What a success story!
I want to tell you something of my story in case anyone else can relate. I think like lots of fearful flyers, I used to enjoy flying. Apart from a few little nerves at certain moments during a flight, mainly because the sensations felt unusual or a little uncomfortable, I generally relished the whole experience, including anticipating the trip and getting to the airport. I used to love looking at the aircraft whilst waiting at the gate, contemplating how amazing it was that it was going to take me thousands of miles round the world. I felt thrilled and even privileged to hand over complete control to this trusty and incredible machine, and the crew who flew her! In the 1980/90s I flew to Europe and the W. Coast of the States on numerous occasions, enjoying each flight in this way.
Then I got a hint of anxiety when my daily train commute to work gradually became a nerve-wracking thing to endure after the Paddington train crash gave me the jitters (I travelled via Reading) and for the first time I questioned putting control of my safety in the hands of people I couldn’t see. I came to hate being locked in the train for the duration of the journey. I actually bought a car for the first time then, deciding I would rather be stuck in traffic!
During the last 3-4 years, I have suffered high stress levels because of my job and started having regular panic attacks in any random situations, not just travel related. But I felt the most acute anxiety in most transport situations. About 2 years ago, I couldn’t be a passenger in a car, and I wouldn’t get on a train or bus. And there was NO WAY I would go anywhere near an aircraft. My poor Mum wanted to go on a lovely trip abroad to celebrate her 70th birthday, but I just couldn’t contemplate flying anywhere.
I eventually left the job that was causing the stress and my anxiety and panic attacks subsided somewhat. Then a year ago a close friend invited me over to the States again, offering to treat me to the trip, as we hadn’t seen each other for years. I was desperate to go and forced myself to do it. Now having read up on the fear of flying more recently in Captain Keith’s fab book and generally on the internet, I realise I did a lot of things instinctively to prepare for that flight a year ago – like get to the airport with plenty of time, not adding to the pressure with any extra stresses, buying glossy mags with lots of pics and puzzles (not too hard, though!) to distract and occupy my mind and imagination, etc. I didn’t know anything too much then about how my thought processes were working, but focusing on seeing my friend at the other end gave me a heck of an incentive to go through with it. It was okay, I managed my fear and felt chuffed with myself for doing it, but still felt far from comfortable.
Just a little comment about the airline on that trip. It was US Airways, one I didn’t know before. I felt a little dubious, thinking it was a bit ‘cheapo’, but during the flight over one of the pilots walked down the plane chatting to us and answering questions, asking if we were okay and comfortable. It was a lovely touch and inspired confidence. I had flown a lot of BA and Virgin Atlantic before, which I perceived to be superior quality, but never had that happen with them.
Anyway, up to the present now. A month ago I flew to Nice on holiday. I felt a little anxious beforehand, but talked myself into it, thinking about the fact I flew all the way to the States last year and this was much shorter. My thinking was: ‘Whatever it’s like, I’ll be up and down before I know it, so even if I feel scared I won’t have to endure it for too long.’ When I got to the airport and saw planes landing and taking off, I even felt a bit excited and thought, ‘Actually, I can do this no problem.’ Then when we checked in (this was Monarch Airlines), the staff informed us that ‘it wouldn’t be a Monarch aircraft’ and handed over a letter explaining that ‘due to expanding routes’ this flight would be in another ‘carefully selected’ aircraft. Slight alarm bells started in my head at this point. I felt suspicious and paranoid, and out of control.
The nerves were back. I felt uncomfortable, but managing to control it. Then we got bussed out to the aircraft. It seemed like we passed plane after plane, and we didn’t know which was going to be ours. Finally we parked next to an unmarked (except for what I am guessing is some sort of registration in small letters and numbers) white aircraft. And all the anxiety came piling down on top of me again. After that it was all I could do to force myself to get on the plane. I perceived it to be old. The seats were packed in like I have never seen. I have always flown economy – I don’t expect much leg room, but this was none, and my companion agreed (and she has flown many times, literally all round the world). I endured the short flight in a state of fear, hardly able to look left or right, and my companion couldn’t speak to me at all. Then I spent many parts of the week’s holiday dreading the flight home and fighting off the nerves.
Again I had to force myself to get on the flight home. I endured it once more. I must point out though that the crew were faultless, and I knew rationally that they must as qualified and experienced as any other. Getting off the plane I suddenly wanted to see the pilot and thank him – I was fearful and it wasn’t his fault. He flew us perfectly. Fortunately we got off at the front of the plane and I could look up to the cockpit. The pilot had opened the window and saw me peering up at him. I waved and mouthed ‘thank you’. He waved and grinned back. I felt reassured and it was very important psychologically for me to do that. It was Monarch I felt angry with and vowed never to fly with them again.
Trouble was, I already had another holiday booked 3 weeks later (don’t ask!!). And this one was to the Canary Islands – even further!!
Anyway, I realised I had mismanaged my anxiety on the flight to Nice – at least, I had been blase and underestimated it. It had caught me unawares and unprepared, and it was back with avengence. I knew I needed help to be able get on the plane to Gran Canaria!
Thank goodness you are here, Captain Keith, with all this info and encouragement.
As soon as I started finding yours and other websites, I felt confident that help was here and that horrible cloak of anxiety that was dogging me again almost continuously lifted a little immediately. Then I started reading the book and right away picked up on points that I knew would help me prepare and get on the flight. So yes, I got back early Sunday and even enjoyed the flight home! The main points that were important for me were:
-Some technical info, especially about noises, sensations, turbulence and the incredible power and reliability of the jet engines. I also read somewhere about the number of back-up systems for all of the plane’s functioning.
-Challenging and reversing my thinking about the safety aspect of flying in general, ie, that stopping what we are doing and getting on a plane is the safest activity statistically. I really contemplated that point and took it on board, even whilst waiting at the gate and thinking about security. I couldn’t think of being in any other situation where everyone around me was as thoroughly checked and verified.
-The point about just because it feels unusual and possibly uncomfortable to me, doesn’t mean it is unusual to the crew and certainly isn’t dangerous.
-The control issue. Again I challenged my thinking and had a little internal debate that went something like this: ‘So off you go, Helen, and fly the plane/Er, actually, no thanks, I’ll sit here (in my seat) for this one and let the professionals do it because they know how to do it and I don’t.’
Wow. I am so thrilled to have flown again, and even fell asleep on the flight home, and felt some of the awe and excitement I used to feel. I’m not saying that’s it, all perfect and carefree. No, it’s much better than that. I feel like I have access to the tools to help me and feel empowered to deal with facing my fears. And that doesn’t just go for flying. It’s spread into the rest of my life as well. My comfort zone was shrinking and I was losing confidence in a lot of things. Now with your book and moral support, I’ve got a starting point and a focus. Suddenly my whole thinking is a lot clearer.