I cannot thank British Airways flying without fear course enough for educating people like me in the mechanics of flying.
It was very reassuring that I wasn’t the only person with such an intense fear as the class of a hundred people was full. They educate you with the statistics of how safe flying is, the mechanics of how the plane manages to get off the ground in the first place and stay in the sky. I knew that I was much safer being on a plane than I was being in a car. During the flight there is commentary about every single sound, sensation and experience that passengers feel when they are flying. I felt confident that the next “real” flight I would experience would be a nerve wracking one, but that the safety wouldn’t be an issue for me.
Given how incredibly scared I was at the prospect of getting on a plane I also had a series of hypnotherapy sessions which I found also really helped me in coping with my feelings of anxiety. Overcoming that fear was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, and ten years ago I would have laughed at anybody who suggested that I would stop taking holidays to Wales.
In the years that have followed I have flown to Dublin, Barcelona, Paris, Menorca, Portugal, Amsterdam, Stuttgart, Munich, Nice and Rome. I’ve seen a lot of places, experienced different cultures and can quite honestly say that I am richer in life because of the travelling.
However, I still hadn’t made it to New York yet, or managed to fly past three and a half hours. The flying was becoming comfortable but I knew that I had to step it up and do a long haul flight.
I don’t do things by halves that’s for sure. An offer came at the start of this year for a holiday to the USA and Canada with family. I immediately felt nervous about the flight, and doubted whether I could sit in one place for so many hours with only my thoughts to drive me to panic. The only way that I would get on a long haul flight would be if the first flight was New York bound. This was in our budget so it was something to look forward to.
Anyone who is scared of flying will sympathise with how anal you can get when booking these things. I must have spent hours looking at the routes to New York from Manchester. I would then look to see which size planes they were, and which seats were available. Crazy I know, but a lot of the fear is about staying in control so I needed to control all aspects of this. It wasn’t like flying to Portugal where I knew I would be airborne for only a few hours.
Thank goodness that British Airways (my saviours again) allow you to view the aircraft type, the seating arrangements and give you control of most aspects of the journey. Back in April 2013, I finally booked the tickets. First stop London Heathrow, then to New York, then a short flight from Boston to Toronto, then a long flight from Toronto to Vancouver and finally flying home to London from Vancouver which was the longest flight.
I didn’t really think about the flying in the coming months. I was getting so excited about going to New York that it was merely a means to get from A to B – right? Wrong. The anxiety that I had experienced a few times when I first started to fly kicked in again. It was horrendous and I couldn’t seem to shake it off. What should have been an exciting build up to the holiday of a lifetime was turning into a nightmare – although I would have welcomed a nightmare as I sure as hell wasn’t able to sleep much.
Again though this was the product of my visualisations and the fact that I couldn’t ever imagine myself in Times Square or seeing the Statue of Liberty. Only a brave person could get on a plane and be up in the air for eight hours, I’m not that brave!
The week leading up to the flight I was a nervous wreck. Thankfully my mind was preoccupied with work and a script idea to try not to think about the eight hour flight that was imminent. I got really cross with myself given that I have flown so many times in the past five years, so I know what to expect, I knew I would be fine but for some reason it was really was a huge anxiety with it being long haul. I visited my hypnotherapist again for a top up session and downloaded his mp3 onto my iphone so I could at least listen to him should I have feelings of panic on the plane. After all, keeping calm for three hours is a lot different than eight hours.
The night before the flight I ensured that I had a bag full of activities to keep me occupied. My ipad was loaded with some movies and TV shows that I could rely on to entertain me should the inflight entertainment be dull. Wordsearch, audiobooks, kindle with a selection of easy reading chick lits, notebook and an elastic band. Anybody reading who suffers with panic attacks will know that distraction is a key thing for getting through an anxiety attack. For me flicking the elastic band when it is on my hand firstly takes my mind off the feelings, plus it’s a non-verbal signal to my other half that he may need to distract me.
First flight was a short one from Manchester to London Heathrow. Apart from the ham and cheese snacks smelling vile and making me heave this flight, although bumpy was fine. It was only forty minutes long – a walk in the park.
On arrival at Heathrow passengers on long haul transfer to another terminal by tram. At this point my levels of fear were increasing and I recall saying to my husband “No matter what happens, you get on the plane and make sure @#### has a fantastic holiday (@#### is my youngest child).
Then something happened to me when I saw the aeroplane at the gate. I looked at the sign which gave the flight detail and that it said NEW YORK, and I got incredibly excited. Oh my goodness I was about to fly to New York.
New York! This was what all of this hypnotherapy and tackling the fear was all about – New York. “Do one thing every day that scares you” is an affirmation that I live by. Today was no different, except I was heading to Lady Liberty and the Big Apple.
So I did. Once on board the fear went away altogether when I saw how huge the plane was. Not the most leg space considering we would be sitting for eight hours but there was plenty of room to walk around and do you know what? That flight went by so quickly. At one point I wrote in my notebook a reminder to myself that I felt calm, the flight was smooth and I shouldn’t be afraid of the trip back to the UK in three weeks’ time.
For the trip I flew six times including three long hauls, and coming home from Vancouver I experienced my first real turbulence over the Atlantic Ocean which occurred when my son and I were queuing for the toilet. We were knocked off our feet and managed to stagger back to our seats, but it didn’t phase me at all. I won’t be a prisoner to my fear, and being able to visit different countries and build memories and adventures makes it all worth while.
My travel blogs will be following this post in due course.
Thanks to British Airways for not only delivering their Flying without Fear courses, but for always being courteous and professional to all of their passengers, even the nervous ones.