling with the scent of burning eucalypt as we descended through billowing grey clouds, eventually landing safely, though not without me almost digging holes in the seat arms, I was gripping them so tightly.

The toughest flight I ever took was another long one, twelve hours or so from Melbourne to Dubai, flying through the night. We hit a large storm as we crossed the Equator and as the seatbelt light came on the pilot barked over the intercom. ‘Flight attendants to your seats now!’ That was the last we heard from him for eight hours as we bounced around the dark sky, all of us strapped into our seats and bracing ourselves as yet another bang buffeted the plane. The gorgeous child, four at the time, slept through it, but my husband and I gripped each others hands tightly, holding on, for there was nothing else to do. We landed, of course, the pilots coming on to apologise for our being twenty minutes late, as they had thought it best to fly around the storm, rather than through it. We all were happy to have landed safely.

I’ve had great flights as well, seeing the snow covered peak of Mount Rainier poking through clouds, the gleaming red Australian desert as the pilot flew above Uluru,  circling around so both sides of the plane could see it. Palm fringed beaches golden with sand as we flew over blue ocean, northern lakes gleaming silver in a frozen patchwork below. On a flight from Vancouver to Los Angeles I watched coastal mountains stream away, the undulating landscape beneath me keeping me occupied as we flew south, green giving way to brown. I’ve also had, for the most part, great experiences with flight attendants including one who, on my most recent flight, modified a pair of first class headphones for me to use, as the earbuds they gave us in sardine class were too uncomfortable to wear. He didn’t have to do that, and I really appreciated it.

Apparently it’s a control thing, if you don’t like flying. For me it’s a ‘don’t think about where you are right now,’ kind of thing. Because, screw the laws of physics, it just seems unnatural to be in a metal tube several miles above the earth with nothing holding you up except some equation to do with weight x ground speed = lift or whatever it is that gets planes off the ground. Intellectually I get it, I know the statistics, that the drive to the airport is potentially more dangerous than the flight itself. So this is just something I need to overcome, rather than sitting through another flight with my heart lurching in my chest and popping Rescue Remedy pastilles like they’re going out of style. (I’ve been recommended to take something stronger but I personally think drugging yourself to the eyeballs while travelling with a child isn’t the best thing – however, to each their own, whatever gets you through).

Whew! This is a longer post than usual – however, this is something I’ve been struggling with for a while. I think perhaps I might try and write my way through it, a story about my worst fears while flying, exploring the emotions and everything that happens. I probably won’t share it with anyone – it will just be my own little piece of writing therapy, forcing me to confront my fears.

So how do you guys feel about flying? Any stories you’d like to share? For me, I’m glad to have my feet on solid earth for the next little while, that’s for sure.