Saturday, 14 June 2014

Saturday Scratch #38 - A Fear of Flying

Have I mentioned that I hate flying? Over the years I've tried it drunk, sleep deprived and otherwise subdued, but the result is always the same - abject fear. Actually, that's not quite true. In the early 1990s, following my first few ventures skyward, I gained an unexpected measure of confidence. The flights thus far had been remarkably smooth, the on board entertainment distracting and terror minimal. Then, on perhaps my third or fourth trip out to visit my cousin in New York, I experienced one of those flights. Constant, violent, turbulence, akin to driving in a car, without suspension, over endless sleeping policemen, at full pelt, for about seven hours. There were tears, there was screaming, there was upchucking a gogo - and that was just the cabin crew.

Two weeks later, I was all set to fly home alone and found myself sitting next to a lovely old lady who was heading back to blighty after visiting her Daughter and meeting her Grandchild for the first time. We got chatting as the plane queued for a take- off slot and she told me how she'd experienced a new lease of life since the sad death of her husband, who hadn't really liked to travel. She'd flown to several European destinations over the previous couple of years, before taking on the long haul to America and found that she absolutely loved it. In fact she'd actually been flying around the States alone for over a month, before stopping in on her Daughter for the last ten days of her trip. She was 75 if she was a day and a quite remarkable lady.

I expressed my admiration for her achievements and somewhat shamefacedly mentioned the flight from hell that I'd endured two weeks earlier, which had left me an emotionally drained wreck for the first few days of my holiday. At this very moment the Captain's voice came over the intercom to inform us that we'd been cleared for take-off and the plane began to roll forwards. 'I just don't like flying...', I said '...and I particularly hate this bit' I muttered. As the engines roared and we began to hurtle down the runway, the old lady smiled and gave me a reassuring tap on the back of my hand, which clenched the arm rest with a vice like grip of pure fear. She then uttered the most ill-timed and least helpful phrase it's ever been my misfortune to hear. 'Don't worry young man, there's nothing we can do about it. If it's your time to go, it's your time to go'. The wheels left the ground. We were on our way home.

Here, from the 1975 LP 'Musical Bones', are The Upsetters, featuring the mighty trombone of Vin Gordon, with 'Fly Away'.


Anonymous said...

Harrowing tale, sir Lovely old dears can be horribly insensitive. I admire your determination to continue to fly; my own fear has kept me out of the sky for over twenty years.

C said...

Oh gosh what a tale. Not what you want to hear!

I hadn't even stepped inside a 'plane until I was 30, and my very first flight was to New York! I was SO excited, and so thrilled and stunned at the breathtaking views and the overall experience that I actually thought to myself, "if I die now I don't care because it's just so amazing to be up here."
I then did quite a lot of long haul flights - incl. Singapore/Australia/NZ - and it never freaked me out once in spite of turbulence, storms, too windy to land at designated airport, etc. God knows how i handled it so well. Ironically, it's been a few years and I don't like the thought of flying now at all! I will probably avoid it throughout the rest of my life unless absolutely necessary - although I do miss those wonderful aerial views which make the world look so very very beautiful.

Erik Bartlam said...

I was 19 before I got in a plane headed to Atlanta, Georgia and on to basic training. For the next ten years I flew all the time...usually in some military capacity. I flew on Chinooks...those two propellered helicopters. Like flying on a washboard dirt road. C-17s..sitting in nets hauling trucks to Hungary. A 12 hour flight from Germany to Dover, Delaware in c-130...we circled Dover for 2 hours waiting to land. I'd hitch onto military flights from Germany to England.

I never thought anything about it.

Then I got a job in 04 that required me to fly out west...Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada...something snapped. The sense of dread that would come over me weeks before a flight was terrible.

It's the lack of control...if they would just let me fly the plane everything would have been fine. Indeed...if it's your time to go, it's your time but, I have a whole series of special screams and curses and prayers prepared for the moment so I'd like to know as early as possible if it's going down.

Then I discovered Lorazepam. If they don't have a seat inside...I'll just pop another half tab and fly on the wing. No problem. Ha

The Swede said...

SB. I've been through peaks and troughs. During the peaks I was confident enough to take all the photos in the post, but during the troughs (which is most of the time) I have to sit in denial with the shade down, telling myself I'm on a train, constantly flipping channels on the inflight entertainment. It's a torturous means to an end.

C. My first flight was around the same age and also to New York, in for a penny, eh? Those long hauls must've been insane...but worth it when you got there. You must tell us about your travels one day.

Erik. A 12 hour flight from Germany to Dover? Insane.
I haven't flown for 4 years now. It seems that none of us are in any hurry to board a plane again. Though I'll be sure to check out the Lorazepam option when the time comes.

Capt Tom Bunn LCSW said...

As am airline captain and a licensed therapist, I've worked with thousands of people on this problem. Try the free app at and if you want to dig into this problem deeper and fix it once and for all, get "SOAR: The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying" which is number 7 today on the Amazon Top Ten Self-Help Books list.

Just reading the reviews will help you recognize that this problem can be fixed. See

Robin Tomens said...

Try reading The Right Stuff. Learning what the pioneering nut case flyers did helped me realise what a wuss I was being by trembling on an Easyjet flight to France.

Old Pa's Corner said...

A great little tale you probably know I have flown more times than I can remember....I must recount some more of the 'interesting ones' well if yer times up!

Greatest Hits