Fear of flying?

WF features writer Rikki Hodge tells how she got over her airborne anxiety, one crash course at a time.

You have more chance of being in a serious car accident than a plane crash. But you already knew this, didn’t you, because that’s what everyone  tells you when you mention you don’t love being at an altitude of 30,000 feet with a flimsy seatbelt and laminated guide to keep you safe.  There was once a glorious, fearless flying time for me, before Air Crash Investigation and a jolting flight to Bangkok sent me into meltdown.

While the fear has yet to stop me flying, the experience is exhausting. Some people (the most annoying ever) have zero fear of flying, and are sound asleep before the plane even begins taxiing. Some have minor flying fears (tightened grip on the arm rest during take-o and landing). Others, like me, spend the entire journey stomach-knotted at impending plummeting doom.

Wherever you stand on the ‘fear of flying’ spectrum, your holiday should start the minute you get on the plane. For this, the Fear of Flying course was born. For two hours each week over five weeks, Flight Experience (flightexperience.com.au) took me and another nervy participant on a journey to rid us of our fl ying phobias once and for all. A psychologist, Nikki Johnson, used Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT, which challenges unhealthy thoughts, feelings and behaviours) to tap into our specific fears and evaluate their validity.

Next, a pilot came in to show us the silliness of some of our thoughts. Qantas pilot and author of A Lifetime in Longhaul, Bill Anderson, explained the complex mechanics of an aeroplane. Apparently, it can withstand almost anything, including a lightning strike. He explained turbulence is no different to currents in the water, only we can’t see it. And it does not make planes fall from the sky. He assured us how experienced commercial pilots are, undergoing extensive checks on their abilities and psychological state. Finally, we spent time in a Boeing 737 flight simulator to see how everything works.

Armed with this information, coping techniques (breath in for four counts and out for six when that old familiar fear creeps up) and a handy print-out of everything we’d learnt from Captain Bill, I was ready to put my new-found skills to the test. I packed without superstition for a girls’ getaway to Hawaii (no hat on the bed before a flight is an old favourite). I boarded without a double knot in my midsection and actually enjoyed a nine-hour flight (incessant turbulence included). While I still can’t bring myself to sleep on a plane, this experience has me flying high.

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